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Working-Class Kids’ Visions of Care
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Urban educational research, practice, and policy is preoccupied with problems, brokenness, stigma, and blame. As a result, too many people are unable to recognize the capacities and desires of children and youth growing up in working-class communities.

This book offers an alternative angle of vision—animated by young people’s own photographs, videos, and perspectives over time. It shows how a racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse community of young people in Worcester, MA used cameras at different ages (10, 12, 16 and 18) to capture and value the centrality of care in their lives, homes, and classrooms.

Luttrell’s immersive, creative, and layered analysis of the young people’s images and narratives boldly refutes biased assumptions about working-class childhoods and re-envisions schools as inclusive, imaginative, and care-ful spaces. With an accompanying website featuring additional digital resources (childrenframingchildhoods.com), this book challenges us to see differently and, thus, set our sights on a better future.

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This chapter examines belongings as markers of belonging. It offers a way of seeing the children’s photographs of prized possessions as a means to position themselves as the objects of others’ care and as agile navigators of social and cultural differences. The children used their cameras in multiple ways: to traverse home and school cultures; to engage in the politics of belonging, both building and tearing down social divisions, including boundaries between public and private housing; and to manage difficult emotions and anxieties about care and belonging. Whether they were endeavoring to show themselves as the focal point of someone’s care and attention, as knowledgeable about forms of social currency, as tied to a homeland and cultural heritage, or as secure in their difference, this work was accomplished through their belongings. It was not about what they had; it was about how cherished items brought them into significant relationship with others, enabling them to forge community around valuable tokens of care and belonging.

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This chapter reflects on distorted visions of education, care, and freedom. It revisits the contours of the kids’ perspectives of care as they played out over the course of the project, examining what these young people have to say about care—its value, its rewards, its invisibilities, and contradictions. Against this backdrop, the chapter considers the current realities of care in a neoliberal capitalist society, limited and structured by gender-, race-, and class-bias; institutional racism and anti-Blackness; and economic strictures that narrow people’s conceptualizations of time, productivity, and human value. The young people’s visions offer much-needed hope—and in their understandings, one can locate possibilities for a new narrative of care. Drawing on the continuing challenges that the Park Central School students identified and the insights that they offered, the chapter then imagines an alternative social orientation in which care and care work take their rightful place at the center of everyday life—highly visible and highly regarded not only in the spheres of family and school, but in the very fabric of democratic society and in the fundamental understanding of freedom and social justice itself.

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This chapter discusses how the Park Central School children used their cameras to render “choreographies of care” visible and to acknowledge and affirm its value. “Choreographies of care” is a concept meant to highlight the constellation of resources, people, rhythms shaped by different occupational demands and shifting schedules, feelings, and intimacies of family living. Amidst prevailing deficit and stigmatizing portrayals of wage-poor households and working mothers’ invisibility, the children’s photographs and accounts accomplish two things. First, when given the opportunity, the children confirmed their mothers’ care work, educational presence, and value. Second, the children, albeit differently for boys and girls, highlighted their own participation in choreographies of family care. The chapter then calls the children’s images and accounts counter-narratives of care because they offer an alternative way of seeing care as a concerted, collective activity, not as individualized or unidirectional. Through these interdependent activities (children and adults), the children’s gendered identities are forged and emotional relations are structured.

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This postlude evaluates the author’s research process over time. It accounts for the choices made, offering a portrayal of reflexivity in action. As the author’s relationships with the young people stretched out in time, and the world changed (including new technologies), the author found that older ways of doing visual analysis were no longer sufficient for the task. The author reflects on crossing into new theoretical, methodological, and ethical territory, stepping outside her comfort zone as a researcher, and highlights the value of creative collaboration that resulted in the digital interludes that accompany this book. These videos intentionally blur borders between research and art; analysis and evocation; looking and feeling; seeing and knowing. Characterizing her style of research in terms of what has become known as slow sociology, the author stresses the value of time and being open to life’s disruptions that require care and repair as well as the joys of connectedness as “what matters most” in life and intellectual labor.

