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Dear Mr. Kozol. . . . Four African American Women Scholars and the Re-authoring of Savage Inequalities

by Raquel Farmer-Hinton, Joi D. Lewis, Lori D. Patton & Ishwanzya D. Rivers - 2013

Background: In 1991, Savage Inequalities quickly became the most riveting assessment of the inequalities in U.S. public schools. When Kozol visited East St. Louis for his book, the authors of this paper lived and attended schools there. As Kozol’s readers in their respective graduate and undergraduate classes, the authors found it difficult to merge his outsider views with their insider experiences because their backgrounds included many unnamed human and structural resources, valuable beyond a dominant and patriarchal framework.

Objective: The objective of this paper is to resituate Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities by critiquing Kozol’s caricaturization of East St. Louis and its schools as places where students and community members lack communal agency and resources. Through the lens of each form of capital from Yosso’s (2005) Community Cultural Wealth Model, the authors show how their stories reflected access to various forms of capital as K-12 students in East St. Louis.

Research Design: The methodological framework for this study is narrative inquiry. The authors storied their East St. Louis experiences by generating a narrative protocol and using the protocol to share their backgrounds, historical and contemporary understandings of East St. Louis, and each author’s educational and professional trajectories. Once the narratives were completed, the authors shared and analyzed the narrative texts to identify patterns and emergent themes.

Findings: The narratives revealed how families, teachers, community centers, churches, and extracurricular programs were sources of familial, aspirational, resistant, navigational, and social capital. The narratives also provided clarity on the power and dignity of “unnamed” family and community structures, even though these forms of capital are rarely explored in the dominant literature.

Conclusion: The narratives complicate Kozol’s interpretation and prompt readers to look at East St. Louis (and other urban communities) with a more paradoxical frame. This study is important for future educators who read Savage Inequalities and misunderstand urban students and families as subjects who need to be saved. Educators and potential educators require a much more complicated view of urban school districts and school children since scholarship can often provide a one-sided picture of inadequacy and despair. The authors contend that although East St. Louis indeed faces critical challenges fueled by racism and classism, the authors re-storied Kozol’s narrative to expose the very rich source of community cultural capital that exists in East St. Louis and other urban centers very much like it.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 5, 2013, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16955, Date Accessed: 5/13/2021 3:46:42 PM

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About the Author
  • Raquel Farmer-Hinton
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
    E-mail Author
    RAQUEL L. FARMER-HINTON is an associate professor in the Educational Policy and Community Studies department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research, teaching, and service agenda focuses on educational inequities, the urban context in which many of these inequities exist, and the school communities who educate within these inequitable contexts. She currently conducts research on the college preparation of students of color in urban communities. Toward that end, her publications (in journals such as Teachers College Record; Education and Urban Society; The Urban Review; The High School Journal; and The Journal of Negro Education) examine the resources of school communities that help students of color to prepare for and transition to college.
  • Joi Lewis
    Mills College
    E-mail Author
    JOI D. LEWIS is currently the Dean of Student Life at Mills College in Oakland, California. She was recently named Vice President of Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, effective July 2012. She is an accomplished and experienced practitioner-scholar and leader regarding institutional transformation and redressing historical inequities in higher education. Her scholarship is similarly focused. As a scholar of resistance movements, her research includes models of retention and belonging, a comparative analysis of systems of higher education in the United States and South Africa, the roles that Black women play in institutional transformation, and narrative research as liberatory praxis. Her life's work and vocation have been profoundly shaped by two critical lived experiences: growing up in East St. Louis, IL and working and leading for upwards of 20 years at several urban colleges and universities.
  • Lori Patton
    Indiana University
    E-mail Author
    LORI D. PATTON is an associate professor in the Higher Education Program at Indiana University. Her research agenda broadly examines racial injustice in the academy and the experiences of minoritized populations in higher education. Recent studies have placed a particular focus on African American students with regard to gender and sexual identities; experiences at historically Black colleges, and involvement in racial/ethnic culture centers. She is co-author of the 2nd edition of Student Development in College (Jossey-Bass), co-editor of Responding to the Realities of Race (Jossey-Bass), and editor of Culture Centers in Higher Education (Stylus Publishing). She is nationally known and has been recognized by the Association for the Study of Higher Education for exemplary scholarship.
  • Ishwanzya Rivers
    Millikin University
    E-mail Author
    ISHWANZYA D. RIVERS is the assistant director for the Center for Multicultural Student Affairs and the director of the Long-Vanderburg Caterpillar Scholar’s Program at Millikin University. Her research and teaching interests focus on college access, choice, recruitment, and retention for underrepresented students. Particularly, she examines the relationships between higher education, legislative policy, institutional policy, and social and economic outcomes for historically underrepresented and underserved students. She is the co-author of “Reassessing the Achievement Gap: An Intergenerational Comparison of African American Student Achievement before and after Compensatory Education and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)”, which was published in a special issue of Teacher’s College Record in 2012. She is also the author of “If They Don’t Make a Place for Us, We Should Make a Place for Ourselves”: African American Women and Nursing at State Community College” in Black Women in Leadership: Their Historical and Contemporary Contributions edited by Dannielle Joy Davis and Cassandra Chaney (forthcoming).
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