On February 22 the Haas Institute's Disability Studies Cluster and the Graduate School of Education hosted a talk by Subini Ancy Annamma, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas. The title of her talk was "Excavating Possibilities: Disability Critical Race Theory (DisCrit) in Education."
Find a transcript of the talk below.
Subini Ancy Annamma: Welcome, and thank you for coming to this talk. I got a Bachelor of Science in Education, with a focus in special education. I taught for seven years in public schools and youth prisons. Since then, I've published 19 articles, two edited books and one sole authored book, all using the critical race and disability studies framework or DisCrit.
I say all this to locate myself as a critical scholar, who centers disabled youth of color as knowledge generators. I hope today to illustrate what we can excavate if we imagine disability as a social construction with material realities, and also a political identity with a lineage of resistance.
The social co-construction of race and disability has always been at the center of labeling, surveillance and punishment. Considering ways those outside of the desired norms have had their personhood terminated, and their rights questioned. History is littered with these examples. From 1851, when Samuel Cartwright wrote about drapetomania, a psychiatric diagnosis that supposedly caused slaves to run away, to dysaesthesia, a disease created to describe when slaves broke their tools and refused to work, to the Chinese Exclusion act, which argued that Chinese people were racially inferior in body, mind and morals, non-white race bodies and minds have always been linked with deficit, in the system of white supremacy. In other words, white bodies are the norm that everyone else is compared to. In schools this is enacted when the white history is taught in class, except for a few months of the year, white ways of learning are equated with being smart, and white standards of behavior are rewarded.
In general, white supremacy then is the commitment to valorizing whiteness, while erasing the oppression and persistence of multiply marginalized people of color. That is not to say that white people are the problem, but the belief that white is best, the standard there, the norm; white supremacy is the problem.
This statement's becoming common knowledge in education, schools and programs rooted in equity such as the GSE. But what is less explicitly articulated is, how white supremacy uses ableism to justify tightening the borders of knowledge, securing whiteness as property, by both creating disability and disease, and restricting access to those who claim the identity of disability.
In boarding schools indigenous children schools were ripped from their families, and native culture was treated as a disease. Here the philosophy was co-represented by Carlisle Boarding School founder Captain Richard H. Pratt, in 1892, when he said that, "All the Indians there is in the race should be dead, kill the Indian in him and save the man."
This type of segregation and eradication of difference has been common in education. Said differently, education has often been used as a tool to surveil, in order to eliminate difference and conform to a standard of whiteness. Those who cannot or choose not to conform are labeled as less than, segregated and punished. This is the pedagogy of pathologization.
Note that both boys and girls are in these pictures, consequently intersectional perspectives around race, disability and other intersecting identities and their accompanying depressions, must always be considered in education.
Children who did not respond well to being targeted for labeling, surveilling and punishment are often sent to youth prisons. In other words, youth prisons are where we discard youth at the intersections of multiple oppressions, or what I call multiply marginalized youth. For example, in 2016, 66% of the total males incarcerated, shown in the first pie chart, and 61% of females incarcerated, shown in the second, were of color.
Though rarely discussed, disabled students are vastly overrepresented in disciplinary incarceration as well, particularly when intersecting with race. Said differently, disability can advantage some, creating access to higher education, by providing testing accommodations on their SAT's for white upper class students, while leaving students of color with the same disability labels and more restrictive settings, with lower graduation rates, and higher push out and incarceration rates. For example, 20% of disabled girls of color, or one in five, were suspended in 2011.
Nationally in public schools, young people labeled with a disability averaged 12 to 14%. You see that in the top bar, the blue is the public schools students with a disability, so 12 to 14%. But when you look at youth prisons, that average rises to 33 to 37%, so that's the blue bar on the top.
Black students with disabilities are four times more likely than white students to be educated in a youth prison. Students of color labeled with emotional disabilities are particularly susceptible, looking at the bottom chart, as they are less than 1% of the population, but compromised 50% of students with disabilities incarcerated.
My colleague Professor Darren Canady wrote the play, Black Butterflies based on my book, The Pedagogy of Pathologization. We then did a book launch in scene burst, where scenes from the play were juxtaposed against excerpts from the book, so people could engage in the theory and the practice. I want to begin with a scene from the play, so we can situate ourselves in the context of this formal, yet forgotten education space.
Video dialogue: It happened because of a pencil.
One yellow pencil.
A little stick of wood with lead inside.
And a block.
Shaped like an apple.
For 12 pencils.
It's the end of class.
Hand in your maps.
We had to label states on the maps.
Pencils in the block.
One by one we put the pencils back.
All of us.
Every single one of us.
We put the pencils in the block.
There's a pencil missing.
I don't have it.
I don't have it.
I don't have it.
I said there's a pencil missing.
No one has it.
Then I guess you better find it.
I start to sweat.
Throat is tight.
Starts eyeing the officer.
Just start looking. Everybody just start looking.
We got to find this pencil.
Look under your chairs.
We got to find this pencil.
Check behind the bookcase.
We got to find this pencil
See if it rolled behind the heater.
If, we don't find this pencil.
Hands down my thigh.
If, we don't find this pencil.
Hands on my waist.
If, we don't find this pencil.
Hands between my legs.
Because a pencil could be a weapon.
