Watching From Below: Black Student Engagement With Disciplinary Power at School

Janelle B Grant, Purdue University


Most scholars now believe that Black students in schools will only succeed if they exhibit certain character traits, such as grit, resilience, and optimism. However, Black students are punished during school at a higher rate due to the belief that Black students need to be “fixed.” There is much literature that measures the so-called helpful traits that successful Black students have. For example, there are hundreds of studies that look at “resilient” Black students, and those researchers disseminate evidence that calls for Black students to change their being. The understanding that well-behaved students do better in schools than “bad” Black students is a dominant idea that my study challenges. As a result of my study Black students’ knowledge and behaviors are viewed with a humanizing lens that appreciates how Black students engage with the social structure of school. It is emphasized that the process of school discipline reinforced through discourses limits inclusion of Black student’s identities in education; however, I assert that the process of school discipline is reinforced through discursive limits that restrict Blackness in real-life school settings. In addition, as schools reflect larger society, this dissertation also interrogates how Black people navigate systemic racism despite the inundation of social norms that favor whiteness. Using qualitative methodologies and critical theoretical approaches, I examine 1) racializing surveillance in education, 2) Black student resistance at a high school, and 3) racism’s larger effects on societal responses to anti-blackness. First, I use critical autoethnography to tell my story as a Black girl in school navigating racializing surveillance and my understandings of how to be a good person/student. Second, I reframe Black student resistance by engaging five Black high schoolers in congregation meetings, exploring their creative and necessary work confront racialized discipline at their school. Third, I use psychoanalytic theory to describe how a pedagogy of anti-blackness penetrates not just in schools, but also larger society. Furthermore, how a society (and schools as an organization within society) disciplines individuals is not neutral, and school discipline is unjust.




Masta, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Secondary education|Black studies|Social structure|Educational sociology

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