Nocon, Honorine
University of Colorado, Denver

Cole, Michael

University of California, San Diego[1]



Abstract:  This chapter traces the historical process of colonization and rationalization of children’s lives by formal schooling and less formal adult-organized after-school programs.  Using an extended case study, the authors argue that while potentially “semi-colonizing,” after-school programs complement formal schooling as valuable sites of informal education. After-school programs provide low income and immigrant children access to social development and learning without failure.  Keywords:  Informal education, after-school, rationalization, access



After-school programs certainly contribute to adult encroachment on low-income children’s already limited ownership of their lives.  Yet, at their best they are relatively sensitive adult institutions in which the adult agenda is relatively modest.  As the historical account suggests, after-school programs have struggled, although not always successfully, to respect the importance of the peer group to school-age children and to take children’s point of view seriously.  They have been cognizant of differences in children’s patterns of abilities and interests.  After-school programs have striven to make learning and talent development fun through a broad range of experiences to children and have tired to create space for play among their activities.  (Halpern, 2002, 205)


Children’s lives

Schooling, natural as it appears to modern residents of industrialized nations, owes its rather recent expansion beyond elites to the processes of urbanization and industrialization.  As literacy and numeracy became central to the functioning of a broader society and basic skills and a common socialization became requirements for workers in industrialized societies, compulsory schooling expanded rapidly in Western society (Goody, 1977).  The first compulsory schools were established in Prussia in 1717, becoming the model for German and, later, American schools (Gatto, 2000).  The shared goal was national unification and national consensus, a common social and political ideology (Goodlad, 1990; Richman, 1994; Spring 2000).


The first U.S. state to adopt compulsory schooling was Massachusetts in 1852.  By 1900, 33 states had passed legislation requiring mandatory elementary schooling. By 1920, all U.S. states had adopted compulsory schooling.  Through the first half of the twentieth century, in an inverse relation with child labor, the hours, days per year, and required years of compulsory education expanded.  Children were restricted from working until age 16 and, for the most part, were required to be in school for several hours per day, through that age.


The advance of common or universal schooling was promoted as both access to economic opportunity and induction into the ideas that govern the nation and the community.  These two goals, economic opportunity and participation in the democratic community, continue to drive both state-sponsored education and educational reform as well as debate. While one camp describes schools and school reform as tools for access to participation in a democratic society for future citizens and future workers (Dewey, 1899/1964, 1936; Fenstermacher, 1999; Goodlad, 2001; Olsen, 1999; Soder, 2001) the anti-compulsory, or at least more skeptical, education camp (Gatto, 2000; MacLeod, 1995; Richman, 1994; Spring, 2000) describes universal schooling as the colonization of immigrants and the poor by the state and industry in a process of rationalized distribution of access to wealth and power. (See also Bourdieu 1998.)  Both the former hopeful reformers, and the latter, harsh critics, share concerns about the advance of sorting practices under the guise of standards. While at the best, standards are designed to assure universal access to minimal levels of academic content and basic academic skills, in reality, they act as sorting mechanisms and barriers to those whose access is already threatened by lack of commonality with the mainstream, i.e., the poor, minorities, divergent learners, etc. (See Bailey, 1999; Halpern, 2002; Oakes and Lipton, 1990; Sirotnik, 1990; Spring 2000.)


What is clear is that the expansion of compulsory schooling, which magnified with the reform efforts of the Progressive Era[2], for good or for bad, colonized the lives of children and their families during what had previously been hours devoted to work, play, or other activities.  This was done in the interest of standardizing and rationalizing their activity through formal schooling.


Heath, whose ethnography of education has moved from study of formal schooling (1982, 1983, 1986) to informal after-school youth organizations (1994, 2000a, 200b), notes that

One common worry among both theorists and practitioners is that dependence on formal schooling, even in light of all the current reform efforts, will leave students short of the experience needed to establish the expertise, critical skills, and confidence which are critical to the future world of work and to the altered family and citizenship demands of the world.  Schools cannot offer the extensive time for practice and participation and build-up of moral commitment and group discourse needed for students to develop all that employers, policy makers, and philosophers say will mark the future. (2000a, 34)


Moreover, schools in many post-industrial nations increasingly require standardization of product and outcome, determined by quantifiable measures of performance on standardized tests.  Thus the agency of individuals in undertaking learning outside of expected roles and structures must be submerged. (Ibid., 39)


Formal education’s sorting, marking, and submergence of individual agency, diversity, and critical thinking has caused theorists and practitioners to both explore and support the value of informal education (Griffin and Cole, 1984, 1987; Lave and Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1990; Rogoff and Lave, 1984; Scribner and Cole, 1973, 1980, 1981).  Recently, the value placed on informal education has been most obvious in the U.S. in initiatives of the National Science Foundation, which have emphasized the beneficial complementary role that flexible and more individualized informal education can play in enhancing the necessarily homogenized effects of formal schooling (Melber and Abraham, 1999; NSF, 1997, 2003)  


Informal education’s complementary role in relation to formal schooling has also emerged in the “semi-formal” realm of organized after-school programming.  Halpern (2002, 186) locates the emergence of adult-organized after-school activities in both the decline of child labor and the passage of compulsory education laws during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  He suggests that one goal of after-school programs was the care and protection of low-income and immigrant children whose out of school time sent them from crowded tenements to the streets.  As law enforcement and urban development reduced space for these children, a second goal of after-school programs became creating opportunities for play.