I've seen girls draw blood with them.
But we can't find it.
The pencil's not here.
I guess, I guess we can't find it.
Let me go get Rhonda.
Oh dear, dear.
So we wait.
Feels like hours.
Til Officer Rhonda comes in.
You know the drill.
Clothes on the floor.
Feel cold air on my skin.
I barely got nothing on, and her hands go places I don't even touch.
Moving over me.
Hands down my thigh, hands around my waist, hands between my legs.
I shouldn't be touched like this. I shouldn't be touched like this.
Oh. Oh, dear. Here it is. It was under my notebook all this time. I'm so sorry guys. I'm really sorry.
I felt something burn when her fingers touched me.
I heard Mercede's breathe stop.
You can't put your hands on me like that.
I saw something explode behind Mercede's eyes.
We've got writing to do.
Our demands, like Esperanza.
Like [inaudible 00:07:43]?
It's time to fight back.
Subini Ancy Annamma: It's a hard scene to watch, right? But this is a scene that happened multiple times, this type of thing in youth prisons. Girls, where tools of learning were imagined as weapons. One of the things I really want to be clear about, is that when disabled girls of color in youth prisons are situated at a nexus of state and interpersonal violence, that occurs in their education when tools of the learning are imagined as weapons.
Supporting the learning and education of disabled youth often comes with the expense of continued surveillance, labeling and punishment in public schools and youth prisons. I know some people are saying, "Well at least this doesn't happen in public schools." Well remember that this happens too, as recently four black girls in New York were strip searched for acting hyper and giddy.
Consequently, understanding how ableism, and racism shapes disabled, and enabled girls of color, individuals trajectories, and reproduces systemic inequities is of upmost important when managing education.
I want to clarify that traditionally there's been a binary drawn between formal, which is in school, and informal, which is often thought of out of school learning ecologies. This distinction has been useful to contrast or constraints and affordances, of researches and practices within these types of spaces. However, this binary can also ignore the variance of formal education spaces, situating them all as similar.
By essentially smoothing over the extreme differences in education, access, and opportunities that could occur throughout formal spaces, I believe we are missing possibilities for re-mediating these education spaces.
Consequently, I named these spaces as "formal yet forgotten education spaces", ones that are at times ignored in education. I argued that we need to enter these formal yet forgotten spaces, and listen to the disabled youth of color in youth prisons, in order to answer these questions.
Some examples of formal yet forgotten education spaces, are spaces of disciplinary exclusion. Such as regular classrooms, and the spaces they're disciplined within. In-school suspension rooms, the detention room, self contained special education rooms, specifically for students with emotional behavioral disorders, and alternative schools.
Spaces of academic exclusion, other special education rooms, credit recovery, GED classes, and spaces of incarceration, where students are adjudicated or required by the courts to attend. Which can look like group homes, residential treatment center, juvenile jails. Sometimes with fun euphemisms like camps, which they do have here in California.
There are many reasons for an absence of these spaces in education literature, including special education claiming many of these spaces as specifically under their purview. However, though many of these formal yet forgotten education spaces are racialized, and intersected with other marginalizing depressions, that is rarely taken up in traditional special education research. This is where we discard what Mia Mingus calls, bodies and minds that tell the truth. Yet our research does not always tell the truth about who is there, and why.
In order to enter these education spaces, I needed to engage a framework that was intersectional. As Zeus said, what I did was draw from critical race studies, and disability studies, to create disability and critical race theory. Along with my colleagues, we came up with the conceptual framework that offered particular affordances.
First, beginning with the recognition that racism and ableism are normal, not aberrant, bodies different from the ideal are identified as problematic. Second, once identified, those differences are more likely to be constructed as deficits and pathologized through labeling. Third, those labeled deficits or disabilities are then viewed as needing to be re-mediated, rehabilitated, or redistributed into spaces less visible.
The people up here, just to make it clear, are people I think of as intellectual ancestors of folks who refuse single access labeling. These interdisciplinary foundations allow DisCrit to, one, reject the false binary between normal and abnormal, between ability and disability, and between general and special education, by forcing the unstable connections of these dialectical relationships into the open to be examined.
Two, address how processes of racism and ableism position unwanted bodies out of the boundary of normal, in order to justify their removal. Throughout history, this quarantine of race to disabled bodies, in the system of white supremacy, meant those who be constructed as furthest from the margin of ideal norms, such as white male, able, upper class heterosexual, will always be most susceptible to violence in education.
Three, recognize the expertise held by multiply-marginalized communities, and students of color. This intersectional framing allowed me to bring different theories, processes, and questions to bear on education. A DisCrit framework explores how multiply-marginalized disabled students are both socially, and spatially positions, ways they resist the structural violence education opposes, and what they can teach education.
Consequently, DisCrit is a tool for me to both examine and reconceptualize education's contribution to problematic and libratory classroom spaces.
We're going to talk about one study for most of this time, which is one of my studies in youth prisons. I've done a number of them, so this is one of them. Then we'll spend a little bit of the time at the end talking about a study I did in public schools, so you can understand the links between the school-prison nexus a little bit.
The first study, on my right, is called the Jean Adams Hull House for Girls. It was a private contract, maximum security, girls only, which served up to 40 girls. The years that I was there, over half the girls were females of color, and just half had a current disability label.
