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Who Is the One Being Disrespectful? Understanding and Deconstructing the Criminalization of Elementary School Boys of Color


Abstract and Figures

This research aims to contribute to understanding what criminalization for boys of color looks like in urban elementary school settings and to offering insights into what we must do to disrupt criminalization in urban schools. Using multiple sources of data from four elementary schools across a 2-year period, we found that boys of color in the study were subjected to criminalization as part of their daily educational experiences. Their bodies and behaviors were hyper-policed, disparately punished, and routinely labeled with criminalizing terms. Furthermore, we found masternarratives framing boys of color as disrespectful and habitually truant to be ambiguous and empirically false.
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Who’s the one being disrespectful?: Understanding and deconstructing the criminalization of
urban elementary school boys of color
This research aims to contribute to understanding what criminalization for boys of color looks
like in urban elementary school settings and offering insights into what we must do to disrupt
criminalization in urban schools. Using multiple sources of data from four elementary schools
across a two-year period, we found that boys of color in the study were subjected to
criminalization as part of their daily educational experiences. Their bodies and behaviors were
hyper-policed, disparately punished, and routinely labeled with criminalizing terms. Further, we
found masternarratives framing boys of color as disrespectful and habitually truant to be
ambiguous and empirically false.
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Sage in Urban Education on April 15,
2019, available online:
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
“I'm the one who has been labeled as an outcast, they teach in schools I'm the misfit y'all will
- Anthony Criss
Boys of color have been and continue to be hyper-criminalized, disproportionately
policed and overly punished in schools (Hirschfield, 2008; Thompson, 2011). Boys of color are
criminalized in these ways despite the fact that they do not engage in violent behaviors or drug
use any more than their white peers (Brent, 2016; Thompson, 2011; Winn & Behizadeh, 2011).
Embedded within racial tropes pervasive throughout media and social discourse, dominant
narratives of men and boys of color as dangerous, violent, and truant work to support, justify,
and reify criminalization as a normal, ordinary, and necessary part of urban schooling (B. A.
Brown, Mangram, Sun, Cross, & Raab, 2017; James, 2012; Seroczynski & Jobst, 2016). The
systemic process of criminalization serves to (a) funnel boys of color into the school-to-prison
pipeline (Wald & Losen, 2003); and (b) consistently deny boys of color access to learning
opportunities (Kennedy-Lewis & Murphy, 2016). Despite growing awareness of these unjust
practices, schools continue to consistently privilege and prioritize rules and enforcement in urban
schools over any other aspect of school or learning (Anyon et al., 2018).
While the school-to-prison pipeline and racial disparities in school discipline are well
documented on the high school and middle school levels (Anyon et al., 2018), only a few studies
have examined these phenomena on the elementary school level. The same imbalance exists with
regard to research on criminalization in schools, again favoring high school and middle school
levels with only a handful of studies examining elementary schools. Due to these imbalances in
research, the commonality, functions, and modes of criminalization present in urban elementary
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
schools remain unclear. Further, the alignment of disparities in punitive practices with
criminalization as a form of racial oppression in elementary schools remains under-theorized.
These gaps in research and theory are of particular importance for researchers and educators
working to disrupt systems and structures of oppression in place in urban schools. To address
this need, we conducted a longitudinal study aimed at better understanding the criminalization
boys of color experience in urban elementary schools.
We begin by situating our work in Critical Race Theory, and describing criminalization
as a conceptual framework to understand the experiences of boys of color in elementary school.
Following a description of our methods, we divide our findings into two parts. First, we describe
criminalization as a normal and ordinary part of the daily experiences of boys of color, and
provide categorical descriptions with representative examples of the ways in which boys of color
were criminalized. Second, we identify two dominant narratives propagated about the boys, and
evaluate these narratives against multiple data sources, demonstrating how the narratives are
empirically inaccurate. We conclude with a discussion of the importance and impact of this
research and implications for practice.
Critical Race Theory
Critical Race Theory (CRT) emerged out of critical legal studies in the 1970s as a
scholarly response to the lack of attention given to the roles race and racism play in societal
structures (Crenshaw, 2011; Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). Formalized in 1989, CRT scholarship
incorporates history, sociology, economics, political science, and other disciplines to understand
and ultimately deconstruct the ways in which systemic racism works to entrench, adapt, and
replicate itself (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas, 1995; DeCuir & Dixson, 2004; Dixson,
2018; Gillborn, Warmington, & Demack, 2017; Hernández, 2016). Challenging the notion that
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
we live in a postracial society, CRT explicitly identifies race as a social fact and highlights the
permanence of systemic racism in a white-over-color ascendancy, in order to assert that these
conditions serve a purpose, are ordinary parts of the everyday lives of most peoples of color in
the United States, and that these conditions did not occur by accident (Bell, 1992, 2004;
Delgado, 2001). When operationalized in education practice and policy, CRT continues to serve
as a meaningful lens to help us understand and work to dismantle the practices of structural
ideologies of systemic and endemic racism (Crenshaw, 2011).
CRT considers the intersectionality of race and other components of identity in how
society views and positions individuals and groups of peoples (Delgado, 2011). Interrogating the
intersection of race, class, and gender has fostered a growing and complex understanding of the
economic purposes of racism in the United States (C. Harris, 1993) and the sophisticated ways
hegemonic projects differentiate oppressive measures along the intersections of race and gender
(Crenshaw, 1991). Intersectionality is further complexified as scholars have analyzed race, class
and gender with other marginalized and oppressed identity markers including ethnicity,
disability, immigration, language, and sexuality. This work has led to multiple iterations of CRT,
including LatCrit (Solórzano & Bernal, 2001; Solórzano & Yosso, 2001), AsianCrit (An, 2016;
Museus & Iftikar, 2013), QueerCrit (Valdes, 1999), Critical Disability Race Theory (Annamma,
2015), Critical Multiracial Theory (J. C. Harris, 2016), and QuantCrit (Gillborn et al., 2017),
among others. “Like other intellectual and political movements, there is not a common doctrine
to which all members of CRT subscribe but there are unifying purposes” (Parsons, Rhodes, &
Brown, 2011, p. 953).
CRT in Education Research
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Formally introduced to education research by Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995), with
notions dating back more than 80 years to Woodson (1933), CRT has become a powerful tool in
unveiling the hostile racial climates of our schools (Kohli, 2018). Foregrounding race and racism
as foundational components in the U.S. education system, education scholars have used CRT to
better understand the functions and purposes the historical and contemporary racial inequities
that persist in our schools. As such, through a CRT lens we can see how our schools replicate a
white-over-color ascendancy in both ideology and praxis.
CRT is often employed “…to analyze an educational issue, policy, practice, or event to
understand and/or theorize on why racialized educational inequities persist, the ultimate end,
whether realized or not, is the fight for social change” (Dixson, 2018, p. 233). With this fight in
mind, in this manuscript we specifically draw upon two core CRT concepts of (a) Whiteness as
property; and (b) the practice of racial essentialism, as frameworks through which we may better
understand particular experiences of the participants in this research.
