More on the Criminalization of School

October 21, 2014 2:37 p.m.

TPM Reader MA has another thread of the criminalization of high school story. I would say that I still think the mid-late 20th century crime boom is a big, big part of this story, one which is obviously heavily bound up with race but is an independent statistical and societal fact. With that, TPM Reader MA

Josh, interesting post on the criminalization of innocuous behavior in schools, but I think you missed an important thread. Like the drug war and the militarization of policing, I think this phenomena is largely an expression of our nation’s white supremacist origins and continuing mass anxieties and hysterias about race. One of the things that’s come out of the recent discussion of the killings of Micheal Brown and Eric Gardner, etc., is how police forces are encouraged, through a plethora of mostly unspoken or indirect policies and cues and the prejudices police officers learn like the rest of us growing up in America, to see black and brown-skinned people and particularly young black males as a dangerous, violence-prone, always up-to-no-good criminal class.

And it goes way back. As the Great Migration brought blacks north, the South’s fears of a Haitian-style uprising traveled with them, and the lynch mobs of Dixie were replaced by men in blue with heads full of Birth of a Nation-esque nonsense, whose nightsticks served double duty in brutally policing both racial and picket lines.

In the decades since Brown v. Board, there’s been a massive nationwide exodus of more affluent whites from our public schools. That’s resulted in resegregation, as whites and more well-off families of color tend to send their kids to a parallel school system of private and parochial schools, or to charters and “magnet” schools within the public school system designed to screen out undesirables (though the segregation at most charters runs the other way). So our schools in cities large and small chiefly serve students of color, mostly low- and lower-middle income kids. And as recent research has shown, those kids come in for much harsher punishment for stupidly minor infractions than do white kids — horrifyingly, even in preschool. This is actually something de Blasio’s DoE has been promising to address through revision of the discipline code.

Anyway, I think this accounts for why you don’t see this kind of stuff so much at white private and parochial schools (where neither do you see grueling testing regimens, or homework, or even, a few old-school nuns aside, the kind of wild fetishism of classroom order and discipline that inner city charter schools market themselves with). Fear of a black student.

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