Reconstructing 'Drop-out': A Critical Ethnography of the Dynamics of Black Students' Disengagement from School


288 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8060-X
DDC 371.2'913'089960713




Reviewed by Joseph Leydon

Joseph Leydon teaches geography at the University of Toronto.


In Canada, as in the United States, black students constitute a
disproportionate number of those who leave school prematurely. The
three-year study on which Reconstructing ‘Drop-out’ is based was
conducted in the Greater Toronto Area and addressed the experiences of
black and nonblack students, teachers, parents, and community workers.

Dropping out has traditionally been attributed to individual failure or
to special circumstances such as pregnancy, substance abuse, or family
troubles. The authors suggest that the problem is more complex by
arguing that race, class, gender, and other forms of social
differentiation affect how education is delivered. Specifically, the
disengagement experienced by black students results from low teacher
expectations, differential treatment of black students, conflict with
school authorities because they do not respect black students, and
academic labeling and streaming that significantly narrow students’
options. In discussing the relationship between alienation and racial
identity, the authors argue that black students do not drop out of
school because of lack of self-esteem; rather, they leave school because
they have a strong sense of cultural pride that schools either ignore or
seek to contain. Students who see a lack of curriculum content devoted
to their history and experience are therefore likely to drop out.

The authors argue for changes in the education system that will
reinforce black students’ racial identity and self-respect. While
their call for a more inclusive curriculum is warranted, it is only part
of the solution. Dei et al. should have placed greater emphasis on the
responsibilities of black parents, the black community, and black
students themselves when it comes to effecting educational change.


Dei, George J. Sefa, et al., “Reconstructing 'Drop-out': A Critical Ethnography of the Dynamics of Black Students' Disengagement from School,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,