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Career and Technical Education (CTE) has historically been heavily critiqued for tracking underrepresented students into technical training programs that limit their employment and educational mobility (Oakes, 1985) and for serving businesses at the expense of students’ social and intellectual development (Dewey, 1915). In recent years, the U.S. Department of Education has recognized that “the need to re-imagine and remake CTE is urgent” (Duncan, 2011). However, resultant reforms have largely been reduced to high-quality job training opportunities that support business growth. As these reforms are far from transformative or equitable, there remains a strong necessity to reimagine and remake CTE in ways that “not only expand [students’] economic opportunities but also change how they perceive themselves, their futures, and what they are able to contribute to society and their families” (Solórzano, Datnow, Park, & Watford, 2013, p. 5). Such a reform would require going beyond normative and deficit assumptions about students’ aspirations to understand how students’ career ideologies and subsequent aspirations develop.
Two studies have examined how students’ FofK contribute to the development of their educational and career aspirations (Kiyama, 2010; Rios-Aguilar and Kiyama, 2012). Similarly, this study uses the FofK framework to explore college and career aspirations of 64 Latina/o students in a police-oriented CTE program. Over a two-year period, participants and educational researchers engaged in a participatory action research collaboration. The purpose of the collaboration was to leverage students’ FofK in pedagogical design to provide opportunities for students to identify and grapple with complex issues facing policing and the communities it serves. Several forms of data were collected including 20 student interviews, 102 student autobiographies, and approximately 30 hours of ethnographic fieldnotes.
Findings from this study challenge market-driven ideologies that narrowly define career-readiness as a set of employability skills aligned to shifting demands of the labor market. Students reported that, in addition to financial security and upward mobility, their career aspirations were heavily influenced by their desire to make a change in their communities, improve community-police relations, and redefine the role of policing and police officers. However, these aspirations were, at times, based on conformist resistance that blamed “themselves, their families, or their culture for negative personal and social conditions,” (Solorzano and Bernal, p.318) limiting the possibilities for social change. The type of education and training that would help students critique systems of oppression and develop these aspirations into transformative policing practices was largely absent in their CTE program. In many ways, the education students received contributed to the development of internally oppressive views of communities of color. This tension illuminates the disconnect between the criteria for success in both higher education and the context of policing and how students view their own career trajectories. The findings from this study provide an opportunity for CTE programs to critically reexamine their criteria for success and align their practices in productive and transformative ways.