Whiteness as Property
Based on the understandings that inherited property rights were central to the formation
of the United States, and that the privileges and freedoms afforded to Whiteness are done so with
a white-over-color ascendancy, Whiteness itself becomes a generationally inherited and tightly
guarded form of property (Bell, 2000; Delgado & Stefancic, 2012; C. Harris, 1993; Ladson-
Billings & Tate, 1995). This white-over-color ascendancy in ownership is propagated through
governmental policies and laws, and enforced in public spaces. Thus, schools, as governmental
spaces, exist under the ownership and control of Whiteness. This is particularly problematic
when these schools exist in urban communities of color.
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Whiteness works to maintain possession of schools in urban communities of color
through purposeful mechanisms and processes, such as (a) consistently employing a White,
middle class teaching workforce drawn from outside of the school’s geographic and cultural
communities (Easton-Brooks, 2015; Egalite, Kisida, & Winters, 2015); (b) appointing school
board members (i.e. decision-making leaders) via state-controlled polling venues which
consistently deny access to many people of color through a variety of voter suppression measures
(Hajnal, Lajevardi, & Nielson, 2017); (c) persisting in the use of culturally biased assessment
measures to determine student-level and school-level success, which often impacts funding
allocations (Murray & Howe, 2017); and (d) systemically utilizing gateway tests and grades
which disallow many students of color access to deeper and more sophisticated knowledge (i.e.,
intellectual property) (Grissom & Redding, 2016); among others. Through these mechanisms,
urban schools exist as hostile spaces for students of color (Kohli, 2018). Further, viewing them
as a part of the property Whiteness maintains, urban schools also often take on a function of what
Rios (2006) called a youth control complex. That is, urban schools may purposefully serve as
spaces where boys of color can be hyper-monitored, over-policed, and subjected to constant
Racial essentialism
Racial essentialism is a practice designed to attempt to use skin color and other physical
attributes to scientifically ascribe a set of static characteristics or a unitary identity, often to
justify specific oppressive social conditions (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). Racial essentialism
has historically been a pervasive practice in educational settings, both in policy and practice
(Author). Racial essentialism extends deeper into racialized social practices than a connotative,
everyday definition of “essentialism” may imply. According to Omi and Winant (2015), it is
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
important to distinguish racial awareness from racial essentialism. Racial essentialism is not
simply lumping multiple groups of individuals together to make generalized statements about
them. In other words, the attribution of merits or experiences to racial groups or communities is
distinctly different from the act of flattening the within-group differences and erasing the
individual characteristics among groups of people along racial lines. We operationalize a racial
essentialism lens to make sense of the ways in which the schools frames the boys in this study.
For example, in this research we found that criminalizing practices, including targeted discipline,
rhetoric, and labelling, were levied upon boys of color without discernible difference along more
specific racial lines.
Framing racial identities
In an attempt to honor the complexities of how the boys in this study self-identified (B.
Harris, Ravert, & Sullivan, 2017) and viewing how the school staff viewed and treated the boys’
racial identities through a racial essentialism lens, in this manuscript we use the term “boys of
color” to refer to a collective of individuals who share broader intersectional race-gender
identities, but who also have multiple within-group identities and differences, including racial,
ethnic, familial, linguistic, national, and many other individual variances. In doing so, we use a
binocular lens to view and describe this collective (Gutiérrez & Rogoff, 2003), seeing both the
shared marginalizing experiences of the boys in this study and simultaneously their rich and
significant individual and sub-group variances within the collective.
Although our data did not provide us with empirical evidence to further understand this phenomenon, we suspect
the lack of racial differentiation was a function of the amount of within-group ethnic and racial diversity represented
in the schools combined with what appeared to be a general lack of ethnic and racial knowledge among the staff.
This phenomenon, which may be germane to these specific research settings or to the elementary school level, is a
potential point of further research.
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
This is particularly salient in researching race in elementary school, in that many of the
boys in this study demonstrated what we observed to be a healthy state of identity development
for their age, including how they expressed, described, and complexified their own racial identity
and/or ethnicity (B. Harris et al., 2017). Across the stretch of this research, boys used a variety of
words to describe themselves racially and ethnically, including but not limited to Latino,
Chicano, Black, African, African American, Peruvian, Caribbean, Mexican, Latin, Puerto Rican,
Somalian, Afro-Caribbean, Hispanic, and a variety of bi-racial and multi-racial variants.
Conversely, we anecdotally observed many adults in the schools in this study rarely
differentiated or expanded beyond the terms Hispanic and African American (the two terms used
in the online school databases), and often used these terms inaccurately, at times describing all
boys of color in their classrooms as Hispanic, or identifying any boy with darker skin tone as
African American, for example. As such, in this manuscript, we use the term “boys of color” to
attempt to represent both the boys’ individual voices and identities, but also recognizing the
racial essentialism employed by many of the adult educators in their schools that forms the
foundations of their shared, marginalized, and often criminalizing experiences in school settings.
We situate this research in a context of urbanicity. Geographically, these are urban
schools in that they exist in dense metropolitan areas, serve a wide range of student diversity, and
are Title I underfunded schools with many resource needs (Milner & Lomotey, 2014). However,
our research directs attention to the human and social designations of “urban”, applied as a
deficit lens by those outside of these settings, to both the schools and the students within them
(Gadsden & Dixon-Román, 2017). By understanding the criminalization of boys of color in
elementary school in an urban context, it necessarily informs our approaches to changing these
practices. While the schools in our study exist in urban locations, and structurally face urban
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
issues and challenges, in this research, it is the dominant, hegemonic connotation of the urban
student that must deconstructed.
Criminalization is the collective processes by which a criminal identity is prescribed to an
individual or group of individuals through discourse; demeanor and modes of punishment;
monitoring; and control (Boduszek & Hyland, 2011; Costelloe, Chiricos, & Gertz, 2009). In the
United States, racial criminalization along intersectional lines has been a fundamental
mechanism in the prison industry complex since its inception. In this system minoritized
intersectional groups of peoples of color have been targeted for incarceration, to the financial
gain of the economic elite (Gottschalk, 2006; Nichols, 2014; Pager, 2008; Thompson, 2012).
Justifications for racial criminalization have become pervasive across our society, propagated
and replicated through news and social media, entertainment media, government laws, police
practices, and school policies and procedures. Racial criminalization has been applied in nuanced
ways to target Black, Latino, and Native men using fear, blame, and a dominant social view that
men of color are by nature criminals and as such, need to be controlled and punished (Aldama,
2003; Costelloe et al., 2009). Salient iterations of targeted racial criminalization of men and boys
of color include the social (re)invention of Native men as “savage” (Ross, 1998), the persistence
of the superpredator myth in mainstream media, and the recent social (re)labelling of Mexican
immigrant men as rapists and “bad hombres” (Hughey, 2017).
The superpredator myth, originally propagated by an Ivy League professor in the 1990’s,
held that packs of juveniles of color were about to emerge out of their urban communities as
amoral, highly aggressive, uber-violent brutes prowling the streets for victims, controllable only
by incarceration and, in some cases, execution (Linde, 2011). The myth was broadcast fervently
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
through media and very quickly became part of federal government doctrine and policy
(Carpenter, 2016). Despite the superpredator thesis having proven to be decidedly false, it
remains a woven part of the normal and ordinary views of our society (Miller, Potter, &
Kappeler, 2006). We can see this in specific examples, such as the successful legal defense of
Michael Brown’s murderer, who despite being the same size, claimed he felt like a child against
Hulk Hogan and that Michael Brown looked “like a demon” (Bonilla & Rosa, 2015; Rabinowitz,
2015). Along with specific and elevated examples, the superpredator myth is also woven into
normal and ordinary daily representations of our urban youth of color (Vitale, 2018).