In tracing the history of adult-organized youth activities from their expansion in the Progressive Era, James (1993) argues that while some Progressives directed their efforts toward egalitarian aims, the goal of reform was to preserve order in society.  He suggests that the youth organization movement, like the expansion of compulsory schooling, led to bureaucratization and professionalization of social services which amounted to the expansion of legally sanctioned intervention in private lives, particularly those of the poor and immigrants.  Like Zelizer (1985), James associates the rationalization of children’s lives with a redefinition of childhood that characterized the child as sacred and “priceless.” Zelizer relates this redefinition to changes in the labor market and the growth of markets in child insurance, services, and products. James points out that the concepts of “adolescence” and “juvenile” emerged in this process along with an enhanced “legitimation of disparities” in social opportunity linked to occupational destinies (1993, 181).  The legitimate disparities were reflected in playgrounds (for middle-class children) and settlement houses (for low-income and immigrant children).  Although there were organizations dedicated to egalitarian values, those that thrived worked to channel the young into mainstream institutions of education and employment where they were sorted according to testing and selection processes.


Fine and Mechling (1993) relate the current pathologization of urban youth and related normalization of White, suburban, and middle-class youth to “symbolic demography,” or acting in the present according to images from the past in a particular social demographic location (p. 123). They argue that the symbolic demography of baby boomers in the 1990’s sought to replicate values of the 1950’s in organized youth activities.  They describe a process of “child-saving” through ideologically-driven homogenization that colonizes children’s cultures-- their home cultures and their small group, or idiocultures (134), in much the same way that child-saving movements in the Progressive Era sought to assimilate the children of immigrants and the poor into their proper (laboring) position in mainstream U.S. culture. Fine and Mechling (also Adler and Adler, 1994; Ball and Heath, 1993; and Zelizer 1985) argue that this colonization of child culture comes at the cost of expression, negotiation, and discovery.


The colonization of children’s leisure is not being accomplished by schools alone, but also by parents who are concerned with safety and optimizing their children’s opportunities, by industries like insurance and educational services (and television according to Gatto 1992), by social movements and social elites, and by governmental agencies, as will be addressed below. These groups and entities are engaged in a process of bureaucratization and rationalization that led first to the expansion of schools, and then, simultaneous with the reduction of child labor, to the rationalization of children’s lives after school.  Halpern (2002) and Heath (2000a, 200b), who remain optimistic about after-school programming’s opportunities for informal education, development of creativity, and exposure to multiple perspectives, express concern about the encroachment of school’s rationalizing and sorting practices on after-school’s access to informal  education.


Rationalization vs. expansion of access


Changes in the labor force since the 1970’s, including the entry of mothers, both married and single, into the workplace and longer hours for all workers have correlated with an increase in the visibility of, and need for, after-school care for children. According to the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice (1998), “Overwhelmingly, Americans favor providing school-based after-school programs in their own community” (93 per cent).  The rationale for this support is that over 28 million school-age children in the U.S. have both or their only parent in the workforce and between 5 and 15 million of these are left alone at home each week. This is particularly true for low-income children.


Belle (1999) found that the children’s after-school arrangements were variable.  She conducted a longitudinal study of 53 families (16 African American, 1 Hispanic, 1 Asian American, 35 non-Hispanic White; 33 per cent with annual income below $20,000, 33 per cent with annual income between $20,000-$30,000; 33 per cent with annual income over $30,000; 21 two-parent households, 27 single-parent households, 5 joint-custody families), focusing on one child per family who was attending elementary school.  She found that often children attended different programs or attended no programs on different days of the week. Additionally, arrangements changed regularly over time. Cost, conflicting work schedules, transportation, and lack of consistent adult attention were issues.  Supervised and “semisupervised” after-school arrangements were inconsistent in satisfying parents’ desires for structured activities and safety. They were far more consistent in not satisfying children’s desires for freedom to “veg out” and play with friends.  Children in the study tended to move to self-care as they grew older, with or without their parents’ knowledge.


Perhaps Belle’s most interesting finding was great variability in the children’s responses to various kinds of care.  Lack of supervision fostered responsibility in some, while it was felt as liberating freedom or constraining restriction by others.  For some, adult supervision provided a sense of comfort and happiness, for others a negative experience. 


While it was not her focus, Belle’s study documents sorting practices in after-school programs.  Choice in programs, particularly enrichment programs, is a function of income level.  This is consistent with Adler and Adler’s (1994) findings that after-school programs act as sorting mechanisms.  Adler and Adler point out that during the last generation, children’s leisure activities have become less spontaneous and more rationalized.  They characterize the change as being from child-directed activities which foster negotiation, planning, and problem-solving to adult-directed activities which are more focused and professionalized.  They argue, consistent with Bourdieu, that this rationalization allows adults a means to reproduce the existing social structure and to socialize young people to the corporate values of American culture.  Additionally, they describe a prescribed developmental trajectory in which participation moves from recreational, to competitive, to elite activities as children become older and more skilled.  Adler and Adler are particularly concerned that like school activities, after-school activities are promoting and sustaining class inequality. This contradicts increasingly prevalent rhetoric that describes after-school programs as a source of access to economic opportunity by way of access to improved academic performance.[3]


The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice’s (1998) report, “Safe and Smart:  Making After-School Hours Work for Kids” advocates connecting the curricula of after-school programs with school curricula as well as linkages between school-day and after-school personnel. Citing several studies, the report suggests that school-based and other school-affiliated after-school programs produce better grades and higher academic achievement.  In addition, these programs improve school attendance and reduce drop-out rate, help children turn in more and better quality homework, and provide more time on task for children who, for whatever reason, need more time than others to learn the same material.


