In a recent Sociology Lens post, Markus Gerke detailed the problem associated with President Obama’s rhetoric of individual responsibility for increasing opportunities for Latino and Black men. One component to President Obama’s initiative is to increase educational opportunities for these populations and Gerke correctly notes that the focus on individual responsibility ignores the structural barriers that limit these populations. Research suggests that a major factor in the educational achievement gap is the presence of the school-to-prison pipeline and the punishment of minority students at greater rates than white students. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education notes that 5 percent of white students in the United States are suspended compared to 16 percent of black students. Furthermore, researchers have documented racial disparities in school punishment for over 40 years with African-Americans accounting for 34 percent of suspensions nationwide, despite making up only 17 percent of the population (Browne, 2003).
In her latest piece for the Atlantic, Christina Hoff Sommers – author of “The War against Boys” – continues to make the case that boys are losing out in education, are being disadvantaged by schools that supposedly cater exclusively to girls and are thus in need of remedial help in order to catch up to girls educationally. Arguments like hers are still going strong in public discourse, although a vast amount of research has shown the situation to be much more complicated than she makes it sound. Instead of falling back to anti-feminist and gender-reinforcing ‘solutions’ – such as those proposed by Christina Hoff Sommers and others – an intersectional feminist analysis of gender and education is much more useful in accounting for the inequities in educational outcomes between different groups of students.
A few weeks back, I contributed a post highlighting possible explanations for the rise of criminal justice based practices within schools. Although these strategies have become popular for managing school crime, growing evidence suggests they are often overly excessive and may produce a host of unintended consequences. Serving as a sort of a Part II, this essay outlines the effects of what has been termed the “criminalization of school discipline” (Hirschfield & Celinscka 2011). As discussed below, the evidence stands against the school criminalization when considering its effects on: social equality, school performance, school crime, and other disciplinary strategies. more...
Over the past two decades, schools across the U.S. have adopted a host of punitive practices and policies to prevent and respond to student misbehavior (Kupchik 2010). These practices include the use of security cameras, metal detectors, drug-sniffing dogs, and the full-time presence of police officers. Consequentially, the distinction between school discipline and criminal justice has become highly blurred. For a host of reasons, there has been an increase in surveillance over students and a tighter link between the education and criminal justice for a host of (Hirschfield & Celinscka 2011). The purpose of this post is to provide, from the extant literature, explanations for the rise of criminal justice based practices within schools. more...
There can be little doubt that schools across the nation have experience notable budget cuts since the recent economic fallout. Without protection from larger economic trails, educational systems have had to manage substantial budget cuts and reductions in available resources. Across different media platforms, new articles are peppered with headlines concerning the myriad of challenges schools are now facing. Despite financial tightening and limited avenues for support, it is clear that school performance has not escaped popular attention. With initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top”, schools must meet higher expectations within a highly competitive atmosphere – although some schools hit harder than others by adverse economic conditions. more...
There can be little doubt that because of the current economic conditions, a large part of society has undergone considerable strain. Whether discussing unemployment rates, downsizing, closed up businesses, or market trends, it seems that little has been left unaffected by these financial times. Of concern for this post is how schools, specifically secondary schools, have had to adapt to and deal with the economic state. Often making top news reports on major broadcasting stations or making the front-page of newspaper outlets, it is not uncommon to hear of another school having to face financial cutbacks and crisis. It is the budgetary tightening within schools that this post considers; more specifically, when facing budget cuts, what policies and programs are left in place and which are discarded.
A mentor and I are currently writing about the financial context of certain school practices and policies. When discussing school budgets, the primary concern is with which programs – on a continuum of being financed – receive budgeted funding given both the economic situation of the school and, more broadly, the larger economy? Stated another way, are there programs and policies that remain funded while others are cut, and if so, what is the reasoning or rational behind how budgeted funds are distributed? more...
