«The Social Control of Childhood Behavior via Criminalization or Medicalization: Why Race Matters DISSERTATION Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the ...»
criminalization and medicalization. Specifically, through exclusionary and punitive school discipline measures, schools adopt a criminalized approach to social control, defining problem behavior according to philosophy and strategies of the American criminal justice system (Simon 2007). For example, similar to criminal conviction, school suspension and expulsion exclude deviant children from their peers, officially and unofficially mark them as troublemakers, and disrupt their opportunity to learn course material in the classroom (Hirschfield 2008a). At the same time, schools also rely on medicalization as a social control strategy. Through the use of programs established by federal laws pertaining to student disability and behavior disorders, schools define the misbehavior of some children in medical or psychological terms and implement a system of behavior management based on therapy and rehabilitation. This includes offering students assistance in the classroom, modified curricula and extra time on assignments and exams, and, importantly, a requirement that schools consider any underlying behavior disorders in the disciplinary process when a student misbehaves (Gius 2007;
Kim, Losen, and Martinez 2010; Smith 2001).
A growing body of research on school disciplinary policies has focused on racial and socioeconomic disparities in the exposure to exclusionary or punitive policies.
Recently, criminologists have suggested that exclusionary disciplinary policies, ranging from suspension and expulsion to metal detectors and on-campus police officers, are more common in schools with relatively larger African-American populations (Irwin, Davidson, and Hall-Sanchez 2013; Kupchik and Ward 2013; Welch and Payne 2010;2012). On the other hand, more inclusive measures of social control, including mild disciplinary (e.g. parent-teacher conferences, oral reprimands) or clearly visible security cameras, are applied equally across schools of racial configurations (Kupchik and Ward 2013; Welch and Payne 2012).
To date, no research has considered how or whether schools, as institutions, implement medicalized forms of social control (Kim, Losen, and Hewitt 2010). The majority of empirical research involving medicalization and social control has been at the individuallevel, typically comparing rates of medical diagnosis or quality of therapy or treatment across members of different racial groups. Findings from this line of research suggests African-American school-children are less likely to be diagnosed with behavior disorders than White schoolchildren (Miller, Nigg, and Miller 2009; Morgan et al. 2013). Scholars are less clear on whether schools with relatively larger African-American populations may be less likely to provide students with services necessary to meet the needs of students with medically defined behavior disorders (Ferguson 2001; Kim, Losen, and Hewitt 2010).
In examining whether school and district level racial composition influences the criminalization or medicalization of school discipline, this paper makes several contributions to extant criminological and medical sociological literature regarding the social control of child behavior. First, it brings together prior theoretical work from criminology on racialized crime theories with work from medical sociology on racial disparities in mental health and health care access. The inclusion of medicalized school discipline examines structural inequalities across multiple domains of social control with important, but different, implications for how child behavior is defined and managed (Medina and McCranie 2011). Second, this project provides an important example of how medicalization can operate at an institutional level in non-medical organizations (Conrad 1992b). For example, while diagnoses for behavior disorders may or not be required by medical professionals, the day to day management of child behavior is carried out by non-medical school personnel (Conrad 1992b; Gius 2007). Third, this paper considers how school- and district-level racial compositions influence the criminalization or medicalization of school discipline. In doing so, the paper argues that both the racial composition of the student body and the racial composition of the surrounding population are important when it comes to setting and implementing school disciplinary policy. Finally, by considering social control in elementary and middle schools, I am able to examine how schools socially construct the misbehavior of children at critical points in their development and at a stage in the life-course when teachers and administrators may be less likely to view students as “little adults” (Kupchik and Ward 2013; Soung 2011). Most research on school discipline has been conducted at the high school level, where teachers may consider some students to be more dangerous and disciplinary decisions may involve less discretion (Kupchik and Ward 2013). If the discretion of teachers and administrators is more important in elementary or middle schools, these decisions may be influenced by social and structural factors associated with race (Kupchik and Ward 2013).
I draw from racialized crime perspectives in criminology, the fundamental cause hypothesis in medical sociology, and critical race perspectives that cut across disciplines to examine the influence of school and district level racial and ethnic composition on the criminalization and medicalization of school discipline across a broad range of school contexts. Using a large dataset of over 50,000 schools in over 6,000 districts, I answer several important questions about the how school social control policies. First, does the relative size of the African-American population at the school- and district-level influence how schools and districts implement punitive disciplinary measures such as suspension and expulsion? Second, does the relative size of the African-American population at the school- and district-level influence how schools and districts implement medicalized school disciplinary measures like IDEA enrollment and Section 504?
Finally, does district-level racial composition attenuate the association between schoollevel racial composition and school disciplinary policies?
Conceptual Framework The Criminalization of School Discipline The focus on discipline and protection of children has always been central to the operation of American schools. However, for most of U.S. history, teachers and administrators often responded to in-school deviance with sanctions that centered around adherence to orderliness and structure, such as detaining children after school (or during Saturday school) for extra lessons, reciting school rules, or restorative school service projects like cleaning and maintenance (Kupchik 2010). Rarely did teachers consider students to be criminally responsible for their behavior problems (Kupchik 2010;
Monahan and Torres 2009). The goals of school discipline were largely reformative instead of retributive. Administrators and teachers sought solutions that could improve child productivity while decreasing interference with the education goals of the classroom (Kupchik 2010; Monahan and Torres 2009). Consequently, schools often reserved stricter punishments, such as suspension or expulsion, for the most egregious offenses, and schools often took great pains to avoid meting out such punishments (Kupchik 2010; Simon 2007).
