Ethnic Minority Students in - or out of? - Education: Processes of Marginalization in and across School and Other Contexts

By Lagermann, Laila Colding | Outlines : Critical Practice Studies, May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Minority Students in - or out of? - Education: Processes of Marginalization in and across School and Other Contexts


Lagermann, Laila Colding, Outlines : Critical Practice Studies


Introduction

Since the publication of the results of OECD's first PISA survey in 2000, Denmark has had an increased focus on students of non-Western heritage, most often referred to as ethnic minority1 students. The reasons for this increased focus has to do with the PISA results pointing out how ethnic minority students in Denmark are struggling in terms of reading skills compared to their ethnic majority classmates, as well as PISA's highlighting of the specifically Danish phenomenon (compared to other OECD countries) that descendants of immigrants in Denmark perform at almost the same level or worse as immigrants (PISA 2000 and 2003 in Mejding (ed.), 2004). Sparked by Danish results in the most recent PISA surveys, Denmark is, yet again, facing heated debates regarding ethnic minority boys and men in particular, their poor reading skills, and their failure to complete an upper secondary education.

The PISA assessments tend to describe and interpret students in abstract, statistical ways, within a conditioning discourse where students are placed into contexts where only "impacts" and "outcomes" are registered (Holzkamp, 2013), leaving out the perspectives and narratives of the subjects involved. Applying Holzkamp's concept of 'reasoning discourse', this paper attempts to break with interpretations of these students within a conditioning discourse which stresses a number of risk factors for such young men (e.g. becoming involved in gang related street communities (Mørck et al., 2013) and -conflicts), as well as for society in general (e.g. rejecting upper secondary education).

The dis-/connections between marginalization in- and outside school are analyzed and interpreted based on Holzkamp's (2013) concept of conduct of everyday life; a concept which implies that, in order to understand and grasp a person's participation and ways of living in one context, one must (also) pay attention to his/her participation and ways of making sense across this specific context and others in which he/she participates. This involves assuming the individual in question's first person perspective in relation to their 'reasons for action' and their 'life interests' (Holzkamp, 2013).

A fundamental aspect of the concept of marginalization used in this paper is that it is closely related to a lack of access to participation in and across various contexts, thereby implying that the young students encountered in this paper, Amir and Saad, have limited influence on essential conditions of their own lives (Mørck, 2006, 27).

As part of the analyses, I discuss opportunities and barriers for Hakim, Amir and Saad to lead what Butler (2004) refers to as "viable lives" within a school context where the dominant discourse of 'teaching-as-usual' (Davies, 2006), with its individualizing and at the same time relational implications2 (e.g. (lack of) recognition (Honneth, 1995 (1992))), seems to create certain tensions, double binds and contradictions for some students. This, in turn, co-creates the marginalization of these students within the school context. As the question mark in the headline indicates, there is no direct or linear connection within the collected data between marginalization within the school context and outside it. Rather, it points to some interesting threads that do however suggest what could very well be a connection in this particular case, and thus, others like it. I will return to this by the end of the paper.

Background and research design

Some ethnographic educational research points out how the school reproduces certain students' marginal positions in society (e.g. Ferguson, 2000; Olsen, 1997; McDermott, 1993; Willis, 2003 (1977)). Furthermore, there is Danish research literature which points to why things go wrong at school for students with ethnic minority backgrounds (e.g. Gilliam, 2005; Gitz-Johansen, 2006; Elsborg, et.al., 2005) by focusing on how marginalization is reproduced within different institutions by elaborating the implicit and silent processes through which educational professionals, despite their good intentions, contribute to further marginalization of young people with ethnic minority backgrounds (Gilliam, 2005; Hjerrild, 2005; Bek- Pedersen, 2005; Bundgaard & Gulløv, 2005; Vitus-Andersen, 2004). …

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