Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Weeding Out the Undesirables from School

Back in the 1970's criminologist William Chambliss published an infamous study of juvenile delinquency entitled "The Saints and The Roughnecks." In it, Chambliss documented how school teachers and principals often discipline students based merely on their appearance, social class and race and ethnicity (he would also show disparate treatment in the larger community, by law enforcement, in the court system, and so on).

But in school, students who were minority or working class in appearance were often punished and suspended for infractions their white, middle class-looking brethren would often escape punishment. And now we can conclude that things have only gotten worse in the last 30+ years.

Racial Disparity in School Suspensions Grows:

The study analyzed four decades of federal Department of Education data on suspensions, with a special focus on figures from 2002 and 2006, that were drawn from 9,220 of the nation’s 16,000 public middle schools.

The study, “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization.

Throughout America’s public schools, in kindergarten through high school, the percent of students suspended each year nearly doubled from the early 1970s through 2006, the authors said, an increase that they associate, in part, with the rise of so-called zero-tolerance school discipline policies.

In 1973, on average, 3.7 percent of public school students of all races were suspended at least once. By 2006, that percentage had risen to 6.9 percent.

Both in 1973 and in 2006, black students were suspended at higher rates than whites, but over that period, the gap increased. In 1973, 6 percent of all black students were suspended. In 2006, 15 percent of all blacks were suspended.

Among the students attending one of the 9,220 middle schools in the study sample, 28 percent of black boys and 18 percent of black girls, compared with 10 percent of white boys and 4 percent of white girls, were suspended in 2006, the study found.

Beyond the racial, ethnic and class disparities lies the issue of "zero-tolerance" which, as we now know, means "zero-sense." The ongoing criminalizing of childhood and adolescence has had a real effect, via the suspension process, on a generation of kids.

And from the larger power-elite view, isn't suspension just a way for schools to weed out the undesirables? A way to get rid of those who threaten the system, while simultaneously raising test scores, and defacto, more money for the schools, administrators and education bureaucrats involved?

It's perfect, if you think about: education as the ultimate form of social control.

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