This ethnographic study of an urban high school in one of the most diverse cities in the United States examines the role that race plays in the lives of students. At a school publicly celebrated for its integration, academic excellence, and racial harmony, the reality is a different story: that of continuing internal segregation and racial conflicts.
Examining the role of race in neighborhood relations, desegregation programs, and school violence, the author uncovers competing racial orders. A gifted magnet program reinforces the notion that being white means being gifted. Conflicts in the schoolyard show a racial bipolarization where Cambodian Americans identify as blacks and Latinos as whites. Applying racial formation theory to ethnographic research, this study reveals how a school racializes its students. But students are not just passive victims of such structural forces. They also creatively shape the way in which race is organized, imagined, and experienced.
About the author
Annegret Daniela Staiger is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Clarkson University.
"Learning Difference is exceptionally good school ethnography. Staiger brings hidden forces to the surface that are not easily seen in classrooms and schoolyards but that nevertheless seethe through the ways in which different racial groups fashion their relations with schooling and one another. This book is a must read for anyone interested in how race is actually constructed and played out in public high schools."
"A savvy ethnographer, Staiger reveals the social contours of an urban high school with no racial majority. Here black, white, Latino, and Asian adolescents aggressively use race and gender as tools to define identities and groups across multiple school spaces. Viewed by outsiders as harmonious, this school seethes with strong divisions and alliances among racial groups jockeying for position in a familiar white-to-black hierarchy. Concealed behind color-blind talk, societys racial stratification system replicates itself in an internal segregation of gifted and at risk students. If schools are testing grounds for social justice and equality, this one is more failure than success."
—Joe R. Feagin, Texas A & M University
"American schools are a battleground of diverse issues—busing, unequal access to resources, multicultural education and bilingual classes, gangs, and declining property values. Underlying all of these is the issue of race. Thank goodness for Annegret Staiger, who is not afraid to shine a bright light on the social conflicts our children navigate every day. Learning Difference digs deep into the lives of high school students of different backgrounds to explore how they live together and apart, managing friendship and animosity, challenged by well-meaning but misguided school policies. This book should be required reading in every teacher-training degree, and placed on the desk of every principal."
—Kevin Bales, President, Free the Slaves