The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement’s (1999) report, “Bringing Education to After-School Programs,” provides examples of how to bring enhancement of “critical skills” to after-school programs.  These skills include:  reading and mathematics, technology and telecommunications, art and music.  The examples are taken from among 1,601 school-based after-school programs in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands that received federal funding (The 21st Century Community Learning Centers).  This funding and the number of programs have increased steadily and dramatically since 1999.

A study commissioned to evaluate the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds’ Extended-Service Schools Adaptation Initiative (Walker, Grossman, and Raley, 2000) evaluated four school-based after-school programs serving 6000 primary and secondary-age children and youth in 18 cities.  Based on the premise that school buildings are valuable and underused resources that can serve as after-school sites for low-income children and youth, the initiative focused on improving the quality of educational and developmental services for children living in poor communities. A survey of 800 parents found that 76 per cent had enrolled their children because the children wanted to be involved and 53 per cent did so because they felt it would help their children do better in school.


The study also found that there were challenges to locating after-school programming in schools. One was conflict between the goals of institutional partners, particularly concerning the narrow focus of some principals and teachers on students’ test scores.  On the other hand, when representatives of the partnering institutions, e.g., community organizations, non-profits, and universities, worked together and discovered the low levels of some students’ academic skills, the focus on basic skills was more readily engaged.


Related to conflicting partner goals, the report notes challenges to demonstrating academic impacts, including:  low intensity of service to individuals in favor of providing service to greater numbers; high mobility among the client children; and low probability of affecting the school’s test scores due to the relatively low numbers of children involved.  The authors point out that while the possibility of improvement exists for individuals who come frequently, that will not help the principal “whose job depends on the school’s aggregate performance.” Still, in spite of this and other challenges, the evaluation supports the initiative’s goals and practice of extended the school day into what has traditionally been after-school.


This movement into after-school hours, what we might call school’s invasion of after-school, appears to be speeding up. Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor and conservative politician, for example, sponsored a proposition (Prop. 49:  After School Education and Safety Program Act of 2002) placed on the November 2002 ballot in California that appropriates 465 million dollars, in the first year alone, for grants to California schools for school-based after-school programs.  As with the Extended-Service Schools Adaptation Initiative and other school-based after-school programs, Prop. 49 programs are challenged to coordinate with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Pub. L. 107-110, 2002) which focuses on increased accountability for schools, proficiency testing, and corrective actions to meet State standards.


Preparation and contradiction


Because the rationalized sorting practices of formal schooling appear to be actively invading after-school, it is, at this point, useful to stop and consider the contradiction inherent in common schooling as it has evolved since the Progressive Era.  As noted above, public schooling was and continues to be supported for two purposes:  preparation for participation in civil democratic life and preparation for participation in economic life, i.e., the work force. The contradiction is that the preparation for economic life afforded by the common schools has historically been directed at rationalized, measured productivity, while preparation for participation in democracy requires critical thinking and development of public, and potentially contrary, voice.  While extreme, there is truth in Gatto’s statement that “Schools are intended to produce, through application of formulas, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled” (1992, 26).  There is also truth in Bateson’s assessment that “Participation in a democracy, however, requires not only an ability to acknowledge the beliefs and preferences of others but also the capacity to recognize that divergence is essential to the health of the larger system that includes the self and the other” (2001, 117).  The danger in school’s invasion of after-school is that in providing access to preparation for standardized and other testing, opportunities for the development and expression of divergent or free, thought and behavior through play, social interaction, and negotiation will be diminished.


In order to illustrate the contradictions that characterize the movement of school, homework, and measurement into the realm of after-school activities, we draw on the case of an informal after-school educational program that uses computers to link diverse children and college students in play and problem-solving.

California Case Study


The Fifth Dimension model, developed by Griffin, Cole, and others at the University of California, San Diego’s Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, LCHC, is a design for the development of after-school programs aimed at improving the academic performance of children who are by language, culture or ethnicity, socio-economic status, or labeling as learning disabled not likely to be successful in school (See Cole 1996).  This model is used to create systems of mixed activities:  children come to play (and learn), adult students come to learn (and play); and researchers and community members come to work (and play and learn).  The individual programs provide a range of opportunities for informal, collaborative teaching/learning that link children ages 6-12 and adult learners in joint exploration of computer games and other activities.  Because the Fifth Dimension allows for self-paced, voluntary engagement in problem solving, strategizing, and reflection, it serves as an auxiliary or "enrichment" learning environment located outside school. There are currently more than 40 programs based on the Fifth Dimension Model associated with 20 universities in the U.S., the Americas, and Europe. (See,


Designed to provide multiple, diverse, and evolving opportunities for informal education, programs based on the Fifth Dimension Model intentionally eschew school-like measurement of academic competence. Rather, informed by Vygotsky's theory of the Zone of Proximal Development (1978, 86), they focus on children's learning potential, avoiding quantitative measures and their propensity for sorting and ranking children according to standards of academic success and failure. Progress in the Fifth Dimension programs traditionally has been measured using longitudinal qualitative data to track changes over time.  As is typical of informal education, there is no failure in the Fifth Dimension.