Television news shows, with an aura of objectivity, take seriously the discourse of the
youth as ‘superpredator,’ disproportionately use images of street crime that highlight
African Americans or Latinos as perpetrators, and sensationalize those participating in
any youth violence as inherently violent ‘gangbangers’ capable of spontaneous and
unpremeditated violent attacks… (Meiners, 2010, p. 6).
According to Rios (2011), despite the fact that most urban youth of color are leading productive,
functional everyday lives, institutions including our schools continue to operate from the view
that urban boys of color are heartless, senseless animals with no morals or ethics, and as such,
must be controlled at all times. Consequently, in our schools we have also created a normal,
ordinary, and dominant view of “color” being synonymous with “dangerous”, and in need of
control (Wacquant, 2001).
Racial criminalization as a youth control complex
The Sentencing Project (2017) reported that in the United States, African American boys
are five times more likely to be detained and incarcerated than their White counterparts, and this
disparity has increased by 25% since 2001. Similarly, Latino boys are 2 to 3 times more likely to
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
be incarcerated (Seroczynski & Jobst, 2016) and Native youth 3 times more likely to be detained
(Rovner, 2014) than their White peers. Durán and Posadas (2013) identified these disparities as
current examples of white-over-color ascendancy in practice.
As we see boys of color subjected to these criminalizing processes in public spaces (Rios,
2011) and in the generational reproduction of criminal identities (MacLeod, 2009), it is no
surprise school settings have become a significant vehicle through which the criminalization of
boys of color is mechanized (Bristol & Mentor, 2018; Flores-Gonzalez, 2005; Winn &
Behizadeh, 2011). These now very normalized practices and perceptions of boys of color, such
as racial profiling, gang databases (Alexander, 2012), and racially targeted actuarial methods
(Harcourt, 2008), among others, have spread pervasively throughout our society, including our
school systems. Wacquant (2001) described this as a symbiosis wherein schools in urban
contexts have now taken on the same processes, apparatus, and treatments as prisons.
Structurally, many urban schools have guards and police stationed within schools (Theriot,
2009), bars on doors and windows, full coverage video surveillance cameras (Caton, 2012),
locks on benign items such as light switches, et. al. (Nolan, 2011). For individual students in
urban schools, it has become normal to be subjected to unwarranted searches of their bodies and
property; to have their clothing, language, and even the positions of their bodies constantly
monitored and controlled; and to have lengthy formal documentation kept on their behaviors
all mirroring the similar policies and practices employed in prisons. When we view these policies
and practices in conjunction with the understanding that boys of color are more frequently
targeted by them, we can perceive the alignment of public spaces, prisons, and urban schools as
social mechanisms through which a youth control complex is levied upon boys of color (Rios,
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Racial criminalization of school discipline
Congruent with urban schools taking on both the psychological control mechanisms and
physical characteristics of prisons, boys of color are more frequently and more severely punished
than their White peers in educational settings (Redfield & Nance, 2016; US Department of
Education Office for Civil Rights, 2016). Similar to detention and incarceration rates, K-12
schools across the U.S. discipline African American, Latino, and Native boys around 3 times
more frequently than their White peers (Redfield & Nance, 2016). Further, while only 1 of 20
White boys receive one or more out-of-school suspensions, a disproportionate 1 out of 5 African
American, Latino, and Native boys are suspended out of school during their K-12 education (US
Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2016). And while boys of color are disparately
punished, they do not engage in violent behaviors or drug use any more than their more affluent
White peers (Thompson, 2011; Winn & Behizadeh, 2011).
According to Meiners (2010), this hyper-punishment in schools largely grows out of
racialized identification and subjective discipline measures related to hard-to-define behaviors
such as disrespect, excessive noise, threats, and loitering. Teachers, administrators, families,
community members, and even students have come to view this disparity as normal and
ordinary, thus making schools places which historically and contemporarily (re)produce a culture
of white-over-color ascendency with regard to school discipline (M. Brown, 2009; Hirschfield,
2008; Wacquant, 2001).
Research on the criminalizing experiences of boys in elementary school settings remains
sparse compared to the volume of research on middle and high school boys of color. There are a
few examples of research which has begun to unveil the scope and extent of criminalization in
elementary schools. According to Ferguson (2010), teachers and administrators label many boys
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
of color as criminals as early as 4th grade, while Langhout (2005) congruently found that teachers
and administrators often describe elementary school boys of color with language such as “he’s
gonna wind up in jail” or “he’s a thug”, indicating incarcerated futures. Further, Langhout found
that elementary school boys of color are scolded, sent to backs of rooms, sent out of rooms, sent
home, isolated in the classroom and often not permitted to speak even when White peers are
allowed. Langhout used hallway policing and enforcing as a particularly salient example of
criminalization in elementary schools, detailing the ways students were lined up, silenced, made
to walk evenly paced with each other, eyes set front, and were punished - sometimes severely -
for lack of compliance. Langhout found boys of color were particularly over-policed in these
Also of note, despite the differential racialization of Black and Latino boys present in
disparate disciplinary practices, and the differential histories of Black and Latinx peoples,
research on the elementary school level has not consistently or clearly expressed these
differences. Similarly, in this research we did not find discernable differences in the ways
schools criminalized and disciplined elementary school boys from varying Black and Latinx
backgrounds which we identify as an intriguing and important node for future research.
Zero tolerance discipline policies and practices
“Zero tolerance” refers to the disciplinary practices of severely punishing any and all
infractions, no matter how small, for the expressed purpose of delivering the message that certain
behaviors and actions (and individuals) are intolerable (Skiba, 2014). Although the term “zero
tolerance” was first formally introduced in education policy in 1994 with the passing of the
federal Gun Free Schools Act, the zero tolerance model was already in use in many school
districts across the country for a variety of disciplinary infractions (Hirschfield, 2008; Skiba,
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
2014; Smith, 2015). The zero tolerance school model was derived directly from a federal law
enforcement practice of impounding boats off-shore which contained any amount of illegal
drugs, no matter how small (Jefferson, 2015; Petteruti, 2011). Propagated through the War on
Drugs media frenzy, zero tolerance policies along with accompanying racial profiling and
racially disparate punishment, very quickly became an accepted and normal part of the social
disposition toward criminal justice and public safety (Mauer, 2009; Nunn, 2002). Along with
widespread narratives foretelling the danger of youth of color (i.e the superpredator myth)
driving public fear, these policies quickly made their way into our schools.
Although the original expressed intent may have been to “keep students safe”, research
has shown little to no evidence indicating meaningful effectiveness of these policies toward their
stated goals (Curran, 2016; Hoffman, 2014; Skiba, 2014). Schools nonetheless have continued to
operationalize zero tolerance policies across many facets of subjective behavioral infractions to
quickly remove “unwanted” students and to exert a police-like level of control, particularly in
urban contexts (Curtis, 2014; Petteruti, 2011). These policies have disproportionally targeted
students of color, and eroded their sense of belonging in school (Caton, 2012). As such, zero
tolerance policies have become an integral part of the criminalization of boys of color, and a key
facet in the youth control complex. Viewing this through a CRT lens, zero tolerance policies
persist in schools as a mechanism to remove unwanted or marked black and brown bodies,
operating as part of a racial project not limited to schools, but rather part of a larger historical
pattern of marked removal and relocation of individuals and peoples of color (Erevelles, 2014).