Maximum security means that there is a chain linked fence with barbed wire at the top, surrounding the entire campus, and even separating some of the buildings within the campus. There are security guards and intercom systems to every building, locked doors, and badges. Girls when they left, had handcuffs and leg shackles at all times.
In contrast, the place on my left was a community placement, which provided community based programs to youths presented the lowest risk of re-offending, and youth transitioning for more secure programs. I want to begin by highlighting the distinction between these sites, and in my research process I worked to emphasize the nuances of the two individual settings.
It is also important to remember that youth in both sites are adjudicated, or sentenced by the courts. Though this was an open door school, if students left without permission a warrant was issued for their arrest. Moreover, one can be sent in between the two sites, and at least two of my girls were sent from the open door placement to the maximum security site, thus they are both formal yet forgotten education spaces.
As you can see from the chart going from Western State to Western City, to the Juvenile Justice Department on the way down, the racialized contours of juvenile prisons in this Western State were significant. To be clear, I wanted to gather intersectional data, but that was not available, and you're going to hear me say that a lot.
Disabled girls of color were purposely sampled, ultimately I had 10 participants, six African Americans, three Latinos and one native student. By the way, racially I use the terms the girls identified with themselves.
Because this study used a broader definition of disability, a student who was currently labeled, had been previously labeled, or could be considered for a label as nominated by staff, all qualified. Six had a current disability label, two had had a previous label but had been exited, and two had no label, but staff they believed they should have been labeled. But one of the things you'll find in youth prisons is that it's incredibly hard to label kids, and so staff usually doesn't bother.
One demographic I had not planned on, but then ended up taking on significance was sexual diversity. Five of the girls identified their sexual orientation as straight, meaning they'd only ever dated males. Two, self-identified as lesbians, and they described this as meaning they may or may not have dated males in the past, but at a certain point in their lives dated females exclusively. Three of the participants however, identified with the sexually fluid orientation, meaning they were open to either males or females.
Meaning that half of my participants were not heterosexual. Knowing that there's an over-representation of LGBTQ students of color in disciplinary actions and adult prisons, it's not surprising that there were significant amount of girls that were also queer and gender non-conforming. But once again, we do not know exact statistics, just because intersectional data was not available.
Finally, the age range of students in the study was between 14 and 20. No more specific details were given here because of the doubly sensitive nature of the population.
The theories I situate myself in, allow me to bring different methods to bare on the processes and practices. The weight was never put on the student alone, but the students acting with a meditational tool.
[inaudible 00:16:38] defined methodological pluralism as, a strategy of data collection and analysis, to document how change and discontinuity, graded with the desire for narrative coherence and consistency, shape the stories young people tell about themselves over time and space.
In this study, methodological pluralism combined collecting and analyzing textuals, the interviews, and visual, identity mappings. Over here you'll see all of the data that I collected over two years. Drawing from a spatial scalar model, I asked the following questions.
First, from the micro, what are the education trajectory's of disabled girls of color in the school prison nexus? I did over 105 classroom observations, 34 interviews and 10 education journey maps, which I'll describe in a minute.
The meso level was examining positioning. How did teachers, administrators, and other school personnel position disabled girls of color through their discourses and socializing practices of the classroom and school? I did a documented analysis of over 40 documents. I did 15 interviews with teachers, and four with administrators and security. 25 schoolwide observations, and 15 guiding artifacts and informal discussions.
The macro, what are the macro socio-political context in which these students are located? Ultimately these research questions demonstrated my efforts to seek evidence through critical thematic analysis, that is both frequent in the corpus of information as well as deeply mined.
The gradient color on the left represents that these scales where not separated, but deeply interrelated. The spacial component of my analysis allowed me to explore how these scales were all repeated with ideology, and discourse practices of race, and disability as deficit.
The goal of this study was to leverage all of the information about the girls trajectories, from a variety of data sources. To help me consider ways to intervene in both pedagogical interactions, as well as structures, using rigorous methods of data collection and analysis.
What I found was that the data collection methods I had been trained in tended to rely heavily on textual, and were not ideal within youth prisons. Incarcerated and multiply-marginalized girls, many who had missed significant periods of schooling, and others who did not feel comfortable speaking, needed another way to express themselves. I wanted to do digital story telling, but cameras were not allowed, and computer access was basically limited to word processing, and highly surveilled.
Thus, I had to innovate data collection methods that aligned with my epistemology, ontology and axiology. I adapted Sirin and Fine's identity mapping, with the direct support of Michelle Fine. Therefore, I created education journey maps. Given my commitment to humanizing approaches to research, education journey maps are not to be analyzed without student voice. Which is what led to the creation of the Cartographer's Clinic.
Given time constraints, I'm not going to spend much more time on these, but I'm happy to expand on them if you are interested. But you'll see that in the Cartographer's Clinic, we position girls as expert map makers. They went, and they actually looked at all of the maps, analyzed the data for themes and outliers, had discussions. It was both data collection, because I took all their notes, we had 75 minute conversations, and also data analysis. They were able to check some of my hunches, check each others and talk in real time as they analyzed each others maps.
Education journey mapping is a qualitative method, reflected my critical commitment to exploring the individual, and spacial, temporal journeys of incarcerated multiply-marginalized disabled girls. While situating them in a macro social-political reality of the equities reproduced in prisonation.