The Fifth Dimension is a model for both after-school learning programs and university-school-community partnerships that co-design, jointly run, and regularly evaluate the programs.  The model incorporates an appreciation of the local creativity of each program’s participants, placing high value on contributions by people of diverse ages, genders, educational backgrounds, languages and cultures, and socio-economic status, as well as the contributions of the different institutional partners. The ethos of the Fifth Dimension is that expertise is both general and local, theoretical and practical.  Similarly, needs, including educational needs, are both general and local. Addressing those needs requires general knowledge, in this case a shared model, flexibly applied in accordance with local knowledge and input.


The Magical Dimension:  A case of colonization

One of the original Fifth Dimension programs opened in 1987 in a Boys and Girls Club. This program, designed and implemented by Cole, and hereafter referred to as “the Fifth Dimension,” continues to operate.   (See Cole,1995, 1996; Nicolopoulou and Cole 1993).  The Fifth Dimension has always been open to all children who are members of the Club and has historically, reflective of local demographics, served a mostly Anglo and middle-class population of children who come voluntarily to play with college students and computers.  Since 1999, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of Latino and low-income participants. This will be addressed below.


Specific activities have been variable over time, but have always included a mixture of computer and board games that provide practice with literacy, social science, mathematics and natural science content. Because the development of the Fifth Dimension has incorporated the loosely organized culture of the Club, children who come to play these games are free to wander in and out as they move from one to another of the Club’s activities.


In 1990, Vásquez opened La Clase Mágica, a bilingual, bi-cultural adaptation of the Fifth Dimension designed to serve the needs of the same community’s Latino children.  Since opening, La Clase Mágica has successfully engaged low-income and immigrant children in games directed at Spanish language maintenance, Spanish and English literacy, and heritage culture appreciation.  In 1995, however, La Clase Mágica was in serious danger of losing its space and the then tenuous support of its community host institutions (Vásquez, 2003). In 1995, Nocon, with support from Cole and Vásquez, developed the Magical Dimension, a new program based on the Fifth Dimension Model and located at a school which children from the original Fifth Dimension and La Clase Mágica attended (Nocon, 2000).  The Magical Dimension was designed as a bilingual program that could serve children from both the Latino and the non-Latino populations.  Both Spanish and English were used, as well as a smattering of Russian.


The Magical Dimension was the first local Fifth Dimension program located in a public school.  Due to a quick start-up and the availability of computing resources already there, the school’s computers were used as well as a significant amount of the school’s software.  Much of this software was art based and content open, e.g., Storybook Weaver©.  Eventually, the school’s computer teacher became the site coordinator and there was evidence of the Magical Dimension’s influence on the school, e.g., new computing activities and the participants being perceived during the school day as computer experts. There was also evidence of the school’s influence on the site.  The new site coordinator was the only person referred to by title and surname. A bell was rung to gain collective attention. Lights were flashed when it is time to clean up.


The Magical Dimension was successful in attracting diverse children, including a large percentage of Latinos (and their parents) and other children from non-English-speaking homes. Additionally, the program provided a safe place where children from the school’s Gifted and Talented program played and learned along with children with special needs who were regularly referred by the school’s resource teacher.  The following excerpt from the Magical Dimension’s Annual Report 1998-1999 provides a synopsis of the Magical Dimension’s history:

In summer 1997, the prospects for sustaining the Magical Dimension looked good.  The school district together with the [Boys and Girls] Club had assumed financial responsibility for site operations.  An employee of the district became site coordinator.  In the ensuing two years attendance first rose significantly, and then declined.  The rise in attendance coincided with the presence of a dedicated LCHC veteran who was paid to be assistant site coordinator by the Club.  This individual spoke fluent Spanish and was very engaged in the theory driving the Fifth Dimension.  He took on significant responsibility for coordinating the site, and acted as a close link to the university.  As more responsibility was assumed by the non-university site coordinator who was paid by school district, free play rather than engagement in the Fifth Dimension model was privileged at the site.  This coincided with a decline in attendance.  In addition, whereas in previous years the school resource teacher’s help in advertising the program was offered and accepted for collaborative promotion, the district paid site coordinator expressed discomfort with large numbers of children and chose not to promote the program until the spring quarter, during which she made announcements in her school day computer classes.  This did not increase attendance.


Based on these experiences and the low attendance figures, Nocon and Cole entered into negotiation with the elementary school (as opposed to the district, which supported the Magical Dimension) to determine how the collaborative effort could continue productively.  The principal and the resource teacher along with one or two other teachers agreed to develop together with Nocon and Cole an after-school program that would better meet the school’s evolving goals.  As a result, the Magical Dimension did not continue, but “morphed” into a homework program that specifically targeted low-achieving children, most of whom were Latino.  This metamorphosis was precipitated, in great part, by new pressures on the principal and school to focus on standardized tests and basic needs.


