Course Selection and Race in the Age of “Laissez-Faire” Tracking
This chapter examines how and why segregation remains in high school classrooms even as students in the post-Brown era are able to select their own program of study. It describes the placement processes of six North Carolina high schools and recounts how a racially mixed group of sixty-one students attending those schools went about choosing their courses. The analysis shows how students make sense of the messages about race and academic achievement that are communicated through institutional practices such as racialized tracking and gifted identification and placement. The chapter also assesses the consequences of this meaning-making for students' developing sense of self, their friendship networks, and their school-based decisions. The findings reveal how schools' early sorting of students helps steer them toward particular programs of study, which also helps shape their friendship networks. Students, in turn, base their course decisions on a combination of subjective criteria: their interpretation of the meaning of their prior placement and achievement experiences, and their understanding of where they fit within both the intellectual pecking order and the social networks of their school.
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