Beyond those who are marked, research has shown the larger-scale detrimental effects
that zero tolerance policies have in urban schools and communities. Research has shown these
“collateral consequences” negatively impact the academic performance, mental health, and
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economic well-being of never-punished students, parents and caregivers, and the local
community (Mowen, 2017; Perry & Morris, 2014). Extending beyond boys of color, recent
research has illuminated the differing and nuanced detrimental effects of zero tolerance policies
on Black girls (Hines-Datiri & Carter Andrews, 2017), students of color labeled with disabilities
(Annamma, 2015; Erevelles, 2014), and LGBTQ youth (Palmer & Greytak, 2017), among
others. These findings are significant in that they unveil deep and specific, often longitudinal,
negative impacts of zero tolerance policies in our schools to groups, sub-groups, and entire
communities of people with little to no discernable benefits for those same groups and
communities. In this way, urban schools remain hostile places for students of color, serving the
dual purposes of (a) maintaining a white-over-color ascendency via denials of access for students
of color to knowledge and other intellectual properties; and (b) maintaining a youth control
complex wherein students and boys of color are closely monitored and policed in preparation for
forced trajectories toward incarcerated and state-supervised futures.
With the imperative of disrupting these processes at the elementary school level in mind,
in this manuscript we aim to (a) strengthen our understanding of how boys of color are unjustly
criminalized as part of their daily school experiences; (b) put forth categorical descriptions of
these criminalizing processes and practices; and (c) theoretically align criminalization with
systemic racism, for the purpose of moving toward disrupting the criminalization of our boys of
color in elementary schools.
This manuscript represents one of several research inquiries emerging from a longitudinal
mixed methods study. The study began with a goal of better understanding some of the
experiences and characteristics of a district-supported after-school and summer STEM program
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which serviced multiple low-income urban elementary schools. The program was interwoven
into each of the schools it serviced and had been active for over a decade.
Research sites
The primary field researcher conducted this research across a year and a half period at
three different elementary schools in an urban school district in Colorado. Throughout a year and
a half time period, the primary field researcher visited each of the three schools, one to two times
per week on average. The participants in this study were fully aware of his role as a researcher
and while on-site he was welcomed as an active participant. The primary researcher, along with
all the authors of this manuscript, identify as men of color from Black, African American, and
Latinx backgrounds, and with educational histories in urban contexts.
Each site may have serviced up to 100 students during a school year, but at any given
time had as few as 35 students on the current roster and a daily attendance sometimes as low as
20 - 25 students, and as high as 40 45 students. On any given day, boys of color comprised half
to three quarters of the attendees. We report this information with the caveat however that the
demographic data on file with each school was in line with US Census Bureau practices and as
such offered only a male-female gender binary option for identification, and utilized narrow
means of identifying race and ethnicity.
Each school employed 5 7 staff members for the STEM program, including certified
teachers and other education-oriented personnel. The adults involved in the program
predominantly identified as female and White. A few of them either lived or grew up in the
schools’ neighborhoods and while most commuted from more affluent areas and neighborhoods.
Data collection and analysis
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The primary field researcher focused on high quality capture of interpersonal
relationships by closely examining individual voices, personal experiences, and engagements
with others (Goodall, 2000). Embedded in the site visits, the primary field researcher conducted
informal interviews of staff and boys of color regularly across the year and a half of research as
well, often including forms of participant validation to better understand specific interactions he
had previously observed or patterns of interaction.
Stories and storytelling were a common and embedded practice in the program and the
local communities. Because of the level of reverence participants placed on this practice, the
primary researcher collected stories, particularly from the staff, through multiple modalities
including writing them up shortly after hearing them, transcribing them alongside of a storyteller
in real time, and retrieving them from an online repository which was started as part of the
program’s professional development. All stories were participant validated/member checked
both for accuracy and later to validate the ways in which we, along with a small group of staff
members, interpreted the stories.
School attendance and disciplinary data
In an effort to protect the participants in this study, the primary field researcher collected
school attendance and disciplinary data on-site, in one session, at the end of the data collection
period. Because of the potentially sensitive nature of this data, the primary field researcher
collected these data alongside of a program employee and did not record any individual
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
We used an iterative open coding approach to analyze the qualitative data utilizing our
analytical lens of criminalization, looking for and refining emerging themes through multiple
rounds of coding (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2013).
To increase and maintain a high level of trustworthiness, we operationalized frameworks
put forth by Merriam and Tisdell (2016); Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw (2011); and Miles,
Huberman, and Saldaña (2013). To increase research credibility and internal validity, we
engaged in data and investigator triangulation; longitudinal engagement; and participant
validation (of the stories, in particular). To increase consistency throughout the study, we
engaged in a series of peer/external researcher examinations of data analyses; and maintained an
audit trail of data collection and analysis across the year and half. The primary field researcher
incorporated reflexivity into field notes and analyses through the use of separate, discrete
comments recording thoughts, emotions, and self-connections to what was observed, from the
primary field researcher’s position as a trained researcher and as a man of color (Emerson et al.,
2011; Miles et al., 2013).
We present our findings in two segments. In the first segment we categorically describe
criminalizing practices we identified in our data. Further, with regard to frequency, we identified
that criminalization was a very normal and ordinary part of the daily educational experiences for
many boys of color. In the second segment, we present our analyses that the two most common
narratives surrounding boys of color, persistent across multiple sites and multiple data sources,
were empirically inaccurate.
Part 1: Describing criminalization
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
Across the year and half of data collection, criminalization was a normal and ordinary
daily experience for boys of color, with an ebb and flow of variations in form from day to day.
Across all three sites and all sources of data, the trends and patterns were consistent. Five
categories of criminalization occurred consistently and regularly, and were part of the daily,
normal school experiences of many boys of color: (a) hyper-policing and over-monitoring; (b)
controlling the body; (c) interrogating; (d) labelling; and (e) disparate punishment (See Table 1).
Table 1
Categories of criminalizing practices observed
Definition and examples
Hyper-policing &
Control of clothing and dress; over-monitoring for negative
behaviors such as socializing, standing up, not looking at
the teacher, talking out of turn, rolling eyes, sighing,
touching equipment without instructions
Controlling the Body
Instances of excessive targeted behavior management such
demanding silence, eyes front, walk perfectly in a straight
line, sit perfectly facing front and do not move from that
position, move to a place of isolation in the room. These
hyper-controlling measures are similar to those employed
in prison and other prison-like institutions
Scolding, questioning, reprimanding, lecturing an individual or
small group in aggressive manners, for excessive periods of
Behavior-based: referring to student as unable to control
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
themselves, violent, disrespectful, truant
Achievement-based: referring to students as unable to learn,
low-performing, learning disabled
Disparate Punishment
The practice of levying punishment more frequently or more
severely toward certain individuals (i.e. boys of color)
compared to their peers. This includes the practice of
levying punishment for some individuals, and not for others
committing the same “infractions”, or punishing some more
severely than others.
