This dissertation is an ethnography of first, how school participants in America make sense of academic failure and second, the consequences of their work. I study the methods they use and the explanations they invoke while engaged in this activity. I focus primarily on two groups of school participants in the American cultural landscape: educational researchers who are designated as the diagnosticians of the maladies of a "broken" educational system; and, students and school staff, who often have to explain the failure that they are confronted with. The analysis of how educational researchers traditionally make sense of academic failure utilizes my experience as a researcher who arrived at a low performing school to make sense of the academic failure. The analysis of how students and school staff made sense of the academic failure--when they found themselves failing, and having to be accountable for the failure--utilizes the information I collected from eighteen months of ethnographic work in one high school. I claim that the educational system successfully fails one half of its students by the very activity of making sense of academic failure--where school participants invoke a set of partial explanations that directs the focus away from the accomplishment of academic failure, and towards the limitations, deficiencies, and inabilities of its teachers, students, and parents.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/leena_her/9/