Disciples and Punishment: Conceptualizing Systems of Power in Contemporary Approaches to School Discipline

Suri, Priya
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The heightened prevalence of zero-tolerance approaches to student discipline over the past two decades is strongly correlated with expansion and growth of the school-to-prison pipeline, a phenomenon that describes the process by which students are pushed out of schools and subsequently funneled into juvenile and criminal justice systems. This ongoing trend, which contributed to the normalization of harsh forms of punishment within social spaces, has had a significantly disproportionate impact on minority populations – in particular, students of color, students with disabilities, and female students. To better understand the processes by which these students experience and are subjugated to such excessive forms of punishment and surveillance, this paper uncovers and analyzes the power dynamics present within zero tolerance approaches to school discipline. In order to frame discussions of both the history and the impacts of zero tolerance practices within an educational context, this thesis draws on the theoretical conceptions of discipline and docility established by French philosopher Michel Foucault in his renowned text Discipline and Punish. In addition to sourcing and interpreting types of power present within classroom and school-wide relationships through Foucault’s framework, this thesis also considers manifestations of power within alternatives to zero tolerance disciplinary practices as a way to demonstrate the potential efficacy of non-punitive approaches to school discipline.