In 1998, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 227, which eliminated bilingual education from state K-12 curricula (California Education Code 1998).  Also in 1998, the California Legislature passed a bill (AB 1626, Chap. 742, 1998) requiring that school districts adopt policies directed at ending social promotion.  The legislation required the State Board of Education and all public schools in California to adopt minimum levels of pupil performance based on universal use of standardized tests in reading, mathematics and English language arts for grade level promotion.  In 1999, the California Senate passed the Public Schools Act (SB 1552, Chap. 695, 2000), which provided for ranking California’s public schools according to pupils’ performance on the standardized tests (Stanford Achievement Test, Ninth Edition, or SAT 9) as well as other measures included in an Academic Performance Index.


The passage of this legislation changed the educational, political, and social contexts in which the Magical Dimension (and the Fifth Dimension) were operating.  The change in the educational context represented by the move to standardization and quantification had immediate impact on the university-community informal education programs in terms of generating funding. Potential funding agents, local, state, and national, began to seek quantitative measures of program outcomes, basing awards on such measures. This political pressure has been felt by the local and national Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as by other adult organized youth activities, like those described in Heath and McLaughlin (1993), Heath (1998, 2000), Halpern (2002) and UC Links (addressed below), that have attempted to engage children and youth disaffected by formal schooling.


Making matters more complex, the change in the social context of schooling is associated with the new needs for schools (and principals) to be competitive in state rankings at the same time that after-school programs’ client children face more stringent academic ranking and, in the case of low-income and minority children, very real increases in the probability of retention in grade. A program that seeks to improve children’s social and cognitive skills by providing them with confidence-building experiences of productive learning and success with academic content addressed informally can not ignore the children’s need to pass the SAT 9 at their grade levels.  The potential of retention in grade and its associated stigma is very real for the children. Acknowledging this double-bind, Cole and Nocon agreed to work with the school in developing a homework program that would be run in partnership by the Boys and Girls Club, the university, and the school.


Basic Skills vs. the Magical Dimension (3) In March 1999, the principal had indicated a desire to implement a new design in the after school computer program emphasizing basic skills.  The desire to change the use of the space continued to gather momentum in the spring. By late May, the computer teacher had decided, for personal reasons, she could not continue with the Magical Dimension or its derivative the following year:

I don’t want MD to continue as it is now next year for a few reasons.  I think it is time for the school to make a program it wants and needs, hence, the basic skills focus.  I think me stepping down will bring in a [school-based] teacher which will help with this focus. (Staff field note, sr 5.24.99)

The University and Boys and Girls Club representatives met again with the principal.  It was decided not to continue the Magical Dimension the following year.  Meetings between the University, Club representatives and the principal did continue through the summer and fall of 1999. Frequently, the resource teacher who had actively supported the Magical Dimension was present. In addition, LCHC sent two researchers to be participant observers at a basic skills summer school program at the school in the interest of using that information to inform design of the new after-school club.


Basic Skills Summer School (3)  In the summer after the Magical Dimension shut down, the school hosted a K-6, remedial summer school for students in the district who fell below the fortieth percentile on the statewide grade level achievement tests. Of the three hundred students invited, 180 attended. The large majority of these students were drawn from the community’s Latino population. A study of this group conducted by Nocon, Cole, and others (Solana Beach Coalition, 2000) verified that, in addition to being overwhelmingly Latino, the summer school attendees were predominantly from the community’s two poorest neighborhoods.


The four-week, half-day program included remedial work in literacy skills and computer-based practice with reading and oral language recognition. Children were placed in grade-level groups of 20.  Each group had a teacher and at least one assistant, most often a high school “Study Buddy.”  The two researchers from the University participated as participant observers in order to gather data on the program that would be shared with the principal and interested teachers in the interest of helping to design the new after-school program that would replace the Magical Dimension.  Based on their observations, they concluded that challenges confronting children with special needs and/or limited English proficiency included the need for special attention to different skill levels, including language and keyboarding skills.  The short periods in the summer school days precluded working individually and adequately with the children with the greatest needs.


Another interesting finding concerned the computer program used as both a diagnostic tool and a basic skills practice tool. The program included assessment features, some accessible to teachers and some accessible to the children. During the course of the program, children quickly came to compare scores.  Some children, who did not score well, chose to demonstrate how badly they could do, purposely choosing wrong answers, and effectively sabotaging the assessment.   This, along with other findings, caused the researchers to note that the program as a whole, and the computer component, in particular, suffered from the lack of a larger support structure, i.e., individualized learning aids and social interaction. They recommended that the team designing the new after-school program focus on two goals: 1) literacy in English, with assistance in Spanish, and 2) helping students to become competent self-learners by reinforcing both study skills and self-esteem through social interaction. 


