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Games of Chance: The Lower-Track Curriculum in a College-Preparatory High School

Reba N. Page
Curriculum Inquiry
Vol. 20, No. 3 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 249-281
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
DOI: 10.2307/1180226
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1180226
Page Count: 33
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Games of Chance: The Lower-Track Curriculum in a College-Preparatory High School
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Abstract

This cultural and curricular account of lower-track classes in a college-preparatory high school suggests a different view of schooling than traditional conceptualizations of a contest of the talented (Turner, 1960) or a fixed tournament for the industrious (Rosenbaum, 1976). It describes and analyzes the relationship between curriculum and the surprising disengagement in a "heavenly" high school of "professional" teachers and relatively advantaged lower-track students. Lower-track lessons, amalgamating elements of the standard, routinized, remedial curriculum with Southmoor's classically liberal regular-track curriculum, resemble games of chance: they provide and legitimate school knowledge that is trivial, knowing that is guessing, and academic success or failure that is merely a matter of luck, and that is therefore beyond anyone's control. Academically unsuccessful students' responses to the curriculum effectively but subtly eliminate them as competitors in the multifaceted educational "struggle" (Apple, 1983; Collins, 1977) for practical skills, a sense of efficacy, and interactional prerogatives. The account suggests that the shift in the meaning of the game of school translates an emergent change in cultural understanding about how one gets ahead in the United States in the game of life: in contrast to traditional norms of talent or effort, wherein success was attributable to merit or willingness to "try," luck is perceived and legitimated as a meaningful avenue.

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