Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara Thayer-Bacon

Committee Members

Robert F. Kronick, Gary J. Skolits, Delores E. Smith


The purpose of this ethnographic case study is to tell the story of how one African American family educates their children. At the center of this study are two sisters. Together, they are raising four children with the help of their father, siblings, and several extended and fictive kin. The family functions collectively; they call it their “village approach”. As a cultural studies project, their story represents a counter-narrative to many stories that support deficit thinking. Education is highly valued by members of this family. The children are expected to perform at high levels academically as well as give their best effort and attitude in extracurricular activities.

Data was collected between February 2015 and October 2015 using the following methods: conversational interviews, participant observation at family events, and review of local newspaper articles featuring the academic and athletic achievements of some of the children in this family. A thematic analysis revealed three main priorities established by the family elders and passed down for several generations; 1) God first/ Christian faith, 2) commitment to family, and 3) value of education. Themes that emerged upon looking at the informal education practices included perseverance, work ethic, respect, and cooperation. The data was informed by both ecological theory and critical race theory. Epstein’s model of overlapping spheres was used to demonstrate how alignment of values between family, school, community, and peer groups significantly influence the positive development of the children. The lived experiences of three generations of adult family members draw attention to several tenets of critical race theory: permanence of racism, interest convergence, and transdisciplinary perspectives. This family’s story challenges deficit discourse about African American families, brings attention to the value of parents as educators of their children, and problematizes conventional definitions of family.

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