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Re-writing Race and Gender Lessons in the Classroom: Second-Generation Dominicans in New York City


by Nancy Lopez - 2002

At high school graduation ceremonies across the country, a curious gender gap has emerged -- more women graduate than men, particularly in Latino and Black communities. This trend begs several questions: How do formal and informal institutional practices within high schools “race” and “gender” students? How do racializ(ing) and gender(ing) processes intersect in the classroom setting? How can principals, school administrators, and teachers work toward dismantling race, gender, and class oppression in their schools? Drawing on 5 months of participant observation in a New York City public high school that is 90% Latino, mostly second-generation Dominicans, I found that both formal and informal institutional practices within schools, "race" and "gender" students in ways that significantly affect their outlooks on education. Young men are viewed as threatening and potential problem students, whereas young women are treated in a more sympathetic fashion. If our goal is to improve the education attainment of all students, we must become aware of the invisible race(ing) and gender(ing) that takes place in the classroom, as well as in the everyday institutional practices of schools.

At high school graduation ceremonies across the country, a curious gender gap has emerged—more women graduate than men, particularly in Latino and Black communities.   It is predicted that by 2007, the gender gap will reach 2.3 million, with 9.2 million women enrolled in college, compared with 6.9 million men.  It is significant that although the gender gap occurs across all racial and ethnic groups, it is most pronounced in Latino and Black communities.  In the Boston public high school graduating class of 1998, it was estimated that there were 100 Black and Hispanic males for every 180 Black and Hispanic females attending a four-year college. In New York City public high schools, where the majority of the student population is nonwhite (86%), more women graduate than men.  Even at the City University of New York City (CUNY), women also comprise the majority of enrolled Black and Latino undergraduates—up to 70% in graduate programs.


Despite the social, cultural, and political significance of this trend, there is little research on the race-gender gap in education.  This trend begs several questions: Why do more women graduate than men? How do formal and informal institutional practices within high schools “race” and “gender” students?  How do racializ(ing) and gender(ing) processes intersect in the classroom setting?  Finally, how can teachers work toward dismantling race, gender, and class oppression in their classrooms?  A guiding premise of the study is that race and gender are socially constructed processes that are overlapping, intertwined, and inseparable.  This understanding of race differs in fundamental ways from the essentialist perspective, which assumes that race is an innate and static biological essence.

RACE(ING) AND GENDER(ING) PROCESSES IN THE HIGH SCHOOL SETTING

To understand why women attain higher levels of education than men, I investigated race(ing) and gender(ing) processes in the high school setting.  High school is a crucial site for exploring the origins of the gender gap because it is in this institution where it begins to become most pronounced.  I therefore focus on how ordinary day-to-day school practices and classroom dynamics are racial(ized) and gender(ed), and in turn shape men's and women's views about the role of education in their lives.  My primary data come from 5 months of participant observation at Urban High School, a New York City public high school that was 90% Latino; most of the students are second-generation Dominicans who were born in the United States or had most of their schooling in the United States.  During the spring of 1998, I regularly observed, for 3 days a week, four mainstream classes in the social studies department: two economic classes for seniors, one American history class for juniors, and one global studies class for sophomores. Regrettably, classrooms are not impervious to the social narratives that frame Latino and Black students, particularly young men, as problems.  I found that both formal and informal institutional practices within schools "race" and "gender" students in ways that significantly affect their outlooks on education. Young men are viewed as threatening and potential problem students, whereas young women are treated in a more sympathetic fashion.


If our goal is to eliminate the race-gender gap in education, it is extremely important that we examine the processes through which students are racialized and gendered in schools through school policies and classroom pedagogy.  Once we become aware of the invisible ways in which gender(ing) and race(ing) processes take place at both the macro- and micro level in schools, we can begin to rewrite the race and gender lessons many students, particularly Black and Latino students, learn about who they are and who they can be.  It is my hope that by paying attention to the race(ing) and gender(ing) in the classroom and school policies we will be on our way to eradicating the race-gender gap in education.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 6, 2002, p. 1187-1203
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10978, Date Accessed: 12/6/2021 4:36:47 PM

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About the Author
  • Nancy Lopez
    University of Massachusetts Boston
    E-mail Author
    NANCY LÓPEZ is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She has published articles in Phoebe: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Feminist Scholarship, Theory and Aesthetics; Race, Ethnicity and Education; and the Latinos Studies Journal. Her forthcoming book, Race(ing) the Gender Gap will be published by Routledge. Her research interests include race, gender, education, Dominican/Latino studies, and ethnography.
 
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