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Racking up cultural capital and eliminating labels: The culture of teaching and learning in the juvenile justice system

Sarah Clarke Staples-Farmer, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


How do we educate the student who is "bad ass" or "delinquent"--the youth who finds himself locked up with every aspect of his daily life now controlled? By law, every child, no matter his/her status, must attend school and be provided an education. Thus, education typically makes a point of ensuring accommodations are provided for each student. Yet, what accommodations are made and what attention is given to youth who have broken the law, repeatedly run away, been truant, or removed from their homes due to adverse circumstances? Addressing the particular needs of these youth is both a mystery and challenge, especially given the often negative educational history they carry as baggage paired with the labels and tags assigned to them: "lazy," "trouble-maker," and "ungovernable." Labeling theories suggest that within social settings and institutions, "deviant" labels construct youth identity thus impacting educational success. Low literacy rates among youth go hand-in-hand with stigmatization of youth, low academic performance, and subsequent delinquent behavior. Using the tactics of ethnography, this study explores the culture of teaching and learning in the detention setting as well as student (in)ability to negotiate the dual status as student/offender. The paramount purpose of this ethnographic study is one of advocacy by 1) sharing the culture of learning and literacy development in a detention center/alternative school with the intent to contribute to existing research and create/improve curriculum, instruction and the literacy comprehensive education of adjudicated youth; and 2) correcting misperceptions about these youth and their educators and potentially explain how labeling (Rist, 2011/1997) impacts student behavior/academic performance in hopes of reassessing current policy and practice to incite positive reform. The long-term goal/purpose involves developing teacher education programs to include dialogue and/or training in detention education as well as creating pertinent professional development curriculum for educators already working with this population of students.

Subject Area

Teacher education|Curriculum development

Recommended Citation

Staples-Farmer, Sarah Clarke, "Racking up cultural capital and eliminating labels: The culture of teaching and learning in the juvenile justice system" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3617488.