Tangled Up in School: Politics, Space, Bodies, and Signs in the Educational Process

Tangled Up in School: Politics, Space, Bodies, and Signs in the Educational Process

Tangled Up in School: Politics, Space, Bodies, and Signs in the Educational Process

Tangled Up in School: Politics, Space, Bodies, and Signs in the Educational Process


Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in an urban elementary school, this volume is an examination of how school division politics, regional economic policies, parental concerns, urban development efforts, popular cultures, gender ideologies, racial politics, and university and corporate agendas come together to produce educational effects. Unlike conventional school ethnographies, the focus of this work is less on classrooms than on the webs of social relations that embed schools in neighborhoods, cities, states, and regions. Utilizing a variety of narratives and analytical styles, this volume:

• explores how curriculum innovations are simultaneously made possible by and undermined by school district politics, neighborhood histories, and the spatial and temporal organizations of teachers' and parents' lives;

• situates the educational discourse of administrators and teachers in the changing economic and political climates of the city;

• analyzes the motivations behind an effort by school and business proponents to refashion classrooms within the school into business enterprises, and of children's efforts to make sense of the scheme;

• examines the role of the school as a neighborhood institution, situating it at the intersections of city planners' efforts to regulate city space and children's efforts to carve out live spaces through out-of-school routines;

• contemplates the meaning of school as a site for bodily experience, and looks at how patterns of space and control in the school shaped children's bodies, and at how they continued to use body-based languages to construct maturity, gender, and race; and

• investigates the school as a space for the deployment of symbolic resources where children learned and constructed identities through their engagements with television, comic books, movies, and sports.

Tangled Up In School raises questions about how we draw the boundaries of the school, about how schools fit into the lives of children and cities, and about what we mean when we talk about "school."


Educational discourse usually treats the school as a bounded system, a container of classroom processes and curricular texts, an institutional shell waiting to be filled up by the actions of teachers, students, and administrators. But looking at schools as somehow separate from cities, politics, neighborhoods, businesses, and popular culture obscures how these are all inextricably connected to one another, how they jointly produce educational effects.

When groups and processes are analytically detached from each other in this fashion and treated as independent agents, it becomes easy to slide into the bleak loops of contemporary educational debate, where politicians blame teachers, teachers blame parents and kids, parents blame politicians and teachers, then join with them to blame the media, and kids are excluded altogether from the conversation.

The debate becomes less simple, but more constructive, when we focus on the dense interconnections among various actors and processes. Instead of looking at the school as a container, we have to peel back its walls and inspect the strings and rhizomes linking it to the outside world (which is no longer "outside"). We have to examine the crumpled spacetime topography that brings some institutions and neighborhoods close and pushes others away. We need to map the material trajectories of bodies to and from school, and weigh the densities of symbolic forms imported, created, and appropriated by students. the question then becomes, What do we talk about when we talk about schools?

The answer is not simple. This book takes a particular elementary school as its starting point and examines the local politics, regional economics, community--school conflicts, corporate influences, body discourses, neighborhood histories, and streams of popular culture that coursed through it over a 2-year period. the first chapter looks at how administrators, teachers, and parents struggled, often with one another, to define the school. the second chapter examines efforts by administrators, city politicians, and business representatives to define the school as an adjunct to the corporate economy--and kids' responses to that effort. the third chapter explores the place of the school as a neighborhood institution, examining the intersections of city planners'

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