The Interrelationships of Politicization of School Shootings, Focal Concerns, and Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline Policies

The Interrelationships of Politicization of School Shootings, Focal Concerns, and Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline Policies

Denise D. Nation (Winston-Salem State University, USA), Dawn X. Henderson (Winston-Salem State University, USA) and Jack S. Monell (Winston-Salem State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9935-9.ch004
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School shootings have redefined perceptions and definitions of school violence, elevating incidences of misbehaviors and rule infractions to consistent violent threats. School shootings are rare but that important fact is lost in the debate and political rhetoric. What is also atypical are school shootings involving minority students and even more uncommon school shootings at minority schools. However, minority students have disproportionately experienced the latent effects of these policies. Few studies have offered systematic theoretical explanations for racial disciplinary disproportionality. This chapter outlines a theoretical argument using the “focal concerns” perspective to link the latent impact of the politicization of school shootings to continued racial disproportionality in school discipline. The discussion and analysis show the role of the politicization of school shootings has played in redefining and expanding the definition of school violence or school misbehaviors. Policy suggestions based in socio-political and psychological frameworks are also outlined.
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The Ideology Of Politicization

School related shootings tend to evoke strong public outcry and these events should. One shooting is too many but it is important to develop policies within the context of normalcy and not [outliers—random incidences] rare occurrences. The latter has driven faulty school disciplinary policies disguised as an effective response to school violence. Politicization is the combination of “constructionist” and “rhetorical” [activities]. Public opinion is important in the process of politicization. There are four steps in the politicization process—first, the public becomes aware of the problem usually by the media; the second step entails policy proposals are formulated; the third step entails various entities taking these proposals seriously and politicization reaches its final stage when these proposals are accepted by governmental institutions (Scheingold, 1991). Scheingold (1991) refers to this final stage as “the most advanced stage of politicization” (p. 31).

This process was clearly prominent in the redefinition of school infractions and the consequent punishment policies applied to these infractions or misbehaviors. Burns and Crawford (1999) referred to the social construction of school shootings as a moral panic evolving into public fear. The amplification of deviance was central in the cycle of moral panic and drove the public’s fear. The evolution of that public fear helped propel the final stage in the politicization of these shooting incidents. School shootings were then viewed as an ongoing problem and with that came an urgency to do something about the problem. School violence was now redefined as school shootings, reaching the most advanced stage of politicization.

Politicization of school shootings can be viewed within both the realm of the cycle of moral panic and Hellenistic rhetoric. Politicization is led by successful rhetors who are able to persuade people who are frightened about the state of the social order to accept some proposals for action which will restore and protect the social order. The political and social construction of the problem of school violence represents important component of the exercised strategy with omission being central to any Hellenistic politicized issue. Framing the issue using Hellenistic rhetoric coupled with the media’s consistent frenzied coverage, often proved to be a successful strategy in shaping public opinion—the goal of politicization.

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