Never Give Up: Portraits of Academically Successful Black Boys at a 4th-8th Grade Middle School for Boys of Color
Joseph Nelson

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Swarthmore College

Primary Discipline

This critical ethnography will examine Black boys’ identity at a single-sex middle school for boys of color in New York City. Research on Black males has mainly focused on distressing social and academic outcomes of adolescents and young adults. Largely absent from this scholarship are empirical inquiries of Black boys’ schooling during childhood and early-adolescence. Single-sex schools for boys of color have been established throughout the United States to ameliorate these outcomes rooted in identity. Professionals at these schools, however, lack clarity with how race and gender contribute to boys’ struggles (Fergus, Noguera, & Martin, 2014). For 10 months (academic year), and from the boys’ perspectives, observations, focus groups, and interviews will be conducted at the school-site to interpret the interplay of school culture, academic engagement, and identity. Targeted school dimensions include: school values and beliefs; peer and teacher-student relationships; specialized programming; curriculum and instruction; and discipline policy. The 4th through 8th grade school enrolls 130 boys from low-income, immigrant, and ethnically diverse backgrounds. This ethnography aims to contribute to a reimagining of Black boyhood, and foreground how school professional can cultivate learning environments where Black boys self-determine their own worldviews and identities.
About Joseph Nelson
Joseph Derrick Nelson is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at Swarthmore College, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives at the University of Pennsylvania. A sociologist of education, school ethnographer, and teacher educator, his scholarship to date has examined how school culture influences boys’ identities; fostered their resistance to rigid gender norms; and employed interdisciplinary frameworks to address how schools limit boys’ engagement in early-childhood and elementary school settings. These empirical projects led to publications with Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Press, the Psychology of Men and Masculinity, and guest co-editing a special issue on boys’ education with the Journal of Boyhood Studies He is currently on the executive committee for the MacArthur-funded Center for the Study of Men and Masculinity at Stony Brook University, and the Education Liaison for the NoVo-funded Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity (PACH) at New York University. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the International Boys’ School Coalition. In his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Dr. Nelson taught first-grade for two years in a single-sex classroom for Black and Latino boys.

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