ERIC Number: ED375488
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1994-Apr
The State As Equalizer: Who Is Helping Whom?
Hamovitch, Bram A.
This paper presents the findings of an ethnographic study of a state-run and state-funded remediation program for economically disadvantaged adolescents. The program's main purpose was to reintegrate students defined as "at risk" of dropping out back into their schools. The program, the Ordered School Reinforcement Program (OSRP), was implemented at two sites: one comprised primarily of African-American adolescents in a small northeastern city; and the other comprised entirely of white adolescents in a working-class suburb of that city. Methods included observation, document analysis, and interviews with staff, students, parents, and state employers. The state, program staff, parents, and casual observers overwhelmingly viewed the program as a success. However, the data indicate that the program lacked adequate resources to meet its stated objective of helping students achieve academic success. Why was the program viewed as a success when it failed to meet its goals? Despite the staff's sincere motives, staff tended to blame the victims for their own inadequate socialization. By assuming an individual-deficit model, the state failed to directly confront the systematic ways in which public education itself disadvantages disempowered groups, making compensatory education necessary in the first place. Solutions may lie in restructuring mainstream educational programs, rather than in providing integrative assistance to failures and potential failures. In conclusion, the OSRP exemplifies America's ambivalence about providing help to the poor. On the one hand, Americans want to believe that hard work, an independent spirit and goal-directed behavior can earn everyone a piece of the middle class pie. On the other hand, Americans are aware from experiences like plant closing, the 1930's depression, the recent recession, and market declines that individuals cannot control all the social and economic forces around them. The program symbolizes America's inability to face the issue of welfare policy. (LMI)
Publication Type: Reports - Research; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (New Orleans, LA, April 4-8, 1994).