Scholar looks at inequities in Chicago's public schools
Race can affect a child’s experience in their schools, their communities and in the juvenile justice system, Carla Schedd, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, told students in a talk on Thursday.
Two questions are at the heart of Schedd’s research. First, what is the role of race in how youth experience and understand authority, discipline and punishment, especially in the context of their communities and schools? Second, how does that tie into their relationship with the juvenile justice system?
“Schools are spaces where the social world could be very different or much better,” said Schedd, “but [they] could also put people at great peril.”
She contrasted the security situation in more integrated secondary schools on Chicago’s North Side — Payton and Lincoln Park — with predominantly black ones on the South Side — Harper and Tilden. While security and surveillance are relatively unobtrusive at Payton, it is unavoidable at Harper, where pat-downs, for example, occur daily, she said.
According to 2014 statistics from The Chicago Tribune, 95.8 percent of Harper students come from low-income families, and 28.6 percent are homeless. Schedd stated that the first two years of high school prove trying for students who are already in a precarious situation, with the highest number of dropouts happening during the ninth and tenth grades. These students may come to school only to feel unsafe, especially if they are black or Latino, she said. This insecurity comes from other students but also from experiences with police officers.
“Much of the interest now in the questions of race and policing hinges on fatal encounters,” Schedd said. “If we’re thinking systematically,” she continued, there is more to it than that — there are also “the day-to-day encounters that we know are not random.” Those day-to-day encounters, she says, are not always on the record. They run the gamut from being told off to stopped-and-frisked, with black and Latino students being more disproportionately stopped and more psychologically affected by those encounters.
Schedd tied this into the “racial-spatial divide,” or the relationship between racial inequality and the neighborhoods people live in. This carries a special weight in Chicago’s public schooling system, where most schools — charter and selective enrollment excluded — are restricted to students living in their area. However, The New York Times reported in 2013 that around 100 Chicago public schools have been closed since 2001, most of them in low-income neighborhoods.
Altogether, these problems push students further down what Schedd called the “carceral continuum,” otherwise known as the school-to-prison pipeline. As zero tolerance policies criminalize smaller offenses, at-risk students become more isolated and alienated, and they are pushed more deeply into the criminal justice system, she said.
An assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at Columbia University, Schedd has written “Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice,” which was published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 2015. She has recently begun a new project on New York City youth’s interactions with the justice system.