Ultimately, the education journey maps and Cartographer's Clinic were methodological ways of building what [inaudible 00:20:40] as politicized trust. Which calls for an ongoing building in cultivation of mutual trust, and racial solidarity. For the purpose of my talk, the education journey maps will be displayed, but not always discussed specifically. However, themes were drawn from education journey maps as a major source of data.
Like Erikson, I believe analysis is the process of finding qualitative data in codes in the corpus of information, which the researcher must deeply mine. There are several ways I made this rigorous data analysis. As I said before using methodological pluralism, the data analysis with both ongoing and iterative over the two years I collected data, analyzed for emerging patterns.
In the next round of data collection, I member-checked my hunches around those patterns, and so forth. This ongoing iterative data collection increased validity and opportunity, and highlights student voice.
Studying side-by-side attempts to transform the subject to a participant, if not a partner. Though it does not alleviate asymmetries in power, it makes them more transparent, and the Cartographer's Clinic who is an example of this, where students were able to analyze maps for themes and outliers.
Understanding how people experience a phenomenon in the case of the school prison nexus, is the root of phenomenology. Pradhi argues that, in utilizing phenomenology, we end not with a presupposition list description of phenomemon, but a reinterpretation.
A critical phenomenological approach demands attention to two interrelated dimensions of social life. First, the structural and equality in structural violence that shape participants and status. Second, to the impact of this contextual factors on participants individual and collective experiences of being in the world.
I used to deduce to categorize inductive codes that emerged from the data. Such as criminalized literacies, which we'll talk about in a minute, and deductive codes that were drawn from the literature such as incarceration discourse. I used a variety of tools including scrolls, to examine [inaudible 00:22:43] interactions, landscapes to explore diachronic and synchronic dimensions in the classroom. Counter cartographies and maps were thematically explored through a three stage process of sense making, via visual, audio and then textual mining.
Finally, I searched for disconfirming evidence. This semantic analysis was both frequent in the corpus of information, as well as [inaudible 00:23:04]. The goal was to wrench the discussion of disability, race criminals and crime out of the hands of the powerful. This elimination and reinterpretation of the school prison nexus was from those directly impacted by it: multiply marginalized, disabled youth of color who were incarcerated.
I began to name the set of processes as debilitating processes. Debilitating processes are teacher activities, and there are other. There are administrator activities. There are security activities. We're going to focus on the teacher ones for today, and really focus on classroom interactions. Teacher activities that disrupt engagement, meaningful learning, and safety and security in the school. These processes [inaudible 00:23:51] closed access and inclusion for a disabled youth of color.
The first one was hyper-labeling. Often surveillance and punishment are recognized as part of criminalization, but I argue that labeling students in schools was a major contributor in the construction of criminal identity. This label was about more than producing stigma, though these labels certainly didn't stigmatize. The labels produce targets for exclusion in public schools. Labeling was both formal and informal.
Formally, participants experienced disability labeling, gender labeling and racial labeling by teachers, psychologists, administrators and other school personnel. However, informal labeling of the girls is sexually deviant, emotional damaged and femininity deficient, impacted ways prison agents supported their discouraged girls from obtaining their education.
Once girls were labeled with an identity, "unwanted by the state", they were more likely to be labeled with other unwanted identities, which further stigmatized and targeted them for removal. Hyper-labeling defined here as the formal or informal naming of the students undesirable identity, and the addition of other unwanted identities, had an impact upon an eventual construction is criminal.
I was talking to Veronica about different teachers, and why she liked some she had named. She shrugged, and simply said, "They don't treat us like criminals, Miss." Though this was a brief statement, all of the girls referred to the ways they were treated like criminals, and you'll hear many of them today. What I found was that this labeling of a criminal identity, criminal behavior, and criminal thinking was laced through the discourse in socializing practices of both sites. School personnel constructed girls identities as criminal, was a way to label all the behaviors as criminal; something much more sinister than normal.
Here's how Miss [Crailar 00:25:33] describes it when she says, "Don't forget these girls are very criminal." I said, "Well, what does that mean?" She said, "Why do I say that their behavior is very criminal? I mean, they are looking for exciting ways. I mean, It's not always about the relationship or the person, it's about the excitement they feel doing something wrong."
"When I say it's criminal, it's all about how to get around the system, to get what they want, and that feeds right back into their criminal mentality. Not that all kids aren't master manipulators, that's our job as teenagers, you know? The difference being when you get to the power and control piece, that's where it's different from [inaudible 00:26:08]."
All nine of the teachers in the study who I was able to formally interview, all labeled the girls' thinking as criminal. This ideational artifact predicated how teachers responded, these teachers believed girls' criminal thinking motivated their behaviors. This labeling of criminal impacted the way this curriculum was structured.
What is this deliberating process of hyper-labeling look like in the curriculum? This is an excerpt from my field notes from a literacy class. "As literacy class starts, I'm introduced, and the girls are instructed to start their work. I move from computer to computer talking to the girls, and helping them. One is reading a passage about Amazon's new voice feature. Another is reading about hair products. A third is reading about natural disasters. All the questions in this program are basic comprehension questions."
