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Volume 28, Number 2
March/April 2012

School Culture and the Civic Empowerment Gap

From obedience to engagement


Point of ViewEvery morning as they entered the public urban middle school in which I taught in the late 1990s, students were greeted by name by Mrs. Farmer or Mr. Beeza. “Good morning, Keesha,” Mr. Beeza would say with a grin from his perch on the schoolhouse steps. “Good morning, DeQuin,” Mrs. Farmer would smile to another. “Glad to see you—but take off your hat, please.”

Once inside, our students lined up in front of our assistant principal. Holding a metal-detecting wand in his right hand, he would sweep it in front and back of each child before he allowed them to proceed down to the cafeteria. A number of the sixth-graders were tiny, barely 4’6” tall, and still obsessed with Pokemon cards and bathroom jokes. What did they think about as they were screened for weapons each day? What did my eighth-graders—many still on the cusp of puberty themselves—think? How did the experience shape their engagement with adults and peers or their sense of membership in the school community? In three years of teaching there, it never occurred to me to ask them.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    C. A. Flanagan, P. Cumsille, S. Gill, and L. S. Gallay. “School and Community Climates and Civic Commitments: Patterns for Ethnic Minority and Majority Students.” Journal of Educational Psychology 99, no. 2 (2007): 421–431.

    T. R. Sizer and N. F. Sizer. The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract. Boston: Beacon Press, 2009.

    D. W. Sue, A. I. Lin, G. C. Torino, C. M. Capodilupo, and D. P. Rivera. “Racial Micro­aggressions and Difficult Dialogues on Race in the Classroom.” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 15, no. 2 (2009): 183–190.