Criminalization did not occur as discrete, distinct, or isolated events, but rather often in
concert with each other. In any given interaction between staff and boys of color, several of these
forms of criminalization would occur in ways that magnified, escalated, or justified the
criminalizing effect, such as hyper-policing a student’s hand placement on his desk, labelling
him a “thug” for being slow to comply, then disparately over-punishing him for “being such a
thug”. We offer a more in-depth example of this below.
In this representative example, the class was engaged in a student-driven, inquiry-based
small group project. In the middle of small group work time, a 4th grade African American and
Latino boy (Julio) had followed the proper classroom procedures to use the bathroom and was
returning to the classroom and his table group. This example of criminalization began with
hyper-policing, escalated to labelling and controlling the body, and persisted with further
labelling, controlling the body, over-monitoring, and the threat of disparate punishment:
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
…the instructor looked up and shouted, “Julio, WHY are you standing up?” Julio lifted
his shoulders, turned his palms up and raised them about halfway up the sides of his chest
and responded, “I’m walking to my work table. I just came back from the bathroom.” The
instructor replied, “I CANNOT believe you’re being so disrespectful to me right now! I
want to see you in that chair, head up and getting your work done.” Julio dropped his
arms, shrugged his shoulders, shook his head and went to his seat, and began working
with his group on the project. A few minutes later, the same instructor came by Julio’s
table and asked him what he was working on. Julio was working with his group on the
project in a manner that wasn’t discernably different to [the researcher] than the rest of
his peers. Before Julio responded, the instructor told Julio he was a troublemaker and was
holding back the rest of his group by his constant disruptions. Julio visibly sank into his
chair until his shoulders were level with the top of the chair. The instructor, with a raised
voice, told Julio to sit up or be sent out of the room. Julio sat up. The instructor said she
would be watching him very closely and he better not even move wrong or he was going
to be sent to the office.
This excerpt from our observations and many others like it were very ordinary and regular daily
occurrences in the classrooms and schools we observed. That is, they occurred many times a day
and other students and adults in the room had virtually no reaction to these occurrences. As in the
example above, these forms of criminalization typically occurred in brief episodes of interaction
when boys of color were, in some way, individually more visible, such as in this example when
Julio returned from the bathroom. At other times, instructors sometimes stepped back from
instructional roles and modalities to take up very close monitoring of the entire room, often
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
subsequently keying in on boys of color and typically interrogating them regarding their
behavior, focus, speed of work, and other varying reasons.
Outside of the classroom discipline was often more severe. In this example from our
fieldnotes, a student named Rolando was alone in a hallway making his way to the after-school
enrichment program. Even though during the school day there are strict rules about proper
posture and what side of the hallway students may walk, Rolando wandered the hall in a zig zag
manner, arms halfway up, leaning left and right as if he were imitating an airplane. A regular
school day teacher turned the corner and instantly began yelling at Rolando: “What are you
doing in the hallway? And why are you on the wrong side? You absolutely know better. I’m sick
of dealing with you disrespecting our school and our rules. You’re done mister. Come with me.”
Rolando responded, “But I was just going to enrichment. I want to go to science. We’re building
simple machines!” The teacher grabbed Rolando by the arm and took him away toward the main
office saying, “Not after what you did. I’m sick of this. I’m writing you up.” Rolando
subsequently missed the design phase of building a simple machine, despite having put forth
multiple excellent ideas for his group the day before. Despite the school day being over and the
hallways empty, the teacher criminalized Rolando through controlling the body and hyper-
policing by enforce a school rule (i.e. walking a certain way in the hallway) with disparate
punishment. By taking him to the office, the teacher not only punished Rolando but also
simultaneously removed him from a meaningful and high value learning experience. This
excerpt presents a notable example of how urban schools place significantly higher value on
controlling specific groups of students both in and out of classrooms above providing and
privileging learning opportunities.
Invisible boys
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
While the majority of the boys of color we observed were subjected to some form of
criminalization during our observations, a small number of boys were minimally criminalized.
The only discernable commonality among these boys was their lack of “visibility” to the adults
in the buildings. In other words, the small number of boys who were minimally criminalized
were instead virtually invisible to the adults. The boys themselves were noticeably sedentary in
classrooms, almost never spoke to adults, and sufficiently complied with whole-class directives.
In some instances, adults appeared to not know or could not immediately recall several of these
students’ names. Adults only interacted directly with these boys on very rare occasions and
always for extremely brief periods of time. While these boys represented the least frequently
criminalized boys in the study, we view their invisibility as an unhealthy collateral consequence,
and even a potential additional form of criminalization.
Formal disciplinary actions and notes
In formal discipline actions, boys of color were punished more frequently than their
female and/or White peers. Along with many instances similar to the examples above, we also
found disparate punishment prevalent in school disciplinary notes. We examined approximately
120 infractions across the three research sites. Despite boys of color representing approximately
50% of the program students, boys of color accounted for over 75% of those 120 infractions. The
majority of these infractions included disciplinary notes that referenced some iteration of
“disrespect” as a component of the infraction. Also of note in our examination of the records,
every boy of color in the program with at least one disciplinary infraction had at least one
disciplinary note that cited some iteration of “disrespect”.
Boys of color were also regularly punished more severely for infractions compared to
their female and/or White peers. For example, “unacceptable interactions with other students”
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
was one of the more common infractions. Female and/or White peers received less severe
discipline for the infraction, ranging from a warning to one day of lunch detention. Boys of
color, conversely, received one or more days of formal in-school or out-of-school suspension for
the same infraction. In Table 2, we provide an example of these disparities. It is important to note
that we cannot know the specifics of these two sample incidents, nor should we attempt to
remove any humanistic elements by interpreting this brief synopsis as the complete truth of this
situation. Rather, we offer these two samples as a representation of the kinds of language
practices persistent across the ~120 infractions we examined. Of note in the example in Table 2,
the language describing the behavior of the White female student treats her reason for the
infraction as fact, whereas for the Latino male student the description indicates he was violent
“for no apparent reason” despite the next sentence which indicates the reason (but then
immediately invalidates it through a lack of corroboration). This disparity in language was
common both in the disciplinary notes, and in instructor discourse we observed in our site visits.
Table 2
Example of disparate punishment in disciplinary notes
Student, by demographic
Description of infraction
White female, 5th grade
She was upset with another student,
so she grabbed the student by both
shoulders and pushed the student to
the ground. The other student has
been saying things about her in
Latino male, 5th grade
Pushed another student to the ground
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
for no apparent reason. He says the
other student has been bothering
him and his friends. However, he
has not told any adults about the
situation (classroom, teacher,
student monitor, principal).
Part 2: Deconstructing the dominant narratives surrounding boys of color
Across all sources of data, two persistent narratives of how teachers, administrators, and
staff perceived and communicated about boys of color emerged: (a) boys of color are
disrespectful and always getting into trouble; and (b) boys of color skip school a lot. These
themes are congruent with tropes and masternarratives surrounding the school-to-prison pipeline
and boys of color described by many other researchers (Allen, Watson, Childers-McKee, Garo,
& Lewis, 2015; Annamma, 2015; Becerra, 2012; Harper, 2015; Metze, 2012; Thompson, 2011).
Made possible by the volume and multiple sources of qualitative and quantitative data we
collected, we compared narratives to actual behaviors, outcomes, and characteristics of the boys
of color toward whom these narratives were directed. We found that both of the identified
narratives were inaccurate descriptors of the boys and supported unjust conditions as the base of
relations between boys and their teachers.
