In this book, we examine tenets of the American Dream as a merit narrative enacted in schools to better understand how beliefs about talent, hard work, and perseverance support the status quo rather than critical analysis of barriers to educational success for students of color and students from a poverty context. Using narrative methodologies, the authors explore the connections and consistencies within and between their personal narratives and the narratives of school youth and educators that work with them. Based on analysis of these shared stories, we argue for the importance of moving from individualized success stories that reify hard work and perseverance to collective, communal stories that serve to break down myths of meritocracy, critically examine inequities, and move educational advocates forward in authentic, audacious, hopeful ways.
Gretchen Givens Generett is the Interim Dean and professor in the School of Education at Duquesne University.
Amy M. Olson is associate professor of educational psychology and classroom assessment in the department of educational foundations and leadership at Duquesne University.
Chapter One: The Stories that Shaped Us
Chapter Two: The Stories Educators Tell
Chapter Three: The Stories Students Tell
Chapter Four: Reframing the Stories we Tell
Chapter Five: The Stories We Aspire to Tell
Drawing on their own stories as well as those of students and educators, Givens (now Givens Generett) and Olson challenge the merit narrative underlying the US school system, critiquing the emphasis on talent, hard work, and individual perseverance and the ignorance of systemic barriers to educational success. Although this call to adopt a system-based perspective in understanding students of color is not the first of its kind, the authors offer a unique narrative lens that hints at the intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexuality, and immigration status in the merit narrative rather than directly applying race analysis frameworks, such as critical race theory. Recommended. General readers through graduate students; two-year program students.
The American Dream for Students of Color: Barriers to Educational Success is a powerful rendering of the kind of hard work, deep thinking, and truth telling we must do if we are serious about the education of students of color in the United States. Stories are one of the most powerful way to capture who we are and who we want to be. The ways we talk about our schools, the way we talk about our students, the ways we talk about ourselves… all of these stories tells a lot about who we are. Our stories illuminate what we will do to either support or resist the emancipating work of educating students of color. Generett and Olson’s use of stories to understand ourselves and to understand how our students see their world is an essential practice to enacting more equitable and just schools. Teachers and leaders all benefit deeply from this critical work.
This is the book that all modern culturally-responsible educators need to offset generations of myths and harms done under the dangerous presumptions that success results from effort. Empower teachers to empower students advocates. This powerful read applies qualitative techniques to educators’ heartbreaking and inspiring stories of courage journeys. The case studies and questions provide accessible opportunities for readers to immediately practice the lessons woven throughout the text. The authors hold up a mirror to systemic problems and offer realistic ways to enact large- and small-scale change.
The American Dream for Students of Color is a reminder that if we are to change schools to being places of liberation, equity, and hope, we must have the moral courage to critically reflect on the narratives that shape how we think of ourselves and others. Sharing their own narratives, and the stories of teachers and students, Generett and Olson illuminate the dangers of hyper-individualized meritocratic narratives, and encourages us to intentionally reframe to stories of collectivity. If we believe that Black Lives truly matter, we must recognize and address the structural and institutional barriers that burden students. Story, with its relational and intergenerational power to connect our humanity in moral relation to one another, is one method to accomplish this big fete.
3/31/22, Choice: This book was featured in a roundup of top community college titles.