The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


Public schools are supposed to be the foundation for American students’ civic education. Students do not only gain this education through the curriculum but also through extra-curricular political and legal socialization occurring in schools. Large metropolitan school districts face a myriad of serious challenges, including inadequate funding low literacy, high dropout rates, teen pregnancy, and legitimate school safety concerns. Instead of being educated in the manners of civility, students are treated as threats to public safety the minute they walk through the metal detector at the schoolhouse door. Citizen education devolves into ghetto education when schools adopt a prison-like culture. The socialization that occurs in these schools criminalizes youth by normalizing restrictive means of social control, which ill prepares children for active and engaged citizenship. The constant suspicion with which students are regarded under the current paradigm pushes them into a defensive posture that hinders their ability to become active and engaged citizens of their community and nation. Youth salvage their dignity by plugging into an oppositional culture born in despair and steeped in violence, decreasing the legitimacy of the rule of law, and feeding into the school-to-prison pipeline. The disciplinary policies of America’s urban public schools, where children are viewed with suspicion and treated like threats, create a self-fulfilling prophecy—when students are treated as threats to society, they become threats to society. There need to be doctrinal and policy changes to how schools conduct searches and seizures, which will help counter the trend of increasing youth criminalization, by using the negative Fourth Amendment right as a tool for democratic socialization and positive youth development. Probable cause is a more developmentally appropriate standard for searches since it is a clearly defined, workable standard that protects against arbitrariness and the perception of arbitrariness that students can comprehend.

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