LEARNING TO DIVIDE IN THE WORLD: YOUTH EXPERIENCES IN A MID-ATLANTIC COMPREHENSIVE HIGH SCHOOL 1950-2000
Eick, Caroline Marie
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ABSTRACT Title of dissertation: LEARNING TO DIVIDE IN THE WORLD: YOUTH EXPERIENCES IN A MID-ATLANTIC COMPREHENSIVE HIGH SCHOOL (1950-2000) Caroline Marie Eick, Doctor of Philosophy, 2005 Dissertation directed by:Professor Barbara Finkelstein Department of Education Policy and Leadership This history interprets and critically examines the cross-gender, cross-racial, and cross-class relationships of serial generations of students, who attended a Mid-Atlantic comprehensive high school between 1950 and 2000, as revealed in the oral histories of thirty-seven alumni, African-American, white and Eastern European, richer and poorer. Miller High was chosen for its early integration in 1956, and for its location in a community that transformed, over the last half of the twentieth century, from rural, to suburban, to urban-suburban; and from a predominantly white middle-class town along which lived a small African-American community established since the nineteenth century, to a multicultural population that by the 1990s included Russian immigrants and African-American youth newly arrived from city schools. Alumni's recollections revealed three generations of students who, bound in time by different demographic configurations, different levels of school disciplinary measures, and different shades of hierarchy in student-teacher relations, constructed their associations with peers and school authorities markedly differently: "The Divided Generation" (1950-1969), "The Border-Crossing Generation" (1970-1985), and "The Re-divided Generation" (1986-2000). Of the three generations, "The Border-Crossing Generation" most freely crossed class, gender, and race divides. They attended Miller High at a time when school policies were relatively lax, graduating classes were still relatively small, and mostly neighborhood students from integrated feeder schools attended against the national backdrop of the civil rights movements. This analysis identifies how Miller High students across generations and across diverse backgrounds who felt exposed or alienated within school-imposed associations with peers, either when herded in large spaces such as the cafeteria or divided into tracks, or who could not find a place within youth-generated peer-groups that privileged shared interests and affinities over racial, and class identities, sought refuge within communities of shared ethnic, class, or racial backgrounds. It further identifies, within generational time periods, the role played by demographics and school authorities' disciplinary measures in loosening or reinforcing students' segregating tendencies.