Canaries Reflect on the Mine

Dropouts' Stories of Schooling

Jeanne Cameron, Tompkins Cortland Community College

A volume in the series: Research for Social Justice: Personal~Passionate~Participatory Inquiry. Editor(s): Ming Fang He, Georgia Southern University. JoAnn Phillion, Purdue University.

Published 2012

In Canaries Reflect on the Mine: Dropouts’ Stories of Schooling, Jeanne Cameron invites the reader to see schooling and early school leaving through the eyes of high school dropouts themselves. The transcendent desires revealed by this research – to be known and valued, to learn with purpose and autonomy – are spoken with poignant clarity by the young people who story these pages. This study offers a compelling and timely critique of the dominant, neoliberal discourse on schooling and early school leaving. It challenges conventional wisdom about dropouts, and shows how the experiences and needs of those who leave school early and those who persist to graduation are more similar than different. Collectively, these young people’s stories evoke a canary-in-the-mine metaphor, one where the canaries exit and the miners remain. They implore us to see the dropout crisis as a symptom of the alienating and dehumanizing school practices advanced by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. More importantly, they offer a vision for schooling that lovingly embraces and extends all students’ experiences, enriches their biographies, and celebrates and supports each of their talents and purposes with equal passion. Pre-service and in-service teachers, educational researchers and policy makers, administrators, and advocates for equitable and democratic schooling have much to learn from this book. Qualitative researchers will find a powerful model for working collaboratively with youth to represent their experiences and to craft solutions to the challenges they face. Students of sociology will discover a compelling illustration of C. Wright Mills’ sociological imagination and his charge to “take it big” by drawing connections between individual biographies and the social and historical structures that frame lived experience. For professional social scientists, it embodies Mills’ challenge to embrace the moral sensibilities required to understand and improve the human condition.

Acknowledgements. Series Foreword. Foreword by William Schubert. Prologue. 1. Narrative Research and Sociological Poetry. 2. Hannah: Pushing Back, Moving On. 3. Steve: A Gambler's Story. 4. Adel: Refusing to be Left Behind. 5. Cole: Making Money, Making Sense. 6. Isabel: “I pretty much felt like I wasn't even there.” 7. Iris: A Voice Not Heard. 8. Ivan: Loss of Faith. 9. Canaries in the Mine. 10. Spin and Whisper. References. Notes.

"Canaries Reflect on the Mine performs a necessary corrective: at last we hear the voices of young people themselves as they experience, negotiate, and make sense of the reality of leaving school. Whatever our orientations or perspectives or intentions, we cannot do our best work in schools or communities if we cannot see youth fully or hear them clearly. Jeanne Cameron is a brilliant witness, and with this book she invites us all to come closer, to pay full attention, to be astonished, and then to act on what our new knowledge demands." William Ayers author of A Kind and Just Parent and To Teach: The Journey in Comics

"Canaries Reflect on the Mine: Dropouts’ Stories of Schooling, one of the most powerful critiques of contemporary school reform, sparks a fire that invigorates educators to take time to listen with compassion, to seek opportunities for purposeful learning, to overcome acquisitiveness with solidarity, to strive for love and justice, and to cultivate possibilities for a better world." William H. Schubert author of Love, Justice, and Education: John Dewey and the Utopians

"Cameron offers “mindful choices” in education in an era dominated by meaningless mandates." Chris Liska Carger author of Of Borders and Dreams and Dreams Deferred

"In her provocative counternarrative, Jeanne Cameron convincingly disrupts common assumptions of why young people drop out of high school. Canaries Reflect on the Mine is a must-read book that will undoubtedly prompt teachers and school administrators to rethink the conclusions they make as they interact with students. Challenging so-called educational reformers, Canaries calls for alternative considerations of disempowering structures and policies that both assault human desires and disregard cherished values. Through vivid, compelling prose and keen analysis, Cameron invites us not only to listen to and learn from the counter stories of those with first-hand experiences within a broken system of schooling, but also to do something to make positive educational and social change." Brian D. Schultz author of Spectacular Things Happen Along the Way and editor of Listening to and Learning from Students


WINNER OF THESE PRESTIGIOUS AWARDS: 2013 AESA Critics Choice Awards, 2013 Outstanding Publication Award of the Narrative Research SIG of the American Educational Research Association, and The Society of Professors of Education 2013 Book Award.

Read the a transcript of the author's remarks to the New York School Boards Association.