"The teacher says, 'This is a research based reading program, guaranteed to raise literacy achieve of these incarcerated girls.' I ask the teacher what books the girls are reading. She says, 'These girls need to learn about the organization, so they are reading the Seven Habits of the Highly Effective Teenager.' I ask if they are reading any fiction, she responds, 'They do that independently' and shows me the girls' library, a renovated supply closet with books lining the walls."
"She wants to know about the transferability of the skills I will teach, in the class I'm proposing. She wants to know why I want to work there, and she is pleased to learn about my past teaching and research in juvenile jails. She, like the principal, is happy to have help working with youth inmates. She reminds me they are children, but they are also dangerous criminals, 'They wouldn't be here if they didn't deserve it'"
As I said, every adult in these sites of incarceration mentioned criminal thinking, and emphasized how this thinking was so different and dangerous than other girls thinking. That those girls had to be incarcerated for the safety of themselves, and others. Therefore, when girls broke the large number of rules, which dictated everything from when they could walk, versus to when they had to run, to when they had access to pencils, their behavior was almost always attributed to this criminal thinking.
Reconstructing the criminal identity was meant to label on the part of adults, as they often stressed how inauthentic juvenile jails work, but then rationalized where multiply-marginalized disabled girls of color needed to be incarcerated. Hence, criminal thinking was used to justify restricted curriculum, like the ones observed in the field notes here. Where literacy practices were often inauthentic, such as reading disconnected passages on the computer, or focused on fixing the girls, such as reading, Seven Habits of the Highly Effected Teenager.
Hyper-surveillance was the excessive scrutiny and anticipation of problem behaviors, attitudes or presence, and was often applied to multiply-marginalized girls of color. Once the girls became hyper-labeled as different, deviant and disabled, there was an increase of surveillance of their behavior. However, the cycle could be initiated by another construct, and those that have been hyper-surveilled a noxious behavior, such as being friends with a labeled student, could then be labeled with other less wanted identities.
Moreover, one could be caught up in web of punishment, such as a spectator in a fight, and then be labeled and surveilled. So, therefore the cycle of hyper-surveillance often led to the pedagogy and pathologization, and then additional labeling, a mass surveillance, and added punishment.
Girls were aware of the hyper-surveillance, and here's a few examples that they mentioned. Erica said to me, "You know when they would do this stuff with the class, and my teacher would send me to the special ed place, so I couldn't do the stuff they were doing." Thus, Erica felt that the special ed place was a location for kids who were watched, deemed not capable, and punished by being sent there. Even if that isn't how the teachers imagined it, Erica associated special education with pedagogy and pathologization.
Another student, Sapphire, and I were talking about her struggles in school, beginning when her grandmother died. I asked, "Were there teachers, or anyone who asked what was going on with you?" And she replied, "No, because that's none of y'all's business. I'd be like, 'What the fuck you mean? Stay out of business,' because teachers, they're cop callers. But then when you need cops they're nowhere to be found."
Here Sapphire and Erica explicitly note how teachers were always watching to determine when multiply marginalized girls stepped out of line. This surveillance influenced pedagogy. Justine discussed various pedagogies when highlighting her favorite teachers. "They're like chill teachers. They don't try to bust you for no reason, and they don't call you out if you don't know something. They don't call you out, they let you decide if you want to answer a question or not. And my thing is I don't want to be put on blast, to answer a question I don't know. I want to be able to know it, and actually be able to answer it. I want them to be helpful."
Justine shared a real concern that she had often been caught previously not knowing the answer, and then had been humiliated. Justine named what McDermott, Goldman and Varenne noted: labels are not so much facts about specific children, as they are mirrors to what happens in classrooms run by the survival of the show-off, smartest logic of American education.
Moreover, I was struck by the word helpful here, and throughout the girls narratives. In 54 interviews, helpful was used 23 times by the girls. What was laced throughout the girls answer ism that many similarly did not find much of the pedagogy they've been subjected to effective, and so it was noteworthy when the teacher was helpful. From my observations and interviews with girls and teachers, I found that this non-helpful pedagogy was rooted in deficit, thinking about what disabled girls could not do, and how they're criminal identity thinking and behavior must be eradicated.
This non-helpful pedagogy rooted in surveillance was exemplified when Miss Landon and I were discussing supporting students with disabilities. She said, "Of course these kids need extra help, and I will give it to them. But they are also the manipulative, and will do anything to get out of work. So they run to the special education teacher, and she coddles them. And you know what? There's no special education in real life. You aren't are getting any accommodations or modifications, you just have to try harder."
Besides this statement simply being untrue, since many people need accommodations and modifications in real life. It also illustrates how in prisons, disability was being imagined as another thing to surveil, instead of being imagined as something teachers were supposed to support.
A third deliberating process was hyper-punishment, which I defined as a negative consequence in anticipation of wrong doing, or exaggeration of penalties. It had been repeatably shown that students of color are punished more harshly for the same behaviors. It has also been uncovered that when students of color commit to the same behaviors, a second infraction is viewed as more serious for students of color. Therefore, punishment can trigger the labeling and additional surveillance. This punishment is hyper then, because it can happen before a problem or behavior occurs, or it can be unnecessarily harsh in comparison with peers.