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This chapter explores how the children portrayed the hub of classroom life, the web of adult female caregivers in their “schoolplaces.” Just as they used their cameras to highlight their mothers as loving, caring, and present, and to portray themselves as active participants in their own family choreographies of care, they also used them to render visible the care work taking place in their elementary school. Their images and accounts depicted a school choreography of care that was similarly intentional and relational, and also influenced by gendered and racialized undercurrents. From the children’s perspective, schools are “affective enterprises” in which both teaching and learning are deeply intertwined with relational, ethical, and affective dimensions of care and interdependence in ways that challenge an individualized and unidirectional concept of care. Moreover, the children express a critical awareness that learning goes beyond student–teacher relationships. Even when teachers are perceived as “nice” and “caring” and children’s educational needs are met, students also recognize that they themselves are playing an active role in this dynamic—they are helping each other to make learning happen.

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This chapter describes how the young people, now in their late teens, returned to their childhood photographs and reflected upon their past selves. For those who were able to participate in the creation of an additional set of still and video images, the author examined how they used their cameras to represent their present lives and “what matters most.” Two things would shape the approach to analyzing the images, sounds, and sensibilities of what the young people produced as teenagers. The first was a shift in gaze—what some scholars have characterized as a move from “a familial gaze” to a “youth-culture gaze,” where young people can produce narratives that may be inaccessible to adults. The second was a tendency for the young people to self-consciously position themselves straddling different systems of value: the banal and the singular; the familial and the youth-cultural; the “interesting” and the “boring”; the ordinary (“normal”) and extraordinary aspects of their working-class and racialized lives and identities. Both of these patterns constitute what social theorist Michel Foucault called “technologies of self.” He used the term to describe a range of activities individuals engage in to refashion themselves, re-orient or maneuver emotions, re-shape values, and feel “agentic” in their lives.

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This chapter introduces Worcester, Massachusetts, Park Central School, and the project through the lens of a critical childhood studies perspective. A key tenet of critical childhood studies is to take children seriously as witnesses to their experiences, no matter where they “fit” into child development discourses. A critical childhood perspective interrogates the changing meanings of childhood—including who counts as a child, when this status begins and ends—and recognizes that these meanings are contingent on historical, economic, cultural, and institutional contexts. Children’s new identities as “learners” were intertwined with schooling practices developed to manage, control, and orient them to fitting into society. In addition, a critical childhood perspective must take account of how the legacy of slavery, institutional racism, and colorism shape who is afforded the protected status of “child” to begin with. In adopting a critical childhood perspective, then, this study aims to address multiple challenges—avoiding “adultist” and neoliberal viewpoints and placing young people’s agency, voices, and images at its center; rethinking how children’s value and worth is assigned, especially in schooling; maintaining a focus on parallels and intersections between women’s and children’s experiences of structural oppression; and accounting for how the legacy of slavery, structural racism, and anti-Blackness inform views of childhood, gender, discipline/punishment, and learning.

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This prelude provides an overview of the author’s research conducted at Park Central School in Worcester, Massachusetts. The idea was to give kids cameras to record, represent, and reflect on their everyday lives. The goal was that their photos will serve as a window onto the school culture, and at the same time allow the author and her colleagues to ask other, more complex questions. The author and the principal of PCS, Dr. Galinsky, both agree that there is tremendous value in listening to kids’ voices as a way to help educators improve teaching and learning. Thus, the author planned to use the children’s photographs and recorded interviews about their images as materials that will engage graduate students and teachers-in-training in assessing their own ways of seeing, and perhaps questioning their own assumptions about children growing up in working-class and immigrant communities of color. A key discovery of this research is the centrality and saliency of how care matters in childhood, in development, and in schooling from kids’ own perspectives.

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Over the last few years, all political parties and virtually all media commentators have agreed that a regime of austerity and debt reduction is necessary to rescue the economy: There has been much dispute over the scale and speed of the measures to be taken by government, but little or no real disputing ‘the moral necessity of austerity’. Is this reaction to the economic crisis justified – or prompted by a moral panic whereby the manufacture of a consensus view seems to preclude the possibility of any alternative? Rather than speculate on the present situation, this paper reviews what happened the last time a UK government faced a financial impasse – the IMF crisis of 1976 – and discusses how necessary were the choices made and therefore whether the consequences could have been avoided. One of the purposes of creating ‘social science in the city’ is to gain a greater appreciation of what, why and how groups of people feel about these issues: in a small way, my sense of the initiative is to create a counter-hegemony to the dominant discourses. The media and the ruling politicians of Europe may remain convinced of the necessity of austerity, to them the ‘folk devils’ are those who dare to disagree, but arguably by understanding this phenomenon as a moral panic, publics can better undermine the myths that present no alternative to the current course.

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