Boys of color are disrespectful and always getting into trouble
When we had the opportunity to ask various members of the school staff how they or the
school might define “student disrespect”, answers very often included phrases such as “being
rude”, which in turn was difficult for staff to define further. For most of the school staff, the idea
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
of being disrespectful revolved relationally around the adults themselves, and involved some
iteration of a student not doing what an adult tells them to do, seemingly regardless of the nature
of those orders. Thus, when boys of color were consistently over-monitored and hyper-policed,
they were given commands much more frequently and with more severity than their White
and/or female peers. Further, in practice, when interacting with White and/or female students,
school staff often let partial or non-compliance “slide” unpunished, sometimes even explaining it
to other staff members later with language excusing and justifying it such as, “she’s just having a
bad day” or “I think he’s just dealing with some stuff”.
This disparity in applying the disrespect label was even more pronounced in disciplinary
notes. For boys of color, notes suggesting malicious intent and disrespect were the norm. In
multiple instances, according to the notes, a boy of color indicated he was dealing with trauma at
home such as a family member in jail, death in the family, etc. These statements were often
worded with phrases like “he claims that…” or “he used the excuse that…” and followed with
dismissive statements such as “nothing is on file verifying this”. The notes also typically
identified the infraction, the interactions the staff member had with the student afterward, or the
boy himself as being disrespectful. These phrases act to suggestively discredit the boy, and
further work to maintain the masternarrative of boys of color as inherently disrespectful and
prone to behaving as criminals.
In contrast, narratives for female and/or White students with similar infractions described
those students with phrases such as “appeared sad”, “says he is feeling sad because his grandpa
died”, and similar sympathizing statements. For these students, the notes did not indicate
anything regarding whether the school had documentation verifying student’s claims of trauma at
home. There were only two notes describing White and/or female students as either themselves
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
or their acts being disrespectful. In one case, the note even indicated that the adult recording the
incident was sure the girl “didn’t mean to hurt anyone”, fully excusing the student from the
infraction. The overall numbers demonstrated this trend as well.
In assessing and deconstructing the dominant narrative of boys of color as disrespectful
and always getting in trouble, we observed the label typically being applied before the associated
action. As such, because boys of color were often treated as being “inherently disrespectful or
“inherently criminal”, it may be that the definition of being a “disrespectful student” was, for
school staff, whatever the boys of color were doing and that part of the ongoing definition of
“disrespect” included that a boy of color was the one doing it. Further illustrating the notion of
this dominant narrative being a self-fulfilling prophecy, boys of color were often labeled as
“getting in trouble a lot” largely because of school staff consistently and frequently punishing
boys of color for simply bearing the often-preemptive, school-staff-supplied label of being a
disrespectful and trouble-making student. This is congruent with Ferguson (2010), who found
that schools pointedly employ specific policies and punitive measures oriented toward specific
minoritized groups of students’ cultural practices, clothing, and language.
This practice is also largely consistent with the actuarial punitive practices employed by
the criminal justice system, wherein men of color are often given longer and more severe
sentences for falling into categories. These categories, most of which are associated with being a
man of color, statistically suggest they are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement and
prosecuted in the future, and as such, the criminal justice system argues they should thus be
punished more severely in the present (Harcourt, 2008).
Boys of color skip school a lot
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
“These boys just don’t come to school. How can they learn if they’re never here?” This
sentiment, made by a teacher in a group planning meeting, represents a common trope reified
regularly by staff members across the course of the study. While the main idea of the trope was
persistent, explanations and expounding narratives varied. One iteration surrounding blaming the
parents or guardians, claiming that the boys are victims of their parents’ lack of value of getting
education. Another iteration often levied blame upon an individual boy, claiming that he was
somehow inherently bad or of a criminal nature, and destined for jail. A third iteration blamed
the culture of boys of color, claiming that if the boys were simply separated from each other they
would then come to school, but when they were together it “isn’t cool” to want to attend, so they
don’t (a trope possibly harkening back to the notion of “packs” in the superpredator myth).
To evaluate these anecdotal observations, we tabulated absence and tardy data for all
students in the study, and created two groups: boys of color and all other students. We examined
the average number of days absent and number of tardies for one school year, and compared the
two groups at each of the three sites, and in aggregate (see Table 3). We found that at each site
and in aggregate, on average boys of color attended school and arrived on time more often than
their White and/or female peers. While we do not share the numerical data due to issues of
anonymity and privacy, we found that the boys of color who were most frequently labeled as
habitually tardy and never coming to school, were actually consistently and longitudinally
among the very best in their respective schools for attendance.
These findings stand in direct opposition to the dominant narrative that boys of color do
not value school and that the “bad boys” in particular, are habitually truant. These findings are
congruent with Harper and Davis II (2012), who found that contrary to the dominant narrative,
African American men are often surrounded by families who do highly value education.
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
Table 3
Average Number of Annual Absences and Tardies of Boys of Color Compared to All Other
Student sub-group
Average absences
Average tardies
Site A
Boys of Color
All Other Students
Site B
Boys of Color
All Other Students
Site C
Boys of Color
All Other Students
Boys of Color
All Other Students
Research has shown that increased punitive measures, both in frequency and severity,
result in increases in undesirable student behavior (Chen, 2008). Despite this fact along with
continuing research supporting the effectiveness of school initiatives aimed at meeting students’
emotional needs, at engaging students with more meaningful and connective content, and at
improving teachers’ classroom management and culture responsiveness, the expansion of
criminalization in schools persists (Brent, 2016). We see this misalignment of research and
practice as a result of the persistent social beliefs surrounding both the effectiveness of punitive
measures and the need to control the male body of color. Further reifying these beliefs, urban
schools persist in viewing boys of color as being inherently disrespectful, violent, and truant
(James, 2012), despite empirical evidence debunking this perception.
In this research, we found that boys of color arrived at school each day with unwarranted
and unjust narratives assigned to them - narratives that deem them to be in need of constant
control and punishment. Congruent with Brent (2016), this amplification led to boys of color
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
being increasingly over-monitored, subsequently punished more, and then further labelled.
Viewing this through a racial criminalization frame, our urban elementary schools are in essence
enacting and expressing a policy of zero tolerance for the simple existence boys of color in
schools. If left unchallenged, urban elementary schools will continue to exist as vehicles of
oppression for boys of color, stripping them of their humanity as part of their normal and daily
school experiences (Johnson, 2017).
Stated succinctly, we agree with Milner (2013) that we must make systemic change in
our approach to educating our youth of color. In elementary school settings in particular, this
necessarily means reimagining urban schools without a police presence or panoptic mentality,
and instead re-center students, their well-being, and community culture (Howard, 2016). These
fundamental shifts in our approach to urban elementary education is necessarily the
responsibility of all of our educators, and must be fostered both in our in the current teaching
workforce and in pre-service teachers alike and not left solely on the shoulders of male
teachers of color (Pabon, 2016). Thus, in-service professional development and teacher
preparation coursework must necessarily include continued and robust training specifically on
both (a) understanding and (b) actively disrupting criminalization of boys of color in classrooms
(Fenning & Rose, 2007). While this paper reveals the severity and complexity of criminalization
in urban elementary schools, more research focused on the development of pre-service and in-
service teacher training on disrupting the criminalization of boys of color in urban elementary
schools is desperately needed.
