Whose School Is It? Women, Children, Memory, and Practice in the City

Whose School Is It? Women, Children, Memory, and Practice in the City

Whose School Is It? Women, Children, Memory, and Practice in the City

Whose School Is It? Women, Children, Memory, and Practice in the City


Whose School Is It?: Women, Memory, and Practice in the City is a success story with roadblocks, crashes, and detours. Rhoda Halperin uses feminist theorist and activist Gloria Anzaldúa's ideas about borderlands created by colliding cultures to deconstruct the creation and advancement of a public community charter school in a diverse, long-lived urban neighborhood on the Ohio River. Class, race, and gender mix with age, local knowledge, and place authenticity to create a page-turning story of grit, humour, and sheer stubbornness. The school has grown and flourished in the face of daunting market forces, class discrimination, and an increasingly unfavourable national climate for charter schools. Borderlands are tense spaces. The school is a microcosm of the global city. Many theoretical strands converge in this book--feminist theory, ideas about globalization, class analysis, and accessible narrative writing--to present some new approaches in urban anthropology. The book is multi-voiced and nuanced in ways that provide authenticity and texture to the real circumstances of urban lives. At the same time, identities are threatened as community practices clash with rules and regulations imposed by outsiders. Since it is based on fifteen years of ethnographic fieldwork in the community and the city, Whose School Is It? brings unique long-term perspectives on continuities and disjunctures in cities. Halperin's work as researcher and advocate also provides insider perspectives that are rare in the literature of urban anthropology.


In that place, where they tore the nightshade and blackberry patches
from their roots to make room for the Medallion City Golf Course,
there was once a neighborhood. It stood in the hills above the valley town
of Medallion and spread all the way to the river. It is called the suburbs
now, but when black people lived there it was called the Bottom

—Toni Morrison, Sula

Memory and history

“It will give us a chance to get back to what the neighborhood used to be.”

These were the words of Robbie, a fifty-five-year-old founding mother of this urban public charter school and grandmother of this working-class community, as she scraped and painted and moved furniture for the opening day in September 2000. School opened on the day after Labor Day, to be exact, the traditional day that school starts in the East End. Finally Robbie was back in Highlands School, a Cincinnati public school building where Athena, Robbie, and her sister and brother and cousins had gone. Her father and numerous aunts and uncles had attended Highlands before her. the building is filled with memories—memories of this urban community as it used to be. Robbie had lived in the East End all her life and it had been her dream to bring the old school back to its proper place in the community.

In the eighties Highlands had ceased to be a neighborhood K–8 school for East End children. Other kinds of public schools—alternative schools and specialized school programs—had claimed the building’s space. For . . .

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