Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Teacher Education

Committee Member

Christopher Robbins, PhD, Chair

Committee Member

Sylvia Jones, PhD

Committee Member

Joe Bishop, PhD

Committee Member

Tana Bridge, PhD


The original intent of this study was an endeavor to learn from the experiences of youth put at risk who created and engaged in a social justice-oriented civic engagement project that speaks to the context of their lives. More specifically, the objective was to gain an understanding about the qualitative meanings the youth ascribed to their experiences both inside and outside of school; how they experienced resistance; and how a critical pedagogical approach to learning and participating in a social justice-oriented civic engagement project impacted their learning experience. However, as the study unfolded the circumstances were such that the study was altered. This critical ethnography study explored the meanings student and staff participants ascribed to their experiences at Griffith Educational Center and/or in the classroom through the theoretical and ideological lens of resistance. In-depth semi-structured interviews, fieldnotes, audio recorded classroom discussions, and participant observation techniques were used to collect data. A grounded theory approach was adopted to collect and analyze the data, which lead to the generation of a substantive emergent theory. The emergent theory was analyzed through the lens of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory and bioecological model of human development, and Spencer’s phenomenological variant of ecological systems theory. Significant findings include (1) resistance when viewed through the lens of resilience provides a valuable theoretical lens for understanding and thinking about the relationship between students put at risk, schools and the broader society, and examining the behaviors (corrective problem solving strategies) youth put at risk employ to resolve the stress and dissonance in their lives; (2) the cumulative effects of one’s personal and cultural and historical experiences/events within multiple contexts not only consciously and unconsciously shape one’s life, but can have a detrimental and enduring impact on brain and cognitive development, social and emotional development, and identity formation; (3) critical pedagogy and social justice approaches provide a space for students to critically examine their world from a position of agency and develop a critical awareness of the cultural, social, political and economic influences that have shaped/shape their situation in life; (4) education in America lacks opportunities that foster social and engaged citizenship; (5) students resisted engaging in meaningful dialogue and activities because of their lived reality.

Included in

Education Commons