The Melancholy of Schooling: A Critical Ethnographic Study of Race, Trauma, and Learning in a High School English Classroom

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The Melancholy of Schooling: A Critical Ethnographic Study of Race, Trauma, and Learning in a High School English Classroom

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2017-06

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This year-long critical ethnographic study discusses the difficulties that arose when a multiracial class of 12th grade high school English students engaged in learning surrounding the reality of racism in the United States amid public displays of police brutality. Most notably, three high-profile cases of racial violence committed against black males, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, took place within five months of each other and coincided with the school year that I conducted my fieldwork for this study. Using the psychoanalytic concept of racial melancholia (Cheng, 2001) as a theoretical framework, I demonstrate how repressed forms of racial trauma and grief are experienced through the process of teaching and learning and how these processes are connected to larger formations of American racialization. My analyses focuses on the psycho-social (Frosh & Baraitser, 2008) construction, production, and transmission of trauma in the context of learning about race in the classroom. I place racial melancholia in conversation with theories of history (Benjamin, 1969), mourning (Freud, 1917), emotion (Ahmed, 2004), haunting (Frosh, 2013), whiteness (Thandeka, 1999) and affect (Massumi, 2015) to document the various ways that both the students and the classroom teacher struggled to learn and teach about racism. I argue that melancholic trauma and racial loss permeates American identities as a result of the nation’s extensive history of denying its racial transgressions. The implications of the study emphasize that we must learn to identify and work through unresolved racial grief if we are to improve our comprehension of race and engender anti-racist agency in the face of persistent systemic and individual acts of racial subjugation. This dissertation makes a distinct contribution to social justice approaches to education by underscoring the generative and productive possibilities for designing curriculum and employing critical pedagogies that center on understanding racial trauma.

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University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2017. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisors: Timothy Lensmire, Vichet Chhuon. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 270 pages.

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Grinage, Justin. (2017). The Melancholy of Schooling: A Critical Ethnographic Study of Race, Trauma, and Learning in a High School English Classroom. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/190562.

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