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"Broken Retribution"

kconrad's picture

Referring to the “social contract” that offers quality education in exchange for unquestioned obedience, Noguera writes, “The repeated violations suggest that the students understand completely that the social contract underlying their education has been broken. By their actions, it appears they have decided to make the lives of adults and other students miserable as a way of obtaining retribution for a failed education” (117).  In reading this passage, I was compelled by two terms in particular: broken, and retribution. On my first reading, I wasn’t sure who Noguera meant to imply as the “breaker” of the contract - the students, or the school system. Given that the paragraph talks specifically about student violators, and the following sentence talks about active decisions to violate, it might seem that the students have made the initial breach of contract. As we talked about last week and read in The Achievement Gap and the Culture of Schooling, the social norms that schools value and aims to mold students into often conflict with the social norms of their students. Frutcher writers, “The culture of schooling’s denial of black reality produces patterns of black reaction that vary from a determination to triumph academically [...] to a rejection of, disengagement from, or rebellion against, school” (39). Schools’ refusal to acknowledge the incongruence in students’ realities and those demanded by the contract could lead students to rebel and break it. On the other hand, the greater context of Noguera’s argument makes me believe he places the school system as a more likely culprit of contract breach. We have seen that the often low expectations, neglect, and unfair treatment of educators toward students of color can be impetus for disobedience, and in those cases, it is the school that has failed to uphold their contract terms of quality education. As I continued reading, however, I came to believe that the problem may not actually be that the contract has been broken, but rather, that it was really only ever extended to a certain group of student. Since so many of the students do not have equal access to the rewards of education, “namely, acquisition of knowledge and skills and, ultimately, admission to college and access to good-paying jobs” (115), the promised outcomes of the contract, even if upheld both by the students and the schools, is already restricted from those with the greatest academic, social, economic, and emotional needs.

The disciplinary systems in place to deal with rebellion “can create a self-fulfilling prophecy and result in a cycle of behavior that can be difficult to break,” and as a result, students “deliberately engage in behavior that will ensure their educational failure” (116). I’m not sure, however, that this deliberate behavior is motivated by “retribution” as the above passage claims. Alternatively, Noguera offers, “as they begin to realize that the trajectory their education has placed them on is leading to nowhere, many simply lose the incentive to adhere to school norms” (116), but I also don’t believe the behavior is simply a lack of incentive. Instead, I might guess that the (sometimes) intentional rebellion (I recognize this is a problematic word, and narrows my argument) might serve as a means of expressing agency. By positioning students in these self-fulfilling prophecies, these cycles, these trajectories, schools deprive them of any sense of control or power over their own lives. Through retaliation (again, problematic and narrowing), students may be able to feel that they have made their own decisions and exercised their autonomy from the schools, rather than feeling like victims of the social contract, even if both situations often push the students into the same situations.