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“I’m Trying to Beat a Stereotype”: Suburban African American Male Students’ Social Supports and Personal Resources for Success in AP English Coursework


by Erin E. McArdle & Jennifer D. Turner - 2021

Background: African American male students attending U.S. suburban schools remain severely underrepresented in Advanced Placement (AP) programs. A number of structural barriers, including racialized tracking policies; limited referrals from educators and school counselors; conventional AP practices centered on Eurocentric curricula, literature, and pedagogies; and educators’ deficit mindsets toward Black masculinity, mitigate African American male students’ access to and success in suburban AP classrooms. Despite these sobering realities, African American male students have achieved success in AP English Language Arts coursework. Yet few researchers have investigated the multiple and complex forms of support to which African American male students attribute their successful performance in AP English coursework in suburban high schools.

Purpose/Research Question: In an effort to close opportunity gaps in AP English programs, the present study illuminates the social supports and personal resources that African American male students mobilized to earn exemplary grades (i.e., maintaining a grade of B- or higher, or 79.6% or higher out of 100%) in an AP English Language and Composition and/or an English Literature and Composition course, and earn a passing score on the formal AP exam (i.e., 3 or higher). Countering deficit-oriented research paradigms, we employed an anti-deficit achievement framework to (re)position young African American men as capable, motivated, and agentive learners who marshal complex supportive networks, as well as their own personal resources, to successfully learn academic literacies in AP English classrooms. Our inquiry was guided by the following research question: To what social supports and personal resources do young African American men who graduated from a suburban high school attribute their success in AP English coursework?

Participants: Eight young African American men who were enrolled in AP English coursework in a suburban Mid-Atlantic secondary school were the participants in this study. Participants were successful learners who received exemplary grades in an AP English class, were taught by the first author, and earned a passing score on an AP English exam. Participants’ ages ranged from 21 to 33 years, and all were attending or had graduated from a four-year college or university.

Research Design: The young men participated in one-on-one, in-depth interviews. Interviews probed the participants’ personal experiences in AP English, their perspectives in achieving success in the class and on the formal exam, and their recollections of the AP English curriculum, and were cross-analyzed for common sources of supports through multiple coding cycles.

Findings: The young men highlighted six sources of support that were integral to their AP English success. They described three sources of social supports—the wisdom, guidance, and caring that they received from family members, English teachers, and peers—that promoted their success in AP English. In addition, participants identified three types of personal resources—their own college aspirations, persistence in learning academic literacies, and racial consciousness—that inspired and motivated their high scholastic achievement in AP English.

Conclusion: By mobilizing the rich social supports and personal resources in their lives, African American male students have the resilience, courage, and the intelligence to enroll and succeed in AP English coursework. We suggest that suburban school administrators, school counselors, and teachers use open AP enrollment policies; work closely with and provide pertinent information to African American families; address students’ social emotional concerns; and ensure that AP English pedagogical practices are humanizing to improve the recruitment and retention of African American male students in AP English programs. Finally, we contend that educational scholars and practitioners must continue to engage in research and practice that nurture young African American male students’ social supports and personal resources for AP English success.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 4, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23649, Date Accessed: 5/15/2021 8:34:00 PM

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About the Author
  • Erin E. McArdle
    HS English Teacher
    E-mail Author
    ERIN E. MCARDLE, Ph.D., is a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescence and Young Adulthood in English Language Arts and is currently an English teacher and the English department chair at a large suburban high school in the Mid-Atlantic area. Her current research interests are in increasing AP English enrollment and success for students who have been historically marginalized.
  • Jennifer D. Turner
    University of Maryland
    E-mail Author
    JENNIFER D. TURNER, Ph.D., is an associate professor in reading education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland. Her recent work on multimodality and Black youth futurisms has been published in Research in the Teaching of English, Journal of Negro Education, and Race, Ethnicity, and Education.
 
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