School suspensions don't stop violence – they help students celebrate it

School suspensions don't stop violence – they help students celebrate it
Several girls in the study indicated that fighting gives a boost to their reputation. Credit: Chris Bourloton/

When school officials suspend students, the idea is to maintain a safe environment and deter violence and other problematic behavior on the school campus.

But when I interviewed 30 children in southeast Michigan who had been suspended from school, I learned that suspensions might actually be having the opposite effect.

That's because students use school suspensions strategically to earn respect and build a reputation for being tough. I made this finding – which will be published in the Journal of Crime and Justice – as part of my ongoing research into how and their parents view school discipline, school safety measures and the police.

To the students, I obtained permission from their parents. I also took a look at students' disciplinary records. All of the students I spoke with were black. I only spoke with 30 students because after a short while, the same themes began to emerge. I also interviewed 30 parents.

What the students and parents told me has implications not only for educators, parents and policymakers, but for the millions of students who are suspended in the U.S. each year. The implications are even more serious for black students, who represented 31 percent of all law enforcement referrals and arrests in the 2015-2016 school year, even though they only represented 15 percent of the school population.

Doesn't deter violence

In interview after interview, students told me that being suspended from school would not stop them from fighting in the future.

For example, a 9th-grade girl who got suspended from school five times for fighting said being suspended "probably makes it more likely" for her to fight because it will lead other students to test her.

"So if you push my buttons or press me the wrong way, I will end up fighting you and I told my mom this, and she said if you fight … OK … just let me know," the student said.

School suspensions don't stop violence – they help students celebrate it
Credit: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

A 10th-grade girl who has been suspended from school more than 30 times told me that being suspended made her seem "more tough and popular" and helped her establish friendships with other students.

"Because they'd be like 'well we can be friends because I know you have my back no matter what,'" the girl explained. "If they don't think you're tough enough they will bully you."

A 10th-grade boy who has been suspended 12 times also told me his popularity "went up" after being kicked out of school.

"People like people to get suspended," the boy said. "You get in trouble, 'Oh, you coming back, bro? What's up?' Everybody trying to talk to you when you come back."

In my interviews with parents, I found they often advised their children not to walk away from fights.

"The fantasy is that we believe we will only be hit once with a soft right paw and will be able to walk away to tell the authority and they come and resolve the problem," the father of a 10th-grade girl who has been suspended 15 times told me. "The reality is that you are either going to get hit to get knocked out or you are going to get hit and keep getting hit. You only get to walk away after somebody ass has been kicked."

Street code in effect

So what lurks behind the rationale of students who see being suspended as a way to get a rep, so to speak? For clues and answers to this question, I drew from sociologist Elijah Anderson's "Code of the Street." I wanted to see how the that Anderson found were embedded in street culture might influence violence in school.

The comments I got from the students show how the code of the street that Anderson describes in his book does not cease to operate once students pass through the schoolhouse door. Rather, the social norms that are embedded in street culture establish a code that regulates violence in public high schools.

‘School Suspensions Are an Adult Behavior,’ Rosemarie Allen’s TEDxMileHigh talk.

Anderson found that respect is difficult to obtain and easy to lose on the streets, and so people who live by this code believe respect must be continuously earned. Some of the students in my study got up to 30 out-of-school suspensions for their repeated involvement in fights, suggesting the same dynamics were at play as they sought to exhibit toughness and maintain respect.

Tough choices

This poses a serious dilemma for educators and policymakers who have a duty to maintain a safe school environment. On one hand, every school principal needs a reasonable deterrent that discourages violence and prioritizes safety. On the other hand, my findings show out-of-school suspension actually exacerbates physical violence in the school setting and sets up a competition for popularity based on perceived toughness and respect.

Given the widespread use of school suspension in America's schools, this is a dilemma that cannot be ignored. The most recent U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights report shows approximately 2.7 million children received a school suspension during the 2015 to 2016 . In light of what suspended students told me, one has to wonder how many of those millions of suspensions were actually caused by other suspensions.

The issue takes on an added layer of importance when you consider how U.S. education secretary Betsy DeVos recently decided to rescind an Obama-era policy that advised schools to address racial disparities in school discipline. Her argument was that school discipline is best left to schools. But evidence shows black children are suspended at disproportionately higher rates than their white counterparts.

The need for alternatives

My findings also show the need for a thorough review of the consequences associated with school suspension. Prior research has consistently shown the adverse effects associated with out-of-school , such as poor academic achievement, school dropout, and future incarceration.

So what should school leaders and policymakers do if suspensions are so problematic? Since research shows that conflicts typically originate in a child's neighborhood and carry over into the school setting, I think it would be wise for school leaders to consider establishing partnerships with violence prevention organizations such as Cure Violence and CeaseFire. Such organizations are often uniquely skilled at identifying the source of a conflict and effective at intervening before a violent altercation occurs. Violence prevention partnerships would help identify conflicts when they are still brewing in the streets – and potentially stop them before they take place in school.

School leaders can improve school culture if they involve students in the development of school discipline policies, reward students for positive behaviors and provide guidance on conflict resolution.

Regardless of what kind of preventive measure or remedy is pursued, it's important to include the voices of students in the way I have done in my study. There's simply no way to fully understand the root of violence or how to effectively deter it if students are shut out of the discussion.

Explore further

Children's race, not disability status, may predict more frequent suspension

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Jan 30, 2019
Students that have been suspended more than 5 times should not be allowed back into schools. They have demonstrated a lack of understanding of the problems with violence and their presence is a detriment to everyone else. If you want to hit people and get a reputation for violence, you can do so on the street, as you will end up between prison terms.

