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Segregation by Experience

Agency, Racism, and Learning in the Early Grades

Early childhood can be a time of rich discovery, a period when educators have an opportunity to harness their students’ fascination to create unique learning opportunities. Some teachers engage with their students’ ideas in ways that make learning collaborative--but not all students have access to these kinds of learning environments.
In Segregation by Experience, the authors filmed and studied a a first-grade classroom led by a Black immigrant teacher who encouraged her diverse group of students to exercise their agency. When the researchers showed the film to other schools, everyone struggled. Educators admired the teacher but didn’t think her practices would work with their own Black and brown students. Parents of color—many of them immigrants—liked many of the practices, but worried that they would compromise their children. And the young children who viewed the film thought that the kids in the film were terrible, loud, and badly behaved; they told the authors that learning was supposed to be quiet, still, and obedient. In Segregation by Experience Jennifer Keys Adair and Kiyomi Sánchez-Suzuki Colegrove show us just how much our expectations of children of color affect what and how they learn at school, and they ask us to consider which children get to have sophisticated, dynamic learning experiences at school and which children are denied such experiences because of our continued racist assumptions about them.

224 pages | 9 halftones, 6 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2021

Education: Pre-School, Elementary and Secondary Education, Psychology and Learning

Sociology: Race, Ethnic, and Minority Relations


“This book delivers powerful and richly textured evidence of the racialization of children’s opportunities for enacting agency within their own learning. It uncovers the ‘segregation by experience’ that is normalized for young children of color and unapologetically confronts these enduring inequities. Incisively challenging and theoretically persuasive, this book will inspire and motivate a reconceptualization of practices in the early grades."

Norma Gonzalez, University of Arizona

"A brilliant, timely demonstration of the power of early childhood classrooms to perpetuate class and race—or to open to children learning through respect for their agency. Eye-opening!”

Barbara Rogoff, University of California-Santa Cruz

"This book offers rich ethnographic insights into Black and brown children’s agentic activity in a project-based classroom, both from direct observation and from seeing how their activities are viewed by teachers, parents, and other children. It raises provocative questions for teachers who want to challenge limiting racist ideologies and engage in culturally-respectful, transformative pedagogies that cultivate creativity."

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana, author of Mindful Ethnography: Mind, Heart and Activity for Transformative Social Research


Council on Anthropology and Education: Outstanding Book Award

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