Suspensions and expulsions are normal parts of discipline in the American school system, occurring almost as frequently as “timeouts.” In his new book “Suspended: Punishment, Violence, and the Failure of School Safety,” Dr. Charles Bell interviewed more than 150 parents and school affiliates in and around Detroit. He says suspensions and expulsions don’t help children learn, but they do further criminalize students already victimized by the school-to-prison pipeline.
“We need a national discussion about school suspension … We have a culture of punishment that’s so deeply rooted in American schools that many principals won’t even consider other options.” –Dr. Charles Bell, Illinois State University
Listen: American schools’ harmful dependence on suspensions and expulsions as discipline.
Dr. Charles Bell is an assistant professor at Illinois State University and author of “Suspended: Punishment, Violence, and the Failure of School Safety.” Bell says many students he interviewed received suspensions for minor offenses or behavioral misinterpretations. “We need a national discussion about school suspension,” he says. “We have a culture of punishment that’s so deeply rooted in American schools that many principals won’t even consider other options.”
Because Black students are disproportionately targeted by suspensions and expulsions, Bell says schools are essentially re-segregating themselves. “Many of the parents and students that I talked to refer to schools as anti-Black institutions,” Bell explains. “For many students, they tell me that ‘I’m in a lose-lose situation as soon as I walk into the school.’”
He proposes restorative practices, like funding more school social workers instead of security guards, to give students who misbehave a chance to redeem themselves. “Once we get to know children … we understand that these are not bad children. … They’re living in an environment that has been politically neglected,” says Bell. “They’re living in tough environments. And it’s important that we hear them … and give them resources.”