Jan 30, 2019
Problem students need to be separated from other students and placed in special schools. It was not that many years ago when this was commonplace but the liberal agenda has ended that and deprived students that really want to learn of the education that they deserve. That is why there is such a push for charter schools today.

Jan 30, 2019
Students, children, must be taught to handle their emotions, they need to learn on how to calm themselves, they need to know how most emotions can have a negative effect on daily activities, and that calming down offers great advantages in coping with problems. The most common training to handle emotions is to punish people for the consequences of negative emotions, and it is not working, obviously. Punishment creates more negative emotions, whereas meditation, relaxation and exercise help us to reduce stress, and promote positive emotions. That is why emotional development must be part of the goal of educational systems.

Jan 30, 2019
30 years of coddling does not seem to have helped the situation and I just don't think that sitting in a room full of candles and singing Kumbaya will solve the problem.

Jan 30, 2019
"School suspensions don't stop violence – they help students celebrate it"

-Thats right. When adults commit adult crimes they eventually are punished for them. So why cant kids who commit the same crimes - assault, theft, terroristic threats etc - be punished in much the same way?

Humans during the pleistocene began making babies at puberty and usually died in their 20s. They were adults. Adolescence is a fiction designed to reduce the birth rate by keeping people from reproducing during what has always been the most prolific period of their lives.

Not making adolescents suffer for their crimes adds to the fiction that they are children without the ability to take responsibility for their actions.

But evolution tells us that they always have been, until that ability was taken away from them artificially.

It also incidentally instills in them the lifelong notion that others are better suited to running their lives than they are. Like big govt for instance.


Jan 30, 2019
Adolescence might not be a new invention. Humans have always struggled with chronic overpopulation which is why tribalism has always been so pervasive in our social structures.

Many other animals have developed biological ways of limiting growth. Rabbit females in overcrowded warrens will absorb their fetuses. Infanticide is rife.

The notion that adolescents are children seems to be so visceral that it is perhaps biological. But we can look to our recent past, and to other contemporary cultures around the world, and understand that it is not an absolute. Like the tribal identity itself it can quite easily and rapidly be evoked either naturally or artificially.

And like most every other behavior of the tropical human primate, it must be directly related to reproduction and the perception of overcrowding.

We can also realize that religions have evolved methods of overriding this self-regulating biological tendency for the purpose of outgrowing and overwhelming.

Jan 30, 2019
" Infanticide is rife."

Well VA. is trying to encourage that by allowing "Abortion" up to 3 hours after birth. Why stop there. Parents should get a 30 day trial period and the have a retroactive abortion if desired. We are swirling down the drain.

Jan 30, 2019
If you do stuff like this in a corporate environment you get fired first time. Might help your street cred but it sure ain't helpin' your career.

Jan 31, 2019
Well VA is trying to encourage that by allowing "Abortion" up to 3 hours after birth. Why stop there. Parents should get a 30 day trial period
You bet. Proves that people will approve of anything if you give it the right name. Like 'womens health'. Or 'Final Solution'.

Late term ABORTION has always been prenatal infanticide but this is clearly murder.

-The gov even stated that if a baby survives birth, the doctor and mother could 'have a discussion' about what to do with it. Of course only if they agree on what 'non-viable' and/or 'malformed' means.

But make no mistake. Ever since hebrews in Jerusalem were casting their unwanted babies into the gehenna ravine and shouting 'let moloch have them!', infanticide has always been about overpop and the collective genetic health of the tribe.

Jan 31, 2019
We are fast approaching the time where we can fix defects in the womb, as with that chinese dr now under fire. This may be an attempt to force the issue by offering what is clearly a morally inferior alternative.

A related issue in the news

"New Oregon Bill Would Allow For In-Home Surveillance of Newborn Babies... Brown introduced Senate Bill 526 to the Oregon Legislative Assembly as part of her budget package. The budget allows Oregon Health Authority personnel to look into or "study home visiting by licensed health care providers." Lawmakers are calling SB 526 an "emergency measure."

-This is perhaps a precursor to screening potential mothers for their mental, physical, and emotional fitness, which a surprising few of us would actually agree is a very good thing.

Want to improve society? Make sure that babies are only born to women who are healthy, unaddicted, stable and mature enough to engage in the worlds most important profession.

Jan 31, 2019
""New Oregon Bill Would Allow For In-Home Surveillance of Newborn Babies..."

It is part of the progressive ideal of ceding all rights and freedoms to the soon to be One World Government. After all the government does not want "Its" children to be physically harmed or possibly programmed improperly.

Feb 01, 2019
The ability to fuck up the entire lifetime of another human being just because you couldn't stop drinking or smoking crack is not a RIGHT, it's a CRIME.

Women who cannot demonstrate that they are responsible enough to bring another life into this world without addicting it or giving it FAS, or otherwise crippling it and condemning it to a lifetime of misery, should not be allowed the opportunity to DO so.

This malfeasance is on the level of post natal abortion. It is a blind spot that we can and must correct.

That potential newborn is not a possession, it's a human being.

Feb 01, 2019 students, who represented 31 percent of all law enforcement referrals and arrests in the 2015-2016 school year, even though they only represented 15 percent of the school population.

But then they write:

But evidence shows black children are suspended at disproportionately higher rates than their white counterparts.

Is this what's meant by cognitive dissonance?

Feb 02, 2019
Instead of expecting blacks to adopt the values and customs of the majority, the liberals want them to remain a separate group and be accepted as such. It is now racist for a professor to expect a black student to read and write English with the same proficiency as a white student. The same goes for math. 70% of black babies are born to unwed mothers and yet the liberals wonder why there is so much black poverty.

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