Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Homeroom security

Even though my blurb reads like a teaser aimed at security minded parents of school age children anxious to find out what research can tell them about how to avoid the next Columbine, Aaron Kupchik's important new book on the securitization of American schools helps us understand how much the compulsion to hard wire schools for security against a variety of real and imagined crime threats (too often imagined). Kupchik's work is part of an important wave of new empirical studies by criminologists, political scientists and sociologists that is probing the practice of crime control inside schools more than a decade of the passage of the landmark School Safety Act of 1994, at the height of Clinton's war on crime.

Kupchik's well designed qualitative and quantitative research helps make clear that while some of this an extension of racialized versions of coding the identity of minority youth in disadvantaged communities as defined by crime, much of it cuts across race and class demarcations. An obsessive emphasis on crime security has become part of the way we imagine adequate schooling in all kinds of communities. As Kupchik shows, these strategies are more often than not counter productive, and systematically ignore the real factors that drive school violence in those settings where it is a real problem, while increasing the chances that youth in those communities will end up out of school and ready for drafting into the criminal justice system. Safe schools are a must for all parents, and there are ways school stakeholders can attend to that without allowing the performance of security adequacy through visible and symbolic measures to overwhelm schools themselves.

This is another reminder of how much it is costing America to give crime and other forms of "stranger danger"undue sway over our institutions. Schools are there to educate in ways that open the door to economic opportunity, citizenship, and a life of integrity. The first factor has become increasingly important in the globalized and insecure labor market our young people face. We have become ever more critical of the ability of schools to achieve these goals over the last 20 years, during the same period we have allowed crime to mission creep its way into our educational practices. The much discussed No Child Left Behind law contained significant and hardly ever discussed provisions that demand more "availability" for school crime information on a comparative basis (so like test scores it can become the fodder for reflex and decontextualized searches for school comparisons).

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