America’s school and criminal-justice systems have been veering toward a curious alliance—with dangerous repercussions for the children in their grasp.
Often, programs for establishing new schools result in the closure and combination of many schools without much care for how students would experience having to cross race, class, neighborhood, and gang lines to get to school. Many schools, instead of providing avenues out of poverty in low-income neighborhoods, become highly policed environments that reinforce racial inequality and distrust of authority. With the rise of metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and pat-downs in schools, students interact with police during a formative period that shapes their life-long attitudes and life trajectories. Schools become the new frontiers of broken-windows policing, with a focus on social control and punitive measures instead of on education and growth.
The symbiotic relationship between urban neighborhoods, public education, and the criminal-justice system is pervasive throughout the country.
Despite a surge in attention to neighborhood effects in big cities, my research shows that schools are more powerful engines of social stratification than neighborhoods. Urban high schools, in particular, play a major role in how students perceive and experience authoritative figures, whether teachers in school or police officers on the street. For some kids—especially those in our nation’s biggest cities—attending a well-resourced school in a well-resourced neighborhood is the only way out of an existence where their every move is subject to police control.