Basic Skills After-school (3)  In January 2000, the school implemented a basic skills program in the computer lab that had housed the Magical Dimension from January 1996 through June 1999. The basic skills program was based on a district wide model.  Cole and Nocon determined that the interest of the University undergraduate students would not be best served by assisting in the new program.  Their concern was that the college students would be placed in traditional hierarchical roles as teacher-aides, working on basic skills only and thereby participating in school-based sorting practices that had been kindly, but unabashedly practiced in the summer basic skills program.  However, in the interest of continuing the partnership and providing expanded access to the community’s children, the principal, with support from the school district, the Boys and Girls Club, and the University jointly designed and opened a new homework club at the Boys and Girls Club.  For the school, the Homework Club was justified as part of the school’s state-mandated intervention program targeting those children scoring in the lowest quartile on statewide grade-level achievement tests.  The school’s teachers began to refer children in need of extra help to the Homework Club.  Boys and Girls Club employees and teachers began helping the children cross the thoroughfare separating the two institutions.  The school district supported the program financially by paying the scholarship fees for the referred children.  University undergraduates worked with the children in the Homework Club and also played with them in the Fifth Dimension.  The Fifth Dimension integrated new educational software that addressed (if more playfully) the same skills that the school’s basic skills computer program addressed.


Homework Club (3)  A total of 27 children were referred to the Homework Club by the school. Between January 3 and June 1, 2000, the average daily attendance was 11.5 children.  The average amount of time spent in the homework club was a total of 29 hours, varying between two and 77 hours.  Based on field note data collected by undergraduates and researchers who participated in the Homework Club, some general trends emerged. The most salient trend was the development of a culture of resistance.  Many children were disruptive, talking loudly, moving about the room, etc., and creative in finding ways to avoid doing homework.  For example, they often engaged undergraduates in discussion of personal lives, non-school artwork, popular culture, or even school work not associated with the task at hand. Another trend was that children referred to the Homework Club did not go to the Fifth Dimension after completing their homework, as had been hoped. They chose instead to join the physical play in the gym.


Another trend was the undergraduates’ tendency to focus, not on skills or learning activity in their field notes, but on the children’s behaviors.  In spite of the culture of resistance, the undergraduates noted 75 instances of positive personal and interpersonal behavior, e.g., “able to finish assignments,” or “asks for help,” versus 22 instances of negative behavior, e.g., “rude/disrespectful,” or “tries to get answers from undergrads.”


When interviewed in May 2000, the teachers, in the presence of the school’s principal, concurred that they had referred children who were not getting their homework done and would benefit from additional individualized support. Only one of several teachers reported seeing change in one child’s academic performance. Three teachers reported better use of homework planners and more consistency in turning in homework. One teacher also reported that the children appeared to feel better about themselves as they turned in their work.


The Homework Club continued to be run by the partnership through the 2000-2001 academic year.  Attendance by referred children declined, though some of those originally referred persisted in coming to the Boys and Girls Club and began participating in the Fifth Dimension. This process, as well as collaboration between the Club, school and University in developing an after-school program for kindergarteners, effectively integrated the Fifth Dimension, which, as noted above, served a predominantly Anglo population in 1996, and currently serves a more diverse population, about 35 per cent of which is Latino.


The “official” partnership-run Homework Club was no longer running in fall 2001.  A Boys and Girls Club homework program took its place and the school reverted to a more structured silent homework period on school grounds.  The issue was not pursued by the University or Club for two reasons. First, one reason for declining participation was lack of transportation home, especially during the winter months when darkness fell early. The second was recognition that the referred children were getting extra help at the expense of being publicly marked as “slow,” both as they gathered to walk to the Boys and Girls Club and by some less-experienced Club staff who kept separate lists of regular Boys and Girls Club members in the homework room and “referred kids.”  This distinction was at times reinforced publicly as staff allowed the regular kids to come and go at will but required the referred children to stay.  Senior club staff quickly intervened and stopped these sorting behaviors, but the differences in the status of participants in the Homework Club and the Boys and Girls Club remained clear.   


Colonizing the Fifth Dimension


As noted briefly above, in developing the Homework Club with the local school, the researchers running the Fifth Dimension incorporated corresponding changes in that program’s content. Games that were both educational and fun were brought in to provide practice with basic skills (two favorites were Word Munchers© and Troggle Trouble Math©.)  Other games that provided practice with keyboarding, grammar, and ratios were also incorporated.  These games were surprisingly popular and attracted many children.


Concurrent with the opening of the Homework Club, the Fifth Dimension team was experimenting with the incorporation of measurement, using the games mentioned above.  Several math and language game tournaments were held with the children’s voluntary and enthusiastic participation. While the fun aspects of these experiments with measurement were impressive, their usefulness as measurement techniques was not. Voluntary participation includes the right not to engage in activities that seem boring and it proved very difficult to get reliable and consistent pre- and post-test measures. Still, the development of the Homework Club and the integration of games targeting basic skills in the Fifth Dimension did influence later development of the Fifth Dimension. In addition to the change in the demographics of the children served, the topic and actual work on homework entered the Fifth Dimension.


During the 1998-1999 academic year, 74 of 454 field notes (16 per cent) written by undergraduates based on their sessions at the Fifth Dimension mentioned homework.   In the 1999-2000 academic year, when the Homework Club opened, 34 per cent of the field notes mentioned homework.  In 2001-2002, when the homework club was no longer running at the Boys and Girls Club, 16 per cent still mentioned doing homework.  What changed was the way in which homework was referenced.  In 1999-2000, the year the school-affiliated Homework Club opened, there were numerous allusions to homework behavior.  For example, as the Homework Club opened and the partners deferred to school culture,  “The teacher directed the kids where to sit as they walked in, presumably to separate friends in order to get them to concentrate on homework.  The teacher discouraged talking, even if the kids were asking each other for help” (fn:  al99f.44.3). There were numerous references to being quiet, staying in the room for the prescribed time, not eating, not talking, etc.  Later in the year, there were references to help and ongoing relationships, as well as self-selection of homework activity.


