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"A Playground With Swings:" Counterstories of Black Adolescent Girls Living In Urban Public Housing Open Access

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"A Playground with Swings:” Counterstories of Black Adolescent Girls Living in Urban Public HousingThis study explores stories Black adolescent girls living in urban public housing tell about themselves and their community, the narratives the girls believed outsiders hold thereof, and the ways they theorize about, respond to, and counter mainstream representations of inner-city youth and communities. The study was conducted through a Critical Literacy class held in a local community center, using a general interpretive design with ethnographic/observational methods. The data were interpreted through a Counterstory theoretical and analytic lens. The participants’ stories are explored through a Freirean Critical Pedagogy framework derived from a critical epistemology. Study data was collected through photo journals, interviews, video and audio recordings of sessions of a Critical Literacy class taking place over 11 weeks, and artistic works produced by participants. Data were coded through three levels, with first level codes including both etic and emic codes to aid in data organization and retrieval, second level emic codes identified during data collection, and, finally, third level emic codes were used to name patterns emerging from the data to support larger themes. Findings suggest that the participants perceive that outsiders view girls from their community and their neighborhood as undesirable. Participants saw the people and relationships they have in their community as deeply valuable, but they are cognizant of and discuss their neighborhood’s circumstances, like undesirable conditions caused by lack of material resources, and assert that storytelling can serve a pedagogical purpose in reflecting a more complete picture. Participants told stories about themselves as kind, joyful, intelligent, desiring safety, hopeful, and strong. The girls express that adults often read the joy and playfulness of girlhood as disrespect or a lack of seriousness about present and future goals. They assert that challenging false narratives is important, difficult work. They theorize that one can engage in the process of dismantling others’ assumptions by actively creating learning opportunities that lead people toward encounters with someone they may have misjudged, and by telling Counterstories. Such methods could assist teachers in discerning and addressing how assumptions about young people may be reflected in their practice and/or curriculum.

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