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Instead of passing the test - trying to pass as a "normal" student in a classroom where literacy is presumed

Conference contribution
Authors Malin Brännström
Published in NERA 2017
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies
Language en
Keywords Newly arrived students, normalization, passing, low literacy, differentiation, Foucault, Skeggs
Subject categories Learning, Pedagogical Work


Research topic/Aim: This paper addresses the schooling of newly arrived students who join elementary school having low levels of literacy in their native language, often due to none or little previous schooling. This group of students are referred as NLL-students – Newly arrived students with low levels of literacy in their native language. The purpose of the study is to provide a basis for my ongoing PhD project in which I examine the reception and education of NLL-students through ethnographic fieldwork in schools in three different municipalities. In this tentative paper, I will discuss the attempts to pass “as a normal student” made by a NLL-student – Fatou - in a Swedish compulsory school. I will also discuss how normalising practices (Foucault, 1978) in school might induce these attempts. Theoretical framework: Disciplinary institutions, such as school, normalize through differentiation and comparison, among other things. (Foucault, 1987). One differentiation instrument in school is biological age. Students are placed in grades based on their age alone, and when you are a certain age you´re excepted to have certain skills. NLL-students challenge this order, and hence exposes the risk of being viewed as an anomaly. Skeggs (1997) uses the term "passing" to illustrate when somebody is trying to be positioned in a different way than she/he regularly is. Skeggs argues that passing is not something people do for the sake of pleasure or benefit, and that there are “limitations on what one can represent oneself as.” (p. 95). Passing, according to her: “speaks from a position of powerlessness and insecurity. [T]hey are […] performances of a desire not to be, a desire not to be shamed but a desire to be legitimated.” (1997, p. 87). Methodology/research design: The empirical data was produced in a pilot study through ethnographic fieldwork consisting of participant observation and interviews with teachers and school leaders in one Swedish elementary school. Expected conclusions/Findings: Fatou is trying to pass as what she perceives as normal, instead of resisting a school practice that quite likely is unbearably dull and/or painful for her. This survival strategy seemingly makes her "the normal/desirable student", i.e. one that can handle the tasks assigned her and who learns. However, her adjustment may be counterproductive: it results in that she doesn´t learn anything (of the subject matter), and that the gap between her and "the normal student" grows. The result is, paradoxically, the same as for those who resist and assumes an “anti-school approach”: she reproduces her own subordination (cf. Willis, 1977). Relevance for Nordic Educational Research: Data from the Swedish national agency for education (2016) suggests that the size of NLL-students in Sweden has grown significantly since 2008. Despite this, the group has not been fully recognized, either by researchers or policy makers in Sweden. Even internationally, the group is understudied (Bigelow & Pettitt, 2016). This paper hopes to illuminate this group of students and their conditions in the Swedish school system.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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