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The Men You Will Become: Single-Sex Public Education and the Crisis of Black Boys

  • Author(s): Oeur, Freeden
  • Advisor(s): Thorne, Barrie
  • et al.
Abstract

Against a backdrop of massive public school reform, single-sex public schools have become an increasingly popular, but controversial, option for parents and their children. In this dissertation, I demonstrate that single-sex public education today is merely the latest twist in a long-term, historically-situated trajectory of gender- and race-separated schooling in the United States. Drawing on 11 months of intensive fieldwork, over 140 in-depth interviews, and an analysis of documents at two single-sex, nearly all-African American public high schools in the large east coast of "Morgan," I ask: What interventions do single-sex public schools make on behalf of their African American male students? And what impact do those interventions have on the boys' masculinity formation and life chances?

At "Perry High," a grades 7-12 neighborhood public school, officials and community members identified mass incarceration and the lack of caregiving as acute, interrelated crises facing their young African American male students. The administrators desired for their boys to grow to become responsible husbands and fathers, and the boys themselves aspired to be these men. The school, however, lacked the resources and strategies to remove many of the boys off the school-to-prison pipeline. At "Urban Charter," a charter school serving boys in grades 9-11, staff and "consumer" buy-in and a strong formal, academic curriculum enabled the school to remove more of their boys from the school-to-prison pipeline and to place them on a college track. The school also depended on a second hidden curriculum that sought to protect the boys from the perceived degradation of regular public schools, and in particular the threatening specter of the boys who attended those schools. School officials desired for their students to become respectable, middle-class workers in a global economy.

These findings extend knowledge on African American boys and schooling in several ways. I show that single-sex public schools that target this population rely little on beliefs in gender differences between boys and girls, and instead primarily on the unique vulnerabilities of African American boys. I also build on research on caregiving within schools and show how schools frame mass incarceration as a miscarriage of justice requiring certain provisions of care, and how boys desired care from adults. Last, I show how different institutional histories and capacities, particularly between regular public schools and public charters, greatly impact the ability of schools to intervene on behalf of their young Black men and to "save" them.

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