When we look at Ashley's education journey map, we see the top right corner where she says, "Taking care of everybody else when I should have been going to school." I asked what that meant. Ashley responded, "Like helping my siblings with food, showers, brushing teeth, getting ready for school. I would cook and clean because my mom was on bed rest from a car accident and back surgery. I missed so many days to help my brothers and sisters get ready. I had to go to grocery shopping, get everyone to school, go to my siblings teachers conferences, and the school just kept suspending me."
I said, "Well, do you feel like when you began getting suspended a lot more in eighth grade, did that have an effect on whether you wanted to go back to that school." "Yeah, I was unwanted," she said. "I don't want to go to school, because I had tried. In middle school, I was like, they'd done gave up on me. That's the way it felt. Like, how are you going to kick me out of school? If you guys had any idea what I go through at home, you wouldn't kick me out of school, especially when I'm trying to go."
Ashley was arguing that when she arrived late to her own school she would reprimand with lectures, detention or even suspension. The school response of punishing Ashley for truancy exacerbated problems, instead of alleviated them. Therefore, she was punished not just for truancy, but also for taking care of her family. Remember her mom at this point was experiencing this recovery from a car accident, so she was disabled in her own right. She needed this extra support, that the healthcare system wasn't providing, so Ashley was also stepping in for the healthcare system now.
Disabled girls of color are being surveilled, labeled and punished when they do not align with standards of normative white femininity, which further positions at the margins of schools. This moving is not only metaphoric, but also physical, as they become educated in classrooms further away from general education, such as alternative schools, suspension programs, credit recovery, GED, incarceration, and education. Where they lose access to high quality curriculum, practices and teachers.
Of course this is not to imply that general education is always high quality, nor that there are no high quality education settings outside the general education. Instead, the state acknowledged that removing children of color from geneal ed classrooms stigmatisms them as too difficult to teach, and increases their exposure to curriculum focused on remediation.
This discursive practice of punishment was then viewed in response to this student behavior. In most learning spaces, though certainly not all, these needs of schools and educators are centered, and the behavior of multiply-marginalized students of color, is judged on acquiescence. Said differently, schools, and due to pressure from administration, policies and society, teachers often want compliance. This is emphasizing youth prisons through socializing practices, point sheets, and constant monitoring for criminal identity, thinking and behavior.
Even responsiveness was situated within surveillance, I asked Miss Landon, one of these teachers, "Well how is this place gender responsive?" She responded, "Well, like the way things are designed are very much that way on purpose. For instance, even the way our dining Hall is set up; It's right next to the nurses station. That's done on purpose, it's not an accident. It's because girls tend to have more problems with eating disorders than males, so the nurse can watch their eating habits. She monitors them closely. We're also set up to have individual rooms, although they might be small, they're not bunked with other girls."
Thus gender responsiveness became defined by surveilling benign behaviors like eating, under the guise of care and rehabilitation. The teachers in school had no data that indicated prisoners had higher rates of eating disorders, they just believe girls were at risk, and so would monitor them closely. As Miss Landon also mentioned, all teachers and staff worked hard to defend girls form relationships with each other.
As I talked about there are many queer girls here, but there is also this weird fear, and excuse this language, but this is the language they use there ... about girls being gay for the stay. They were very worried about girls developing relationships with each other, and this commitment was really serious, an average of 20% of every staff meeting I attended was committed to detecting friendships that were getting too close for comfort.
Attempts at authentic relationships were disrupted by the ideational artifact of criminal thinking, and surveillance, and labeling behavior was about detecting their criminal identity in action. I want to add that this ideational artifact of criminal identity thinking and behavior was not a creation of the teachers themselves, and I'm not setting the blame for this artifact at their feet. What I hope my findings reflect is that most ideational artifacts, it was upheld by systemic and interpersonal discourse, and practices.
As someone who has formally worked in these places, as well as my data collection revealed, the ways these places were saturated with this discourse. Criminal identity, thinking and behavior was used by those in professional development, therapists who worked in behavior change system, and the legal system, like much deficit framing, and again, traction was used to justify any unwanted behavior. It became a way to rationalize why girls were incarcerated, why they needed to be taken away from their families, and why they had to have restrictive curriculum, pedagogy and behavior management.
It also became a way for adults themselves, to position any lack of achievement on the girls and their broken thinking. This ideational artifact of criminal identity rooted in racism and ableism, where disabled girls of color are imagined as having broken thinking hurts the girls, but it also hurts the adults in the system. Because it allowed them refusal to reflect, and shift their own practices.
Identifying the artifact provides an opportunity for teachers and teacher educators to intervene in systems of oppression, and change individual and collective practices. If I and other educators in these spaces had access to critical theoretical framing, like just cred, we would have been less influenced by the ideational artifact like criminal thinking
You may be thinking to yourself, "Well, that's terrible, but it's only in youth prisons. It's this very small population. But not public schools, right?" True, there aren't always strip searches, though I just gave you example of something that happened really recently that did show that there are strip searches, of both legal and illegal in public schools. But also, public schools have their own pedagogy of pathologization.
I'm going to shift now very quickly from this study in youth prisons, to a study that focuses on discipline disparities for girls of color. Because, as I mentioned, discipline and disparities are a hot spot in the school prison nexus. The broad methods was that six students and myself did multiple classroom observations, over 45 interviews and focus groups, with more than 50 girls of colors. The girls also ... I believe we have 23 education journey maps, and some participated in the Cartographers Clinic. Again I'm happy to provide you with all the specifics, if you really want to talk methods. I'm in.