In the 2001-2002 field notes, references to homework were both fewer and more incidental. However, there was an emergent pattern of self-selection and homework activity began to appear outside of the officially designated homework room in different areas of the Club, particularly in the Fifth Dimension, where there was a computer with Internet capability.


What interests us is that while the collaborative Homework Club died, in part from lack of attendance, some of the children first referred have continued to come to the Club regularly, interacting with staff members, doing homework in different spaces as well as participating in the informal learning activities in the Fifth Dimension. Similarly, interactions with the school have changed, but persisted and the partners are again working to coordinate programming that addresses standards and basic skills as well as critical thinking, problem-solving and participation in social learning situations. On the other hand, similar to the colonization of the defunct Magical Dimension and the ongoing Fifth Dimension, after-school programs based on university-community partnerships in California and beyond are struggling with the impact of the standards and basic skills movement and its the emphasis on homework.

The case of UC Links:  State-wide expansion


On July 20, 1995, the Regents of the University of California passed a “Policy Ensuring Equal Treatment Admissions” (SP-1), which stated that “Effective January 1, 1997, the University of California shall not use race, religion, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin as criteria for admission to the University or to any program of study.”  This policy effectively eliminated affirmative action as a tool to be used in ensuring that admissions to the university system reflected the demographics of the state’s population.  No group, even those that were traditionally underrepresented at the University, could receive preferential treatment.  Anticipating that diversity in the student population would be adversely affected, the Regents’ policy also provided for the establishment of a task force “to develop and support programs which will have the effect of increasing the eligibility rate of groups which are ‘underrepresented’ in the University’s pool of applicants as compared to their percentages in California’s graduating high school classes.” 


In response to the Regents’ policy, in 1995-1996, Cole and Vásquez, together with representatives from the University of California Office of the President and faculty at the nine UC campuses, developed a proposal for a university system-wide initiative based on the Fifth Dimension and La Clase Mágica models.[4] They called the initiative UC Links. The following is from a draft proposal:

UC Links is a statewide after-school initiative designed to advance the University’s role in K-12 education through a University-community-school consortium of model educational systems.  The initiative links 9 UC campuses and 2  CSU campuses in computer-based after-school programs at 17 school and other community-based sites throughout California.  The purpose is to develop a pipeline of qualified students from elementary school through postdoctoral levels in communities throughout California.  The model links after-school K-12 activities with intensive undergraduate coursework combining classroom theoretical study with practice in community settings.  This system of coursework and after-school activity serves K-12 students, their families, community organizations, and schools while integrating the University’s three-fold mission of teaching, research, and community service...


The UC Links 2001 Annual Report states that the number of California sites has grown to 31, serving 2125 K-12 students and approximately 1000 undergraduates.  These sites are affiliated with the nine UC campuses as well as other California campuses. (See  Recently, tensions between the UC Links approach and the testing movement has resulted in university-community partnerships leaving schools owing to intransigence regarding standards and training in basic skills, a problem very similar to that reported in the Extended-Service Schools Adaptation Initiative.


In one urban UC Links partnership, the principal, with whom the university partners had enjoyed a long and productive relationship, was dismissed when his school missed its state-based achievement goals by a couple of points.  The principal had secured Safe School grants and created a literacy program for adults, in addition to organizing collaborations with both the university and the Boys and Girls Club in order to provide his students with enrichment and access after school. The administration that replaced him determined that the only after-school activity permitted at the school was to be tutoring to raise test scores.  The university and the Boys and Girls Club reluctantly severed their partnerships with the school and its children.


In another UC Links partnership, a newly developed system is currently in jeopardy because the principal does not believe that the after-school partnership with the university will have direct impact on students’ standardized test scores. Space, supplies and labor originally designated for the new system have been withdrawn.  Similarly, in a long-term partnership between a school and a teaching college, alumni who became teachers at the school have been reprimanded and isolated for devoting volunteer time after-school to a Fifth Dimension-like partnership program dedicated to social justice and access for Latino and bilingual children.  In this case, parents are adamant about continuing the partnership in spite of the school administration’s stance in opposition.


On the other hand, a UC partnership in another city serving a predominantly Spanish-speaking population, has adapted to the new emphasis on homework. In this case, the impetus was parents’ requests for help. As Spanish speakers, they found themselves unable to provide the necessary homework assistance to their children, and so sought an expansion of access from the university-community partnership.  As this case points out, the line between colonization of after-school and expansion of access is not so clear. This ambiguity was also true with the Homework Club and the Fifth Dimension.  While some children (and researchers) actively resisted the social controls and worksheets of the homework room, children had real needs for help with those worksheets and found safe and sensitive environments at the Boys and Girls Club and in the Fifth Dimension.                                       


We have chosen to focus on California because of the state’s early foray into standardized testing and standardized, homogenized and rationalized education. Because statewide standards-based reforms have been adapted in 49 states, we consider the California case to be indicative of the pressures experienced by schools and their partners around the U.S.  For example, a colleague and teacher in Minnesota reports that “district policy has become so rigid we are considered dissenters if we take the ‘tests don’t really matter’ line.”  He reports, reminiscent of the California case, that summer school has been reserved for the sole purpose of preparing less successful students for passing the basic standards test.  