In 2010, MSNBC published an article written by Alex Johnson entitled “Some schools rethink bans on cell phones: Bans don’t work, so administrators explore using mobile devices”. In the report, Johnson notes that 100 plus students were suspended – not for cheating, smoking, or bullying – but for having cell phones. While presented here as merely an anecdote, there can little doubt that the use of cell phones, and mobile technology more generally, is an issue that has caught the attention of school administrators across the nation. Within the article, Brian Begley, principal of Millard North High School, illustratively notes: “Cell phones aren’t going away.” As mobile devices become increasingly marketed to today’s youth and as their functionality blurs with that of computers, the issue of wireless, new media technology within high schools will reshape school operations.
The article cites that although 69 percent of American high schools have placed a ban on cell phones, 63% of student respondents nonetheless reported using them on campus. Recognizing that simply banning the devices does little to discourage their usage, Johnson notes that “a growing number of school districts are exploring other ways to shut them down.” Rather than employing suspension as a punishment, certain schools have resulted to more invasive forms of social control, including “confiscating phones…keeping them for 30 days and searching them for evidence of cheating, pornography or other ‘illicit activities.’ If such evidence is found, it’s turned over to the sheriff’s office”.
Whilst illustrating both the complications for banning cell phones and their potential applicability within schools, the issue of cell phones points to a larger development. Scholars have recently begun to document how two large-scale trends are transforming the socialization of youth within school settings. The first stems from a late-modern preoccupation with safety and security (see Garland, 1996, 2000; Simon, 2007; Foucault, 1977). Whether accelerated by internal events such as school shootings, or external factors like reported rates of youth violence, it is clear that crime has now become a chief organizing principle shaping school discipline. Consequently, issues such as cell phone use are caught in the proverbial cross-hairs and mobilized against in the name of promoting school safety. more...
A decade after teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students, one teacher, and wounded 23 at their high school in Colorado, academic writers in different fields still debate the source of their rage. Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters by Langman is a new book offering a psychological evaluation of the incident, which argues that sociocultural factors have been overemphasized. He writes that certain children are predisposed to violence through schizophrenia or psychopathic personality disorders. It is largely a response to an anthropological work by Newman, et al, called Rampage: The Social Roots Of School Shootings, which argues that oversimplifications about violent television and video games are not good explanations for such actions. The only way to prevent shootings is to pay close attention to the school environment – bullying, threats, and the socially isolated.
A more sociological perspective can be found in Comprehending Columbine by Larkin. He argues that structural factors, such as the normalization of extreme bullying by athletic elites and a general state of hegemonic religious intolerance that ostracized all outsiders, combined to make Harris and Klebold try to seek revenge. Interestingly, the book exposes as an outright lie that the shooters targeted victims based on their religious beliefs, and that this claim only obscured the deeper meanings of extreme school violence in our society.
Review of Comprehending Columbine by Ralph W. Larkin
It has recently been noted that there appears to be ‘an increasing sense of nostalgia for communism’ among many Germans. Although, this may in part be connected to wider global financial concerns, this on its own does not explain the attraction for many younger people. Indeed, it is suggested that many of these were born after Germany’s reunification, with no experience of the reality of living under communism.
In an effort to tackle these concerns, the East German School Project, based in Leipzig’s former Stasi building, has created classroom re-enactments to enable teenage pupils to gain some insight. Elke Urban, who takes the role of teacher Frau Müller, insists that some pupils ‘think that it [communism] was like living in a social paradise’. By stressing the totalitarian nature of the GDR regime, the project hopes to dispel some of the myths.
As part of this role-play, one student is pre-selected to be the dissident member of the group. Frighteningly, in an echo of the studies carried out by Milgram, Elliott and Zimbardo respectively, Ms. Urban has found that out of all the groups to visit the project, only one has refused to conform, with the others happy to participate in the dissident individual’s discrimination.
‘Does Antiregime Action under Communist Rule Affect Political Protest After the Fall?’