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Discipline of African Americans in School


The issue of disparities has been a long discussed and debated problem for many years. The impact of disparities is not only felt in the general society but also in the schools. Discipline administration is one of the fields in the schools where the issues of disparities have the highest prevalence. It has been noted that regardless of the type of disciplinary action or level of school poverty or public school attended, the disparities are always consistent (Loveless, 2018). Many studies have been conducted by various people and agencies to establish how the issue of disproportionate discipline is reflected in various schools.

Hackett (2018) reports a study that was published by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office which examined the most recent available data for national civil rights from the Department of Education for the years 2013 and 2014. From this study that was conducted in five different district schools, Hackett (2018) reports that in overall a large percentage of students are whites, but the ratio of black students who are suspended is higher than that of black students.

Timsit (2018) affirms this claims by reporting that 15% of all students in public schools in the United States are black students, but according to 2015-2016 academic year, 31% of the students that were arrested by police officers in relation to school indiscipline cases were black students.

The above statistics imply that the people who are disciplined more often are the black students and in many cases, they always receive harsh discipline as compared to their white peers. For instance, (Loveless, 2018) points out that black students are suspended and expelled from schools at a rate that is three times more than that of white students.

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Judging from these statistics, it can’t be argued that black students are the most indiscipline students but the blame goes to disproportionate punishments that these students receive for the same actions of indiscipline. Therefore, this is an important matter because the issue of disparities in discipline administration in schools is not right and has sparked many reactions among the people.

This paper will explain the issue of disproportionate discipline among K-12 students using the General Strain Theory. First, a summary of the General Strain Theory will be explained. Secondly, the General Strain Theory will be used to analyze the disproportionate discipline among K-12 students. Thirdly a recommendation of the problem that will be presented.

Summary of General Strain Theory

The general strain theory is a theory that refers to when some people react to various types of stressors that people experience by resorting to engage in criminal activities. The general strain theory is a theory that has been in use for a long time since its introduction by Robert Merton. The general strain theory has been used in the field of criminology for many years to explain the behaviors that lead people into committing criminal activities. However, this theory didn’t receive much approval scholars until 1985 when the theory was revised by Agnew (Brezina, Cullen & Wilcox, 2010). Since then, the theory has taken center stage in explaining the various criminological phenomenon.

The initial version of the strain theory emphasized on blockage of a person’s ability to achieve some positively valued goals. The strain theory was criticized mainly for failing to discretely explain the cause for crime and delinquency in situations where a person has not been blocked to achieve his/her positively valued goals. Therefore, Agnew modified the theory and introduced other strains to make the theory more comprehensive and explain why other people resort to crime and delinquency even though they are not trying to achieve monetary success and other goals (Brezina, Cullen & Wilcox, 2010). The primary three types of strain as described by Agnew are (1) strain as the actual or anticipated failure to achieve positively valued goals, (2) strain as the removal of positively valued stimuli from the individual and (3) strain as the actual or anticipated presentation of negatively valued stimuli (Agnew, 2014).

Agnew argued that the three strains often lead to negative emotions such as despair, depression, frustration, and anger. The negative emotions created on a person may drive a person to look for corrective action and a person in such a state would probably resort to crime and delinquency. The general strain theory is therefore appropriate for explaining how disproportionate discipline among K-12 students in the United States could drive them to engage in criminal activities. Therefore using the above strains suggested by Agnew, the strains that African-American K-12 students experience are explained in the following section.

How GST Explain Strains of African-American K-12 Students

The core argument of the general strain theory is that there are various strains that make a person engage in criminal activities or delinquency. As outlined above, there are three basic categories that various human stressors fall into regardless of the situation, environment, social class, race or age. Disproportionate discipline among K-12 students, as seen in the introductory section, affects mostly the students of color and especially African-American students. This disparity in administering discipline among the students creates negative emotions to the affected students. There are many ways discipline can be administered to a student but id the harsh punishment are mostly directed towards only a particular group of students then the targeted may respond through crime. Therefore, the general strain theory explains how disproportionate discipline may make African-American K-12 students engage in criminal activities.

Some of the strains that African-American K-12 students experience in school are; (1) strain as the actual or anticipated failure to achieve positively valued goals, (2) strain as the removal of positively valued stimuli from the individual. These two strains affect most of the students who receive extreme discipline measures in the schools. The first strain, failure to achieve positively valued goals, greatly affects the life of a student. Every student goes to school every day because they have positively goals that they hope to achieve in the future. Some goals include having a good career in the future or following a passion.

In most cases, the goals that students set and look forward to achieving whether within a short period of time or sometime in the future depend on education. Therefore acquiring an education is very important for all students as they pursue their goals. However, major indiscipline cases could lead to anticipated or actual failure by students regardless of race or gender to achieve their planned positively valued goals. When a student is genuinely disciplined by means of suspension or expulsion, the student may look for legit alternative ways of achieving some of their goals. But in the cases where students are disproportionately disciplined for the same kind of mistake or behavior, the response will not be the same. As discussed earlier, African-American students receive the harshest form of punishments as compared to their white counterparts.

Harsh punishments in school perspectives are suspensions and expulsion from schools something that will affect the student’s ability to pursue their goals or completely deny the student a chance to follow the right path to achieve their goals. As a result, the student may be driven by negative emotions such as despair, depression, frustration, and anger and will seek to achieve their goals by engaging in criminal activities and delinquency. Therefore, the disproportionate discipline that makes the African-American K-12 students to receive higher rates of harsh punishments may lead to students being expelled from school which can affect their ability to complete schools. Inability to complete school means that they can’t achieve their academic goals of getting a career and making money out of it and thus will resort to deviant behaviors such as crime and delinquency to make a living.

On the other hand, the second strain, removal of positively valued stimuli from an individual is another strain resulting from the disproportionate discipline of K-12 students. As discussed before, there are many forms of punishments that students can receive for their indiscipline actions or behaviors. There are the light punishments that do not affect a student’s school life while there are those extreme punishments that will affect a student’s school life. The extreme punishments such as suspension or expulsion are the kind of punishments that most black students sometimes receive for simple mistakes or indiscipline behaviors. These punishments keep a student out of his/her school for a while in case of suspension and permanently in case of expulsion.

A student who receives an extreme punishment may have accidentally or intentionally involved him/herself in indiscipline activities in school, but he/she loves and enjoys being in school. Therefore, keeping the student away from school that he/she enjoys means that a positively valued stimulus has been removed from the student. This may lead to despair, stress, anger, depression and/or frustrations. To cope with their new problems, they may end up engaging in criminal activities or delinquency. Therefore, since it is clear that African-American students are the ones who often receive extreme punishments, they are also the ones that mostly feel the strain of removing positively valued stimuli which is being kept away from schools. Eventually, these people might decide to engage in criminal behaviors which explains why most blacks are found on the wrong sides of the laws.

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Discipline of African Americans in School. (2021, Apr 03). Retrieved from

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