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Producing Success: The Culture of Personal Advancement in an American High School

Producing Success: The Culture of Personal Advancement in an American High School
Author: Peter Demerath
ISBN 13: 9780226142418
ISBN 10: 226142418
Edition: 1
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press
Publication Date: 2009-12-15
Format: Paperback
Pages: 224
List Price: $29.00

Middle- and upper-middle-class students continue to outpace those from less privileged backgrounds. Most attempts to redress this inequality focus on the issue of access to financial resources, but as Producing Success makes clear, the problem goes beyond mere economics. In this eye-opening study, Peter Demerath examines a typical suburban American high school to explain how some students get ahead.

Demerath undertook four years of research at a Midwestern high school to examine the mercilessly competitive culture that drives students to advance. Producing Success reveals the many ways the community’s ideology of achievement plays out: students hone their work ethics and employ various strategies to succeed, from negotiating with teachers to cheating; parents relentlessly push their children while manipulating school policies to help them get ahead; and administrators aid high performers in myriad ways, even naming over forty students “valedictorians.” Yet, as Demerath shows, this unswerving commitment to individual advancement takes its toll, leading to student stress and fatigue, incivility and vandalism, and the alienation of the less successful. Insightful and candid, Producing Success is an often troubling account of the educationally and morally questionable results of the American culture of success.


"This anthropological account provides a detailed, well-documented description of how students, parents, teachers, and administrators negotiated pervasive pressures to succeed at all costs in a prestigious, success-oriented public high school. Demerath draws a troubling portrait of the price students pay in stress and fatigue, and the marginalization and alienation of those unable or unwilling to conform. Few anthropologists have examined cultural tranmission in middle-class high school settings."