Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 2020 Issue »

    “Problem Children” and “Children with Problems”

    Discipline and Innocence in a Gentrifying Elementary School

    Alexandra Freidus
    This article examines the ways Hazel, a white girl entering kindergarten, became known as a child with a problem rather than a problem child in her gentrifying school. Building on a year of classroom observations and interviews with students, school staff, and parents, author Alexandra Freidus identifies the role of racialized discourses related to disposition, medicalization, family, and community in shaping Hazel’s reputation and contrasts Hazel’s reputation with that of Marquise, a Black boy in her class. Hazel’s and Marquise’s storylines teach us that to fully understand and address the differences in how Black and white children are disciplined, we need to look closely at the allowances and affordances we make for some students, as well as how we disproportionately punish others. By examining the ways educators in a gentrifying school construct white innocence and Black culpability, this study illustrates the relational nature of the “school discipline gap” and helps us understand how and why some children are disproportionately subject to surveillance and exclusion and others are not.

    Click here to access this article.
    Alexandra Freidus (https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4452-3247) is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Management, and Policy at Seton Hall University. She uses qualitative methods to ask what roles educators, policy makers, and young people play in sustaining and interrupting racialized patterns in K–12 schools. Previously she taught, led professional development, and supported reform efforts in New York City and Bay Area schools. Freidus’s recent publications include “Modes of Belonging: Debating School Demographics in Gentrifying New York,” American Educational Research Journal; “‘I Didn’t Have a Lesson’: Politics and Pedagogy in a Diversifying Middle School,” Teachers College Record; and “‘A Great School Benefits Us All’: Advantaged Parents and the Gentrification of an Urban Public School,” Urban Education.
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