Criminalization of elementary school boys of color
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... Previously published research have demonstrated ways in which Boys of Color are regularly criminalized in elementary school STEM learning environments (Basile et al., 2019), the ways in which Boys of Color resist that criminalization as a healthy response to oppression, and how that resistance is itself then further and more severely criminalized (Basile, 2018). This prior research centered the Boys of Color who, in a variety of forms, actively and visibly resisted the oppression within their learning spaces and environments. ...
... 10) In education settings, Black and Latino boys have been labeled at various times throughout recent history as sub-human, lazy, genetically unintelligent, unable to learn, learning disabled, violent, animalistic, criminal, and/or superpredators, depending on the place and space, and which labels best served to maintain the White hegemonic status quo (Carpenter, 2016;Linde, 2011;Miller et al., 2006). For example, when a dominant narrative began to label Boys and Men of Color as superpredators, schools subsequently drastically increased their rates of extreme discipline levied upon Boys of Color in classroom settings (Basile et al., 2019;Butler et al., 2009;Miller et al., 2006). ...
... That is, the ways in which adults in the building referred to, identified, or told stories about the invisible Boys of Color varied distinctly along categorical lines. Through the analytic lens of differential racialization, these distinct and empirically inaccurate narratives and labels align with historic racial tropes of Men of Color as being lazy, ineffective, worthless, or in need of hyper-monitoring (Basile et al. 2019). In using this lens to critically examine each of the three categories of invisibility, we found problematic narratives, labels, and tropes that worked to further marginalize and dismiss the invisible Boys of Color who remained physically present in classrooms, and to celebrate those who were consistently absent. ...
Using previously collected data from a multi-site, mixed methods longitudinal study, we operationalize a conceptual frame of invisibility to describe and understand the phenomenon of erasure that some Boys of Color experienced by teachers in science learning environments where most others were hyper-visible (and subsequently hypercriminalized). Recentering these invisible Boys of Color revealed three descriptive categories: (a) introversion, (b) newcomers, and (c) frequently absent. In detailing these categories and their associated narratives and labels, we complexify our understandings of the lived experiences of Boys of Color in science education and offer frameworks for ways in which teacher education can equip pre-service and in-service science teachers to disrupt these insidious and sophisticated forms of systemic racism.
... Children who are reprimanded or criticized in front of the class experience stigma, which may affect their self-esteem and long-term academic success (Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015). In addition, frequent disruptions of classroom activities in the form of Inequitable Discipline hinder children's opportunities for learning (Quinn, 2020), sense of belonging (Colgrove & Adair, 2014), and positive peer and teacher-child relationships (Basile et al., 2019). ...
Research Findings: Despite widespread calls to advance equity in early childhood classrooms, there are few observational measures of equitable classroom processes that can be used for academic research or professional development for teachers. In this study, we investigate the psychometric properties of an observational measure of equitable sociocultural interactions, the Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale (ACSES 2.0). Videos (n = 348) were coded from Pre-Kindergarten to third-grade classrooms in an urban city in the Midwest. Descriptive results indicated that teachers rarely engaged in instructional activities focused on racial equity or fairness and infrequently connected lessons to children’s home lives. ACSES showed convergent validity with a widely used measure of teacher–child interactions, the CLASS. Specifically, higher levels of Inequitable Discipline predicted higher levels of CLASS Negative Climate (r(138)=.359, p < .01), and higher levels of Inequitable Discipline predicted lower scores across all other CLASS dimensions. Exploratory factor analysis supported a seven-factor solution for ACSES. Practice or Policy: The results support the usage of ACSES in Pre-Kindergarten and early elementary settings. The implications of ACSES for both research and practice are discussed.
... However, Black families have been systematically excluded from school decision making tables and subjected to centuries of systemic state-sanctioned oppression (Jones and Reddick, 2017;Bennett, 2020). Moreover, given the prevalence of racial discrimination and harrassment in schools for Black children (e.g., Anderson and Stevenson, 2019;Basile et al., 2019;Posey-Maddox et al., 2021), much of the existing literature regarding Black children's educational experiences focuses on establishing and addressing problems (e.g., documenting rates of discipline and expulsion and providing recommendations; Morris, 2016; U.S. Office for Civil Rights [OCR], 2018). Yet, the process of documenting and addressing racism and discrimination through research, policy, and practice often omits Black families' voices and dreams (Green, 2020). ...
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Much of the literature regarding Black youth experiences in schools considers the effects of racism and takes up inquiry through deficit views. Yet, to understand how to shift the system of schooling to provide equitable, liberatory learning experiences, it is critical to center Black children’s voices and perspectives. In the current study, we partnered with eleven Black elementary youth and their mothers to explore their dreams for re-imagining schools. We identified four themes related to school improvement from a child-centered, abolitionist lens. Our findings highlight the need to increase opportunities for youth voice in scholarship and practice, and join existing conversations that see education as the practice of liberation and freedom.
... The criminalization of Latino boys and their subsequent marked status as "justiceinvolved" is not a new phenomenon in the educational system. 2 There has been a steady increase of school suspensions and expulsions of boys of color from elementary to high school (Basile et al., 2019;Huerta, 2018;Huerta, 2020;Huerta & Hernandez, 2021;Rios, 2017). Given the steady growth of school district zero-tolerance policies and increased enrollment in continuation schools (Brown, 2007;Losen, 2014), it is not surprising that Latino boys accounted for 91,757, or 35%, of the 264,600 male students based in continuation schools across the country in 2012 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). ...
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Justice-involved youth are less likely to hold positive attitudes toward education and education systems due to the unfair treatment that they experience. Despite the exchange of college knowledge between justice-involved Latino young men in urban continuation schools, this topic is relatively absent from college access and higher education literature. Using Oyserman and Markus’s (1990a) notion of possible selves as a theoretical framework and drawing from in-depth interviews and observations with 26 middle and high school Latino young men across two urban continuation schools, I find that educators intentionally did not share college knowledge with Latino young men. Furthermore, I reveal that these youth possess inaccurate information about the college admissions process. If schools are to help the most vulnerable student populations prepare and aspire for postsecondary education, it is important to equitably disseminate accurate college knowledge to all students.
The school-prison nexus is comprised of all systems and services that reduce access to education and increase involvement with the justice system, particularly for clients of color. All professionals who come into contact with these services are in an ideal position to disrupt this system and address social inequities; however, they may overtly or covertly also be contributing to the nexus through inequitable practices. Consequently, this chapter will firstly explore how the school-prison nexus contributes to incarceration, including an exploration of how the systems in which counselors and other helping professionals are integral to this nexus through racist practices. The chapter then moves on to suggest ways in which helping professionals can work to disrupt this nexus in their work. These strategies to disrupt the school-prison nexus focus on how examining professional bias and applying a systems-based approach to practice can assist in achieving the social change necessary to end the criminalization of youth of color and address the impacts of incarceration before it happens.
Embedded in “common sense” and state-mandated reforms to close “the achievement gap,” the urban school, especially those sites with a no-excuses orientation to learning, can produce and reproduce the carceral state in students’ lives. The seemingly innocuous policies and processes limit access to educational opportunities and create disproportionate out-of-class time, which can emerge as the connective tissue for criminalization and the school-to-prison nexus that disproportionately affects Black males in the United States. The objective of the study was to illuminate the more unspoken mechanisms of disproportionality in school while concurrently raising awareness of how everyday practices, like school-imposed mis/labeling, contribute to the symbolic violence and dehumanization of Black and Latinx boys in school.
