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Renaming the Narrative, Reclaiming Their Humanity: Black and Latino Males’ Descriptions of Success

by Tyrone C. Howard, Brian Woodward, Oscar Navarro, Adrian Huerta, Bianca N. Haro & Kenjus Watson - 2019

Background/Context: An ongoing challenge for scholars who examine the educational experiences of young men of color, particularly Black and Latino males, is to illustrate the complex nature of their experiences and to call into question the dichotomous narrative that these students are either successful or unsuccessful. There is a responsibility for scholars to present a balanced, more nuanced analysis and to highlight that, while a significant number of these young men are underperforming compared to their peers from other backgrounds, there are many students who are doing quite well in school. While interrogating the notion of success can be a complex task, one of the concerns in the professional literature has been that the definition is frequently limited to narrow or conventional standards (i.e., high GPA, high test scores, etc.). While these examples of success are indeed important, we maintain that they do not capture the full spectrum of favorable educational and social outcomes of Black and Latino male students both inside and outside of schools.

Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study: This study operates from the standpoint that many Black and Latino males are thriving, yet their stories are rarely told, especially by the young men themselves. The objective of the study is to challenge conventional depictions of Black and Latino males by better understanding how these young men perceive themselves, as well as how they conceptualize success. Thus, the questions that anchored this study include: How do Black and Latino males describe themselves? In what ways do they operationalize the term “success”? And what can researchers, practitioners, and policymakers learn from student perceptions of success?

Research Design/Data Collection and Analysis: The study included in-depth qualitative interviews that were conducted in person. The interviews were audio recorded and subsequently transcribed. Transcripts were uploaded to a qualitative data analysis program. Prevalent themes, topics, key terms, and phrases were all identified and ultimately represented recurring patterns and codes within the data.

Findings/Results: Students defined success in similar ways to how they described themselves. "Hardworking," "determined," and "able to work with others" were a few descriptors offered by the participants. Moreover, the young men expressed an inherent belief that success was not relegated to school alone and that it was equally important to make their mark in their respective homes and communities. Establishing financial security, emphasizing self-improvement, helping their families and communities, and just wanting to be happy were other ways in which the participants defined success.

Conclusion: Allowing students to develop their own definitions of success can serve as an impetus toward a shift away from thinking that success is in how others define the term. Success for these young men was the ability to write their own narrative.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 5, 2019, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22661, Date Accessed: 9/25/2020 10:39:33 AM

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About the Author
  • Tyrone Howard
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    TYRONE C. HOWARD is Professor in the Urban Schooling Division of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). He is also Faculty Director of Center X, Founder and Director of the Black Male Institute, and an associate faculty member in the Bunche Center for African American studies at UCLA. Dr. Howard is the author of Why Race and Culture Matters in Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America's Classrooms and more recently, Black Male(D): Peril and Promise in the Education of African American Males, both published by Teachers College Press. He has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and other academic publications and reports. His work has appeared in The Journal of Higher Education, Teachers College Record, Theory & Research in Social Education, The Journal of Negro Education, Urban Education, and several other well-regarded academic journals.
  • Brian Woodward
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    BRIAN WOODWARD is a doctoral candidate in the Urban Schooling division of UCLA. His research interests focuses on centering the voice of Black male students’ perceptions of effective teaching.
  • Oscar Navarro
    California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
    E-mail Author
    OSCAR NAVARRO is an assistant professor of secondary education at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. His experience as a high school teacher in South Central Los Angeles and involvement in the People’s Education Movement inform his scholarship on improving the teaching and learning for students of Color in secondary schools.
  • Adrian Huerta
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    ADRIAN H. HUERTA is a provost postdoctoral scholar in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. His current scholarship focuses on boys and young men of color, college access and equity, and vulnerable student populations in the educational pipeline. Among other publications, he is the coauthor of “Employing a developmental perspective to examine how young men of color construct a college-going identity” in The Urban Review (2018).
  • Bianca Haro
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    BIANCA N. HARO, a feminista scholar-activist, is a first-generation student and daughter of immigrant parents from Guadalajara, Jalisco. Currently, Bianca is a doctoral candidate in the Urban Schooling Division at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Using Critical Race Theory and Chicana/Latina Feminist Theory, her research centers Latina high school students and examines the unique ways Latinas experience discipline and a culture of control in school. Overall, Bianca challenges the patriarchal positioning of the “school-to-prison pipeline” and conventional factors that have been associated with school discipline.
  • Kenjus Watson
    San Francisco State University
    E-mail Author
    KENJUS WATSON is a postdoctoral fellow with the SF BUILD Program through the National Institute of Health in the Health and Equity Lab at San Francisco State University. His research examines the biopsychosocial impact of racial microaggressions and the potential contributions of critical race pedagogies toward epigenetic healing across the educational pipeline.
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