School ethnography is a familiar genre, but what I do with it in this book is a little unusual. Instead of treating the school as a container filled with teacher cultures, student subgroups, classroom instruction, and administrative micropolitics, I look at one school, Thurber Elementary,1 in Roanoke, Virginia, as an intersection in social space, a knot in a web of practices that stretch into complex systems beginning and ending outside the school. Instead of looking at educational settings--schools, classrooms, and so forth--as having clear boundaries and identifiable contents, I look at them as extensive in space and time, fluid in form and content; as intersections of multiple networks shaping cities, communities, schools, pedagogies, and teacher and student practices.
Part of my aim is to subvert the common focus on schools and classrooms as privileged sites of educational work. As Meyer ( 1977) pointed out, "Educational systems are, in fact, theories of socialization institutionalized as rules at the collective level" (p. 65), and the primacy of schools in creating educational effects is a key facet of such theories. Focusing on schools or classrooms as autonomous systems makes sense as a strategic moment in educational research--teachers, and to a lesser extent students, have to construct a lot of their everyday school life within these premises. But such a focus obscures how political, cultural, and economic forces shape school practices and are articulated with them and ignores the many critical strands of activity that connect schools to life outside schools.
In this book I want to explore the contrary notion that the key to understanding education isn't to be found in what happens in classrooms or schools but in the relations that bind them to networks of practice extending beyond. I want to give school its due, but not on its own terms--to treat it not as the focus of study but as a point of entry ( Smith, 1987) to the study of economic, cultural, and political relations shaping curriculum, teaching, and kids' experiences.____________________