But, debilitating processes were identified by girls in public schools, too. Specifically, this question was around what are the processes that are animating these statistical equities around girls of color being excluded in school. We asked both girls who had experienced discipline, but also girls who haven't, and would observed other kids experiencing discipline, specifically around girls of color.
Specifically, they identified classroom interactions that foreclosed meaningful access and inclusion, behavioral and academic supports. For example, educators required that girls of color engage in appropriate non-disrupting help-seeking behavior, such as raising their hand, or waiting their turn when requesting help. Our findings highlighted how despite engaging in these appropriate practices, girls of color did not receive academic support in meaningful ways. Students mentioned being ignored, receiving adverse responses, and rewards being withheld.
Abigail says, "Usually there are like ... like two different kinds, there's like two different people raising their hand. The teacher usually goes to the white kid first." Now this is one of those where I've had people be like, "Well, look at how she's fumbling around with her words, she's uncomfortable. Are you sure this wasn't coerced out of her?" What I would say to that is, "Well first of all, no."
But, specially because you know we have adults who can't speak about racial inequalities in classrooms. We know that Bonilla-Silva talks about other racial incoherence, that so many adults display. The fact that this 13-year-old girl is struggling to express that white children are getting opportunities when she's not, is not that big of a surprise when you really think about it.
Ignoring requests for help, or brushing them off, over-looking their appeals to participate in the activities in the classroom, the racial component of the ways teachers ignored students was brought up 40 times, by students in 45 interviews and focus groups. While the teachers ignored students of color in terms of academics, students of color were also watched carefully, or surveilled for poor behavior.
Another thing that they identified is adverse responses, when teachers responded to help-seeking behavior in an adverse and punitive way, telling girls to figure it out on their own. Some students described how they are shamed publicly if they do not understand the work, and requested help. Sophia said, "When you don't get it, and they get mad at you for not doing anything for the whole hour. When you don't even understand, because you've asked for help and they didn't help you."
Adverse response to student seeking academic help resulted in students not being able to get the classwork done. In both observations, and interviews, the interviews and focus groups, we found that this made multiply-marginalization girls of color less likely to ask for help in the future.
Withholding [inaudible 00:42:32], including withholding rewards while white peers got them, and withholding praise that the girls felt that they themselves deserved. So students explained how despite meeting academic expectations, they were not rewarded.
Jamilla says, "There's this thing that she does, where if you're doing your Bell Work, at the beginning of class, she has these token hot economy behavioral words, Cougar Bucks or whatever the thing is. She'll give them out to certain students and like, I'll be there doing bell work and she will seriously only give them out to two tables. They're obviously filled with just like white girls and some white boys, and she won't give them to other students, like ever. She stops, she puts them in her drawer. I watch her do it every day. She puts them in her drawer after only giving them to two tables."
Repeatedly girls of color identified how academic supports are withheld. Now withholding these academic supports, whether by ignoring girls seeking to engage actively in learning, or responding to her in adverse ways, demoralize students, disrupting meaningful learning, and disabled them in pernicious ways.
There are also enabling teacher patterns, which we define as processes and practices that girls of color identify as useful and conducive to engagement meaningful in learning. I'm not going to engage those, giving my short amount of time. But I want you to know that we followed what Laurence Lightfoot tells us to ask and look for what is good here, as well.
Ultimately, I argue that using what we've learned we can saturate the environment with enabling practices, and actively resist debilitating practices, and deficit multiply-marginalization artifacts. In other words using DisCrit pedagogy, we can redistribute ability to all members of the class room.
I know this chart is unreadable, the point is not to read it. Don't put that on my comments page, because I know it. The point is not to read it, the point is to see the breadth and the depth of the number of strategies, what I named strategies of resistance. When girls found creative ways to resist structural and impersonal violence, and get their needs met. I'm going to give you an example of this, when [Nashona 00:44:38] tells the story about this punishment she was on, and her peers help her fill in the details, so there's multiple students talking here.
Nashona says, "It took a long time, it took sitting in my room for five days, that was a rude awakening to me. I have to realize there's no point in arguing with staff, they're going to win, it's pointless." I said, "What is this punishment?" "It's called being boarded." I said, "What is being boarded like?" She said, "This time it's five days, it's where you have to stay in your room", and then [Amanti 00:45:05] jumps in, "Nashona does not like to be in a locked room."
Then [Niosha 00:45:08] starts laughing, "The whole punishment, Nash came out every five seconds," Nashona then jumps in laughing as well. "I popped out like, 'Is she here? I need to process. Is there food yet? I'm hungry, I'm hungry. Just anything to get out of this room.'" Niosha kept laughing and said, "Yeah, seconds later, 'Can I come do my hair?' Seconds later, 'Can I go to the bathroom?'"
