Standing Outside on the Inside: Black Adolescents and the Construction of Academic Identity – WELCH; HODGES (CSS)

WELCH, Olga M.; HODGES, Carolyn R. Standing Outside on the Inside: Black Adolescents and the Construction of Academic Identity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. 144p. Resenha de: BECKETT, Gulbahar. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.1, 2002.

Standing Outside on the Inside is a report of a six-year longitudinal study conducted by Welch and Hodges. The book was introduced to me by a friend who thought it may be a good introduction to African American adolescent education as I was starting a new position in the United States. I read the book with great interest and found it to be informative, critical, and insightful.

Standing Outside on the Inside consists of an introduction and five chapters. The introductory section of the book is a presentation of research problems, the conceptual framework, research questions, and the methods applied to conduct the study as well as an overview of the five chapters. Chapter 1 is a critical discussion of many reforms designed to focus on academic preparation to promote equality of educational opportunity. It challenges the prevailing notion of academic achievement and achievement motivation with regard to African American students. It calls for a re-evaluation of such a notion in light of the school climate and students’ career aspirations. Chapters 2 through 5 report and discuss several case studies. Specifically, Chapter 2 addresses the notion of scholarship as a basis for scholar ethos. According to the authors, scholar ethos refers to an attitude of total commitment to learning, and considers its relationship to the preparation of African American students aspiring to college (p. 14). Chapter 3 presents one of several case studies on scholar ethos. It discusses a phenomenon that the authors call The Lana Turner Syndrome that emerged from their data analyses. Chapter 4 addresses the issue of underachievement through an examination of classroom climate combined with the issue of intellectual inferiority. It focuses on discussions of teacher expectation, classroom management, and instructional delivery. Chapter 5 presents an historical overview of impediments to equal access and their impact on identity construction among African American students and their academic achievement. The chapter also offers insights into and calls for alternative discourse and reconstruction of knowledge on school reform in light of findings about students’ perceptions towards Project EXCEL.

The rationale for conducting these studies was based on the authors’ concern that African American students continue to fall behind their white counterparts in terms of educational achievement after three decades of supplementary social and educational programs (e.g., Irvine, 1990). Using symbolic interactionism and critical theory perspectives, Welch and Hodges mainly wanted to know (1) whether providing an ‘enriched’ learning environment assured that disadvantaged youth would be admitted to and graduated from colleges and universities (p. 1); (2) how some southwestern American students, their parents, and teachers participating in a pre-college enrichment program called Project EXCEL interpreted the meaning, expectations, and motivations related to academic achievement (p. 7); and (3) how disadvantaged students approached academic work and how these approaches related to their definition of scholarship and to themselves as scholars. Data sources for the study included interviews with 11 EXCEL students (9 black females and 2 white females) and their parents, the student’s school records, observations of EXCEL and non-EXCEL classes, school curriculum, writing samples from students, GPA information, and admissions to colleges or vocational schools/careers.

A number of findings emerged from the data analyses. For example, an enriched learning environment for development of academic skills alone did not necessarily account for or ensure admission to or completion of college for African American adolescents. Welch and Hodges suggest that highly developed academic skills plus development of an academic self-concept may ensure success in college entrance and graduation. Second, the approach some of the students and their parents applied towards academic work was that of waiting to be discovered, a phenomenon that the authors call The Lana Turner Syndrome (p. 15). For the authors, this captures the conviction held by these students and their parents that potential alone is a more viable determinant of successful college admission and matriculation than demonstrated academic performance (p. 59). They say this is a syndrome that stifles the drive needed to sustain achievement motivation and thereby hampers development of an academic ethos because it denies the connection between efforts to excel and eventual college admission (p. 15). According to the authors, the absence of academic image in the media and in society contributes to such a syndrome because it sends a message that success in sports and entertainment are more reasonable, attainable, and desirable goals for blacks than academic achievement. Third, there was a correlation between high expectations of teachers and high achievement by the students and increased scholar ethos. That is, students whose teachers expected them to do so excelled in their studies and developed stronger study skills and more commitment to learning.

As stated earlier, this is an extremely informative, critical, and insightful book for developers and evaluators of enrichment programs as well as other educators who are interested in minority education in general and African American adolescent education in particular. However, the conclusions could have been more provocative. For instance, the book ends with a citation from Freire’s (1994) Pedagogy of Hope and the authors’ expectations of learning a great deal from an EXCEL model that they were field-testing. The quotation from Freire (1994) is as follows:

Without a minimum of hope, we cannot so much as start the struggle. But without the struggle, hope, as ontological need, dissipates, loses its bearings, and turns into hopelessness. And hopelessness can become tragic despair. Hence the need for a kind of education of hope . One of the tasks of the progressive educator, through serious, correct political analyses, is to unveil opportunities for hope no matter what the obstacles may be. After all, without hope, there is little we can do (p. 9).

If Irvine (1990) is correct in stating that after three decades of supplementary social and educational programs African American students continue to lag behind their white counterparts in their educational achievement, a pedagogy of hope seems to be inadequate. What African American adolescents need is a pedagogy of action. A pedagogy that encourages them to take action on the bases of the pride built on many glorious achievements and accomplishments of African American people, accomplishments that include the contributions they have made to world civilization in general and American civilization in particular. A pedagogy that acknowledges and takes pride in the fact that African American people have come a long way since the civil rights movement and takes action to show the achievements of not only the African American heroes in the sports and entertainment industry, but other hardworking African American heroes in all walks of life. Such pedagogy should not only acknowledge potentials and inequality, but also empower African American adolescents to take actions by learning from numerous hardworking and accomplished African American scholars, economists, entrepreneurs, and politicians and by building a strong self-esteem and scholar ethos. Only such pedagogy can empower African American adolescents with cultural capital that can be used to fight inequality and improve their own lives and eventually those of the whole African American race. This may be an issue that the authors will discuss in their next book, which I look forward to reading.


Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. (R.R. Barr, Trans.). New York: Continuum.

Irvine, J.T. (1990). Black students and school failure: Policies, practices, and
. New York: Greenwood Press.

Gulbahar Beckett – College of Education. University of Cincinnati. Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

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