The social construction of adolescence as a distinct developmental stage is based on a hierarchy of age, race, social class, and gender that affords some individuals with the privileges of full participation in the United States yet positions others as subordinate within the progress of the nation (Lesko, 2012). The organization of school as an institution relies on the assumption that development occurs in linear stages where grade levels and labels such as elementary, middle, and high school predict certain characteristics found within each context. Oftentimes, teenage mothers are positioned as those subordinate or deficit within these formal systems of education as they do not “fit” into these traditional labeling practices. Negative labels such as “stupid slut”, “teen rebel, teen mom”, “the girl nobody loved” and “dropouts” show evidence of this deficit mindset (Kelly, 2000). The impact of such labels manifests themselves in perceptions of disengagement within formal school settings (Kalil, 2002; Kalil & Ziol-Guest, 2008) and the policing of aged, racial, social classed, and gendered bodies (Jones, 2007). The purpose of this critical, ethnographic study is to deeply explore the experiences of teenage mothers participating in a community-based organization (CBO) as potential opportunities to take up issues of age, race, gender, sexuality, motherhood, and social class within their ongoing identity construction and schooling experiences. This study takes a critical perspective on the social construction of adolescence in order to contribute to scholarly work that attends to how teenage mothers are socially, politically, and educationally positioned within Western schooling and society. By focusing on hybridity and the intersectionality of identities this research pays attention to the ways in which educational practices have been both disrupted and maintained discriminatory when conceptualizing what it means to educate and involve teenage mothers and their children within existing systems. Findings show that the chronological passing of time as well as the physical representation of the pregnant female figure is reflected within women’s stories as one form of oppression and/or agentic negotiation. Additionally, mixed perceptions around if and how local and alternative high schools provide space for the hybridity and intersectionality of teenage mothering identities was engaged by participants within embodied “fitting in” or “pushed out” discourses. These perceptions seek to complicate traditional practices and identities of student, athlete, and parent within formalized educational spaces. Also, Real Moms both provides opportunity for authentic senses of caring (Noddings, 2005) as well as has limitations in “protecting” participants from the risks of being vulnerable within relationship and storytelling. This study will extend the literature by looking at the ways in which teenage mothers are both disrupting and reinscribing discourses of chronological developmental stage theories (Lesko, 2002; Lesko, 2012) by attending to the multitude of social factors that influence the cultural construction of adolescence and adolescents (Vagle, 2012). Additionally, this work looks at how schools are sites for the perpetuation of social contracts that implicitly exclude or push out specific student identities, such as race, social class, and teenage motherhood that do not adhere or assimilate to existing normalized practices (Milner, 2015; Noguera, 2003). For example, the quarantining of teenage mothers into all-female alternative schools or limited participation within local schools attempts to de-sexualize female students against discourses of desire (Fine, 1993). In thinking about authentic, caring relationships (Noddings, 2005), this study also complicates the notion of creative, narrative expression as an automatic form of empowerment as opportunities for vulnerable storytelling stir up both damaging stereotypes (Edell, 2013) and self-interpretations of empowerment (Kelly, 1997). By contextualizing the lived experiences of the female teenage mothers and mentors within this community-based organization, this study thoughtfully and reflexively attends to the existing discourses of teenage motherhood.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2017. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Bic Ngo. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 239 pages.
Entanglements of Teenage Motherhood Identities: A Critical Ethnography within a Community-Based Organization.
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