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‘The Great unEqualizer’: School Discipline Thwarts Social Mobility and Threatens Civil Rights for Low-Income Students of Color

Benjamin L. Thornton (August, 2023)


Education in America is glorified as the ultimate equalizer, but is falling devastatingly short of this ideal. Rather than helping students exercise social mobility, the school-to-prison pipeline and mass incarceration have molded schools into institutions of confinement that thwart such vertical movement. Racial and socioeconomic disparities lie at the heart of the problem: low-income students of color are less likely to experience schools as institutions of social mobility and are more likely to experience them as systems of confinement. Moreover, the school-to-prison pipeline increases the likelihood that vulnerable American youth–particularly low-income students of color–will forfeit certain civil rights and a sense of personal security once they reach adulthood.

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