Teaching Texas : race, disability, and the history of the school-to-prison pipeline
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This dissertation presents a genealogical excavation of the contemporary school-to-prison pipeline, arguing that today’s pipeline has deep roots in America’s historic inequities. The phrase “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to practices that criminalize rather than educate particular students: high-stakes testing, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, and police presence in schools. The pipeline disproportionately impacts students of color and students with disabilities. Furthermore, students of color are disproportionately labeled disabled, positioning students of color as doubly vulnerable to discretionary discipline. This dissertation calls for further attention to this intersection between race, disability, and punishment—and between critical disability studies and critical race studies—by examining the extent to which disability constitutes a racial project. This project employs the concept of debility to describe how populations may be marked as subject to injury or vulnerable to violence and argues for differentiating disability from debility in order to illuminate the extent to which disability constitutes a racial project. Both race and ability categories hinge on notions of fitness for and assimilability towards citizenship and both require constant renegotiation and reinforcement to maintain their salience. This dissertation focuses on Texas and begins by examining the solidification of education in the state, in conjunction with the eugenicist thought and scientific racism underlying both race and ability categories. The project further examines the diffuse set of responses that perpetuate the debilitation of non-white students in the face of challenges to racial and ability segregation. In particular the ongoing redefinition of special education categories that occurs concurrently with demise of legal racial segregation provides a mechanism for continuing the segregation of students of color. Schools’ explicit and implicit punishment of students provides a key mechanism for reinforcing and perpetuating ongoing debilitation. Debilitated students are disproportionately punished, and at times the punishment itself is disabling. Finally, this dissertation argues that the historical double debilitation of students of color undergirds today’s school-to-prison pipeline, which is made possible by the solidification of the contemporary prison industrial complex.