Contradictions of school in after-school


The case of the Magical Dimension and the related cases of the Fifth Dimension and UC Links illustrate the basic contradiction in common or public schooling; that is, the contradiction between preparation for critical participation in a diverse democratic society and training in standardized and rationalized cognitive and social behaviors. The Magical Dimension mixed ages, genders, home languages, cultures, and learning styles in an informal learning environment that blended academic content and skills with artistic expression and play.  There was room and attention for diverse and divergent voices.  This remains true of the Fifth Dimension and the UC Links programs, not only for the children who participate, but for the diverse institutional partners who cooperate in running these programs.  Within these informal learning environments, many of the children who self-select to participate (even for those referred, participation is voluntary) choose to do homework, seeking and gaining assistance from staff, college students, researchers, and other children.  Along with homework, all the children play games and engage in joint problem-solving, reflection, and writing with collaborating undergraduates and children of different ages, genders and backgrounds.


The basic skills programs (summer school, after-school, the homework club) sorted children by design (the lowest quartile based on standardized achievement tests) and reinforced social inequities (Latinos and low-income) in doing so.  The children in these programs did struggle with basic skills and did face the very real probability of retention in grade or grades.  The school, the teachers, and the principal, regardless of personal politics, were forced into the dilemmatic position of trying to help these children by marking and sorting them.  We do not believe that the educators involved were intentionally engaged in promoting legitimate disparities in occupational destinies. However, using this approach, the goal of preparing children to participate fully in economic life and democratic society was to be achieved by standardizing and homogenizing the behavior of the poor and immigrant through external controls, while treating them differently from their more advantaged peers. In the face of demeaning external controls that denied interaction with the three upper quartiles and disregarded their strengths, the children resisted.  They sabotaged assessments, undermined authority, and stopped coming.  When the homework club ceased to function as a coercive environment, and the Boys and Girls Club’s and Fifth Dimension’s traditional focus on children’s potentials created safe places for diverse and divergent children, many of the children still elected to do homework in spaces of their choosing and came voluntarily to participate in other informal learning activities with caring adults.  This has been particularly beneficial for children who are not successful in school and who find in informal education access to learning and identity formation as successful learners.


In thinking about the cases presented here the very real issue of inequitable access must be coupled with the question:  Access to what?  Is access to remedial programming for the poor, the newly arrived, and the divergent equal access? Or, is it access to training in compliance for those who don’t make the grade, but can hopefully be made to tow the line? Is access expanded by carrying the sorting practices that defined those who don’t “make the grade” into after-school time that could otherwise be dedicated to exploring strengths, developing social skills and confidence, finding and developing modes of expression? How much of a child’s identity should be constructed around being in the lowest quartile?  How much should be defined by school?


We join Heath and Halpern in arguing that adult organized after-school activities, while they may be characterized as “semi-colonizing,” should remain different kinds of child and youth development institutions that provide access to informal education without rationalization, sorting, and failure.  As Heath points out, “Unlike schools that tend to focus on the need for students to acquire skills and knowledge that may help them obtain jobs, youth organizations focus on building relationships with colleagues, and in so doing, finding ways to work resourcefully with others” (2000b, 70).  As Halpern argues

The tasks of middle childhood—acquiring literacy, gaining knowledge of the world, solidifying a sense of competence and agency, exploring interests and discovering talents, becoming more autonomous—do require adult support.  Low and moderate-income children deserve the same access to enriching organized activities as their more advantaged peers.  Yet low-income children, as all children need space—social as much as physical space—to develop their own thoughts, to daydream and reflect; to dabble and dawdle; to pretend, try on, and rehearse different roles and identities; to learn friendship and to learn how to handle interpersonal conflict; to rest and be quiet; and not least to have fun and take risks of their own design and choosing. (2002, 206)


We believe that the value of after-school programs is located in their traditionally open, informal, and tenuously institutionalized nature.  As flexible sites of informal education, after-school programs have allowed low-income and immigrant children access to safe places and flexible, responsive programming as well as contact with diverse perspectives.  The choice and “looseness” that characterize these programs provide opportunities for participation in problem-solving, self-regulation, and learning that goes beyond rigid standards and limited basic content.  Informal and potentially limitless education in adult-organized after-school programs is a necessary complement to the formal and limited education provided by schools.



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[1] Support for this research was provided by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. Support for writing of this paper came in part from the Spencer Foundation

[2] The Progressive Era refers roughly to the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century, a period in U.S. history marked by urbanization, immigration, economic and global expansion and social movements, including the expansion of common schooling and social welfare programs.

[3] SeeGlass and Walsh, 2001; Heckman and Sanger, 2001; Hock, Pulvers, Deshler, and Schumaker, 2001; Miller, 2001 for reports on the academic and social benefits of after-school programs.




Honorine Nocon, Bio-Note


Michael Cole, Bio-Note