It is being increasingly recognized that providing human trafficking education (HTE) in schools is an effective prevention tool. Yet, the strategies that may be utilized in delivering these programs have not been fully established. The purpose of this paper is two fold. First, the paper discusses the importance of providing human trafficking education in schools, with a particular emphasis on urban schools. Second, the paper utilizes an attachment theory perspective to suggest strategies for trauma informed human trafficking education in schools. This work draws upon recent research in trauma-informed education and practice, and uses an attachment theory perspective to discuss ways to incorporate well-researched strategies and tools into potential curricula for human trafficking education. In the absence of trauma informed strategies incorporated into school education, the effectiveness of anti-trafficking initiatives may be highly compromised.
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) are effective when schools address perceived obstacles for teachers, engage in the problem-solving process using disaggregated behavior data, and routinely use reliable measurement tools to evaluate its level of implementation. Although PBIS schools have made great strides in outcomes for students, discipline disproportionality and exclusionary practices adversely affecting culturally and linguistically diverse students, especially African American and Latino/a students, continue to exist across the country. Consequently, PBIS experts are expanding PBIS to consider racial disproportionality, equity, and racial bias. This article describes a promising multi-component approach for enhancing equity in school discipline and includes a case example that describes the three-year journey of a statewide project with a local school to reduce racial discipline disparities.
Cultural beliefs, values, and norms influence the frequency and display of behavior. Accordingly, broadening the operational definitions of social and emotional competencies and establishing the equivalence of measures are two necessary steps to ensure that current assessment tools are sensitive to cultural and contextual variations. The purpose of this article is twofold: first, to examine the risks associated with narrow definitions or assumptions of invariance, particularly as each pertains to the assessment of social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies among Black students in urban schools; and second, to consider the utility of prototype analysis in advancing transformative SEL research and practice.
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This article asserts that despite the salience of race in U.S. society, as a topic of scholarly inquiry, it remains untheorized. The article argues for a critical race theoretical perspective in education analogous to that of critical race theory in legal scholarship by developing three propositions: (1) race continues to be significant in the United States; (2) U.S. society is based on property rights rather than human rights; and (3) the intersection of race and property creates an analytical tool for understanding inequity. The article concludes with a look at the limitations of the current multicultural paradigm.
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Given the challenging in- and out-of-school outcomes that some boys and young men of color exhibit, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners have advocated for increasing the number of Black male teachers. This strategy is predicated on the belief that having same-race and same-gender teachers can improve student learning. Drawing on Shedd’s Universal Carceral Apparatus and Brown’s Pedagogical Kind, this study used the qualitative method, specifically phenomenology, to explore the school-based experiences of 27 Black male teachers across 14 schools in one urban school district. Participants perceived that their peers and school administrators positioned them to serve primarily as disciplinarians first and teachers second. The Black male teachers described how their colleagues expected them to redirect student misbehavior. They rejected the idea that they were magically constructed or that students who were deemed as misbehaving responded to the teachers’ redirection simply because they were Black men. Instead, participants described how they attended to students’ social and emotional development, thereby influencing their capacity to engage and manage perceived misbehavior. Implications for future research are presented at the conclusion of the study.
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Sixteen states have adopted school report card accountability systems that assign A-F letter grades to schools. Other states are now engaged in deliberation about whether they, too, should adopt such systems. This paper examines A-F accountability systems with respect to three kinds of validity. First, it examines whether or not these accountability systems are valid as a measure, that is, do these systems validly measure school quality? Second, it examines whether or not they are valid as a policy instrument. or, how far do A-F accountability systems fulfill the stated aims of their proponents—empowering parents, providing “simple” and “common sense” measures of educational quality, and so on? Finally, it examines whether or not A-F systems are valid as a democratic framework:, how well do these systems align with the broader goals of educating students for democratic citizenship and of incorporating parents and community members in democratic deliberation about policies for their public schools? The paper concludes that A-F accountability systems are invalid along each of these lines, and provides recommendations for democratically developing and implementing criteria for school assessment.
As zero-tolerance discipline policies have been instituted at high schools across the country, police officers are employed with increasing frequency to enforce behavior codes and maintain order, primarily at poorly performing, racially segregated urban schools. Actions that may once have sent students to the detention hall or resulted in their suspension may now introduce them to the criminal justice system. This book explores the impact of policing and punitive disciplinary policies on the students and their educational experience. Through in-depth interviews with and observations of students, teachers, administrators, and police officers, this book offers an interesting account of daily life at a Bronx high school where police patrol the hallways and security and discipline fall under the jurisdiction of the NYPD. It documents how, as law enforcement officials initiate confrontations with students, small infractions often escalate into “police matters” that can lead to summonses to criminal court, arrest, and confinement in juvenile detention centers. The book follows students from the classroom and the cafeteria to the detention hall, the dean’s office, and the criminal court system, clarifying the increasingly intimate relations between the school and the criminal justice system. Placing this trend within the context of recent social and economic changes, as well as developments within criminal justice and urban school reform, it shows how this police presence has created a culture of control in which penal management overshadows educational innovation.
When the landmark Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down in 1954, many civil rights advocates believed that the decision, which declared public school segregation unconstitutional, would become the Holy Grail of racial justice. Fifty years later, despite its legal irrelevance and the racially separate and educationally ineffective state of public schooling for most black children, Brown is still viewed by many as the perfect precedent. Here, Derrick Bell shatters the shining image of this celebrated ruling. He notes that, despite the onerous burdens of segregation, many black schools functioned well and racial bigotry had not rendered blacks a damaged race. He maintains that, given what we now know about the pervasive nature of racism, the Court should have determined instead to rigorously enforce the "equal" component of the "separate but equal" standard. Racial policy, Bell maintains, is made through silent covenants--unspoken convergences of interest and involuntary sacrifices of rights--that ensure that policies conform to priorities set by policy-makers. Blacks and whites are the fortuitous winners or losers in these unspoken agreements. The experience with Brown, Bell urges, should teach us that meaningful progress in the quest for racial justice requires more than the assertion of harms. Strategies must recognize and utilize the interest-convergence factors that strongly influence racial policy decisions. In Silent Covenants, Bell condenses more than four decades of thought and action into a powerful and eye-opening book.
Black girls are more likely to be suspended or expelled through exclusionary discipline than their female counterparts, but continue to be overlooked and understudied. This article presents a case for using critical race feminism and figured worlds as theoretical frameworks for examining the effects of zero tolerance policies on Black girls. We use these frameworks to explore how adults’ implementation of disciplinary policies not only affects the racial and gender identity development of Black girls, but perpetuates anti-Black discipline and represents behavioral responses to White femininity that may not align with Black girls’ femininity and identification with school user has requested enhancement of the downloaded file.
This article explores activism, education, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Using critical race theory (CRT), I analyze what this emergence of primarily youth-led activism means in the context of decades of neoliberal education reform. I raise specific questions about how youth-led activism, which has its genesis in and is largely shaped by social media, not only reflects limited robust mainstream discourses on race but also a failure of education, particularly schools and districts that serve students of color in under-resourced urban communities, to teach about and contextualize other historical movements for justice and racial equity.