Recently, however, society’s attitudes towards youth behavior and school discipline have shifted toward the “get tough” philosophy of the criminal justice system.
During the late 20th century, images of violent crime in the inner-city schools filled television sets across the country (Lyons and Drew 2006; Simon 2007). For many parents, these images conjured up notions of superpredators that threatened the safety of their children whenever they left the house (Simon 2007). As the place where children are most often away from their parents, schools became a primary focus for intervention and deterrence. Parents demanded confirmation that teachers and administrators were providing their children with a safe and secure school environment (Lyons and Drew 2006; Simon 2007). To meet these demands, the non-academic priorities of many school systems shifted to the monitoring and controlling of child behavior and the protection of potential victims (Kupchik and Monahan 2006; Lyons and Drew 2006; Monahan and Torres 2009; Simon 2007).
One of the clearest examples of this trend is the use of exclusionary disciplinary policies such as suspension or expulsion for students who violate a broad spectrum of rules (Hirschfield and Celinska 2011; Kupchik 2010; Noguera 2003). While they have been traditionally applied to more serious in-school offenses, punishments such as suspension and expulsion are increasingly being meted out for relatively minor rule violations, such as tardiness, classroom disruptions, unruly demeanor towards adults, and inattentiveness (Kupchik 2010). Consequently, rates of school suspension and expulsion have skyrocketed over the past twenty-five years. As the use of exclusionary disciplinary policies has become more commonplace across the country, criminologists and other social scientists have pointed out that these forms of school punishment effectively operate in the same manner as sentencing policies do in adult courts of law (Hirschfield 2008a; Kupchik 2010; Simon 2007).
Much like harsh sentences in the criminal justice system are thought to deter future criminal behavior, strict school discipline is intended to establish a zero tolerance atmosphere for wrongdoing that ensures student safety and orderly classrooms (Hirschfield 2008a). In practice, similar to the ways in which incarceration or probation removes offenders from the general population or restricts their movement and interaction with others, exclusionary school discipline removes misbehaving children from classroom and isolates them from their peers. As a result, schoolchildren are removed from important lesson time, causing them to fall behind on their schoolwork, magnifying other problems that may be associated with academic difficulty, including undiagnosed or untreated learning or behavior disorders (Kim, Losen, and Hewitt 2010;
Bowditch 1993). Moreover, similar to incarceration and probation for adults, these punishments single out offenders from their peers and officially and unofficially marks them as deviant (Ferguson 2001; Simon 2007). In some cases, being suspended or expelled can prohibit involvement in extracurricular activities that may assist in social development (Skiba 2008). Further, teachers and other professionals may spend less time and effort helping those children they view as troublemakers because they are seen as less engaged in their own learning (Ferguson 2001).
The Medicalization of School Discipline A growing number of childhood problematic behaviors, such as inattention, hyperactivity, and opposition or defiance of adult authority, have received increased attention from medical and psychological professionals (Conrad and Slodden 2013;
Conrad 2007). Doctors and psychologists began defining such behavior as symptoms of disorders such as ADHD or oppositional defiant disorder, and using medical, as opposed to moral or legal, terminology (Conrad 1992a; 2007; 2013). Furthermore, medical professionals began prescribing therapy or medication to control these symptoms, thus asserting their position in the defining and management of deviant behavior (Conrad 1992b; 2007). Sociologists refer to this process as the medicalization of social control (Conrad 1992b, 2007; Zola 1972).
Medicalization defines certain deviant behaviors using medical terminology, adopts a medical framework for addressing the problem, and uses a medical intervention to “treat” the problem rather than relying on deterrence and punishment observed in the legal system (Conrad 1992a,b; Medina and McCranie 2011). Importantly, once this definition becomes accepted, other organizations and institutions begin to approach the problem using a medical model, controlling behaviors via the tools and techniques of the health and psychological professions (Conrad 1992b, 2007; Medina and McCranie 2011).
While schools are rarely directly involved in the diagnoses of specific disorders, they can and do implement school disciplinary procedures that medicalize social control. Most notably, they employ school disciplinary policies designed to supervise and control the movement of students whose behavior problems are considered medical disorders (Malacrida 2004; Mayes and Rafalovich 2007; Reid and Katsiyannis 1995).
For example, schools provide programs and services specifically designed to meet the needs of children with developmental and behavior problems ( Kim, Losen, and Martinez 2010; Holler and Zirkel 2008; Reid and Katsiyannis 1995; Zirkel 2011). These programs allow schools to monitor and manage those children with behavior problems through a structured daily routine of lesson plans, increased attention to movement and actions, and adherence to a regiment of conduct similar to that of clinical therapy or treatment (Fitzgerald 2009; Malacrida 2004; Reid and Katsiyannis 1995). Importantly, these programs do not necessarily rely on the participation of medical professionals and, in some cases, do not even require medical diagnoses for enrollment (Gius 2007; Holler and Zirkel 2008). As a result, medicalization takes places within the school organizational context, as the day to day management of children with behavior disorders is carried out by educators rather than medical personnel (Conrad 1992b; Malacrida 2004; Reid and Katsiyannis 1995).