51 pages 1 hour read

Monique W. Morris

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2016

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Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris was published in 2016. The nonfiction work studies the connections between education and the criminal justice system, arguing that American schools marginalize, criminalize, and ultimately push Black girls out of educational spaces and into confinement. To construct her argument, Morris relies on equal parts scholarly analysis and personal interviews; the composite narrative captures Black girls’ educational experiences in a manner both comprehensive and intimate. Pushout was adapted into a documentary of the same name by Monique W. Morris and Jacoba Atlas in 2019.

In her Introduction, Morris argues that the American education system pushes Black girls out of learning spaces by criminalizing their appearances and behavior and punishing them through biased applications of zero-tolerance policies. As a result of this systemic pushout phenomenon, Black girls are then forced into confined spaces (e.g., jails, detention facilities, house arrest, etc.). Morris terms this dynamic the “school-to-confinement pathway,” offering a revision of the popular term “school-to-prison pipeline” (12), which Morris believes is insufficient in properly describing Black girls’ experiences.

Another significant factor in the pushout of Black girls is what Morris refers to as “ghettoized opportunity,” where the education of Americans of certain classes (and often, races) are severely hindered by under-funded, poorly resourced, high-poverty schools. The stratification in the quality of education between the children of the “ghetto” versus wealthier children outside of these high-poverty areas reflects the failure of Brown v. Education to establish truly equal educational opportunities in the United States; this truth inordinately impacts Black Americans—particularly girls.

Popular culture plays a large role in forming dominant understandings of Black femininity. Television, movies, music, and memes have all historically worked together to both construct and reinforce harmful stereotypes whose racism and misogyny affect the everyday lives of Black girls—even in school. In Chapters 2 and 3, for example, Pushout analyzes stereotypes that were born out of the United States’ slavery era and seek to control Black femininity and Black girls’ behaviors. These stereotypes have been perpetuated through cultural and media objects in contemporary society, influencing the perspectives of educators and administrators. Morris asserts that cultural prejudices surrounding Black girls’ attitudes, behaviors, and sexuality actively influence how girls are viewed, treated, and punished in schools across the United States.

Pushout also analyzes how Black girls are educated once they are pushed out of public classrooms and into carceral schools. This particularly fruitful aspect of Morris’s research unveils the troubling reality that even once Black girls are forced into confinement, their education does not improve; it worsens. Juvenile court schools are characterized by weak curricula, poor teaching, and abusive disciplinary practices that worsen confined Black girls’ mental health (even exacerbating some girls’ pre-existent illnesses and traumas). Morris argues that carceral schools only fuel the pushout phenomenon instead of breaking it, destroying Black girls’ relationships with education and failing to give them the sufficient tools to later succeed on the outside.

The final portion of Pushout asserts practical, progressive changes that can be implemented to revolutionize American education and make schools a welcoming, supportive space for Black girls. Chapter 5, the Epilogue, and Morris’s two appendices create a sizable resource for educators, community leaders, and girls themselves to help navigate educational issues and promote change through collective grassroots efforts. Morris’s efforts to propose detailed solutions and provide extensive resources cement Pushout’s position as an active text inviting readers to engage its material to implement solutions in their own communities.

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