Catherine Kramarczuk Voulgarides is a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology of Education program at New York University (NYU). She was a graduate assistant at the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at NYU under the leadership of Dr. Pedro Noguera. She now works at the Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality in Special Education at the center. Before joining the Metro center, she worked for the AmeriCorps Vista project in Phoenix, Arizona, coordinating and developing ESL programs for recent immigrant parents in the Phoenix school system. She holds a BA in economics and is a graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She also holds a MST in Special Education from Pace University in New York City and taught middle school special education for several years in Washington Heights NYC. Her research interests are centered on the intersection between the impact of federal disability legislation and the persistence of racial and ethnic disproportionality. More specifically she is interested in understanding the complexities associated with a policy’s origins, its intent and mediation in practice as it responds to local context, especially when a disparate impact is identified.
It was a typical school day in my research and I was observing an in school suspension room when an African American boy, about seventeen years old, entered and immediately sat at a desk and began writing. The teacher in the room appeared to know him well and asked him what he was working on. The boy said he was writing about what he would say if he became valedictorian. The teacher, seemingly intrigued, asked him to explain his thoughts. “I want to go to college. I mean I only have three options: college, jail or the army. It’s true, you can ask anyone. These are our only options. You would be surprised by how many kids would say the same. This school is nasty like that.”
Upon closer inspection of the student’s assignment the teacher realized he was working on an essay for the online credit recovery program designed for suspended students. With the realization the teacher said, “You better get that work done because people are calling the online program a criminal program!” The boy quickly responded with, “I’m not a criminal.” The teacher continued, “Well, people think the program is harboring criminals.” “I ain’t no criminal!” the boy interrupted. He then returned to his assignment visibly distraught.
Why did he only see three options for himself and his peers: college, jail or the army? And why was he defending himself against the perception that he was a potential criminal? More broadly, what messages are we intentionally or unintentionally telling students about their worth in school and how do these messages intersect with school discipline structures? Read more