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ERIC Number: EJ879573
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Feb
Pages: 37
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 69
ISSN: ISSN-0034-527X
What "Hard Times" Means: Mandated Curricula, Class-Privileged Assumptions, and the Lives of Poor Children
Dutro, Elizabeth
Research in the Teaching of English, v44 n3 p255-291 Feb 2010
In this article, I present a qualitative analysis of third graders' experiences with a unit from their district-mandated commercial reading curriculum in which the children made strong connections between a fictional account of a Depression-era farm family's economic hardships and their own 21st century lives in a city with one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the United States. The language of the curriculum revealed class-privileged assumptions and an instrumental, competency-based approach to literacy that provided no official space for resonance between reader and text around the issue of poverty. Employing depth hermeneutics, a form of critical discourse analysis, I discuss analyses of three texts: the literature selection, the children's written responses, and the teacher's edition for that unit. My findings reveal that (1) the curriculum portrays economic struggle as a temporary condition, located only in historical or national disaster contexts, even as the children's stories relate life within systemic, multigenerational poverty; (2) the teacher's edition includes language, images, and structures that disregard the possibility that children may respond with personal experiences of poverty; and (3) the children's responses engaged with the story thematically and aesthetically in ways that far surpassed the curriculum's expectation of surface-level, text-bound, inferential response. I also explore how the disconnection between the children's responses and the language of the curriculum was exacerbated by a high accountability policy context in which their teacher felt pressure to adhere to the pacing guides of the curriculum. Implications for research and practice include the importance of analyzing complex interactions between curriculum, policy, and the material realities of children's lives; the need to hold commercial curricula accountable for recognizing and engaging the experiences of children living in poverty; and the academic and moral imperative to include the lived knowledge of students and the emotional dimensions of response in what counts as successful literacy engagement.
National Council of Teachers of English. 1111 West Kenyon Road, Urbana, IL 61801-1096. Tel: 877-369-6283; Tel: 217-328-3870; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Elementary Education; Grade 3
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: United States