Then Nashona turned serious, she says, "Yeah, I hate being in my room. I hate being in my locked room, because when I was little my mom used to lock me in the basement and not feed me. It reminds me of being in that room, and yes I have stuff in there, but eventually it gets boring, so I'm like, 'Let me out,'" Niosha says, "I support that," and other girls are snapping in support of her. She says, "Eventually I said what they wanted to hear, it was my fault and I'm the only one responsible for my behavior"
Nashona discussed what Myers and Wynn called incarceration discourse: one that emphasizes individual responsibility for behavior, while ignoring structural inequalities. However, this is not something internalized, it's clear by her discussion that she used incarceration discourse as a savvy way to avoid, or discontinue punishment. She was aware of the need to end the punishment, that was directly related to her experiences with abuse and neglect in life.
Though it was a concern that she may internalize this, her discussion above indicated that she was aware that she had painted a picture of herself as responsible for her behavior, in order to keep herself safe. Many of the girls took up this language when it suited them, without wholly internalizing the message of blame.
We have to remember that girls of color are more likely to be adjudicated for status offenses, those are offenses that are only illegal for kids under 18, such as drinking, smoking, running away. Girls of color are more likely to be adjudicated for those offenses than white girls, and most males. And they are punished longer for their original crime, by continually being sent back to incarceration for probation and parole violations. Therefore, once girls become a part of the school prison nexus, girls of color are more likely to remain entangled in the system.
DisCrit allowed me to recognize multiply-marginalized disabled girls of color were not deficient because of their intersectional identities of race, gender and disability, or their status as incarcerated juveniles. But instead, the girls developed skills in response to the continued experiences they have with structural and interpersonal violence.
In observations, I began applying a behavioral framework, I was trained as a behaviorist in a very anteceded, behavior consequence kind of way; that's how my education training was. I would watch what the girls did, what the results of their actions were, and what they gained and lost. However, as I began to talk with the girls after situations occurred, I realized there were consequences beyond the narrow ones the schools provided.
What I found was, girls were aware of how they felt, and knew how to access what they needed. Thus, these strategies of resistance were not simply coping skills, which signify your reaction to something. But instead, they were mediational tools, which changed the situation when engaged them. In other words, meditational tools, as Collins would say, creates possibilities for action that would not have existed otherwise. The girls used strategies of resistance, created their situations, that were more conducive to getting their needs met.
Before beginning this work, I knew from firsthand experience as an educator in youth prisons and public schools, that we often failed our students in our pedagogy, and that's me included. When I discovered the strategies of resistance students created and adapted to get their needs met, I realized we needed to make these central to any new pedagogical commitments.
DisCrit classroom ecology then, would be built on three essential interdependent constructs, rooted in DisCrit curriculum, pedagogy and solidarity. I'm going to be really clear, I'm building DisCrit classroom ecology off the work that's already being done, such as culturally sustaining pedagogy, ethnic studies, a lot of work that's being done around race in the classrooms.
However, I think the strategies of resistance multiply marginalized disabled girls of color crafted and employed, must be recognized for the savvity and ingenuity they displayed. Instead of watching, naming, and punishing the strategies of resistance, we must welcome, expect and discuss the way students resist larger systems they struggle against.
DisCrit classroom ecology would center disability and racist political identities, recognizing additional ways disable students of color are marginalized, and how they resist. When thinking of each construct in the classroom for the purposes of this conversation, Curriculum is the "what" as in what is taught. Pedagogy is the "how" as in how it is being taught, and solidarity is the "who" as in who is being centered. Again, I know I'm running low on time, so I'm only gonna focus on DisCrit solidarity.
In 1970, Paulo Freire wrote, "Solidarity requires that one enter in the situation of with whom one is solidary. True solidarity with the oppressed, means fighting at their side to transform the objective realities. The oppressor is in solidarity with the oppressed, only when he stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category, and sees them as a person who had been unjustly dealt with, Deprived of their voice, cheated in the sale of their labor. When he stops making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures, and risks an act of love. True solidarity is found only in the plenitude of this act of love, in its existentiality, and in its praxis."
In these projects, disabled girls of color consistently note the processes that prevented them from getting their academic or behavioral needs met, because of the ableism of assuming the youth of color had broken thinking. Solutions to dismantle roads to the school prison nexus are obviously better teacher training, but not simply in content matter. Teachers need to understand how entrenched racial inequities are systemic, and how they are interactional, perpetuated in their own classrooms and schools.
[Amonte 00:51:06] gives an example of solidarity when she states simply, "They wouldn't yell at me, because they wouldn't know that their own kid. They wouldn't think, 'Just because you're not my kid, I'm going to yell at you,' you know. They treated me like I was theirs, so they'll sit down and talk to me."
When I suggest that DisCrit solidarity is the "who", I mean who is centered in nurturing the classroom. Traditionally, teachers' and schools' needs are centered. Such as, "We need obedience, because I must get through this lesson plan that meets these standards." DisCrit solidarity rejects notions of managing individual or whole class behaviors, and these conversations are predicated on the notion of fixing students.
Discrit solidarity recognize student resistance as a natural part of existing in an education system, rooted in this pedagogy of pathologization. Recognition of resistance as part of DisCrit solidarity does not suggest that no actions in the classroom will need to be addressed. It is an explicit commitment to reframing the adult perceptions about why student behavior occurs, which impacts the way we respond.
Resistance in all its forms must be viewed as strengths, connected to the structural inequities students face, and channeled into action. If disability were conceptualized as a welcome political identity, instead of a thing to punish for failing to meet standards, the behavioral response would be something much more loving.