Shuttered Schools in the Black Metropolis: Race, History, and Discourse on Chicago’s South Side
CitationEwing, Eve L. 2016. Shuttered Schools in the Black Metropolis: Race, History, and Discourse on Chicago’s South Side. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractIn 2013, the Chicago Public Schools shuttered 53 schools, citing budget limitations, building underutilization, and concerns about academic performance. Approximately 12,000 students were re-assigned to new schools; of those affected, 94% are low-income and 88% are African- American, leading many to level allegations of racism—a charge which district officials vehemently contest. In this study, I ask: what can disputes about the role of race in the Chicago school closings teach us about broader societal tensions regarding racism and urban school policy? I explore these questions by constructing a portrait of the South Side community of Bronzeville, an important site of African-American culture and history from the Great Migration to the present.
Across four chapters, I draw from varying methods and perspectives to build an understanding of school closures and their impact on the community. I use historical sociology to explore the history of racialized sociopolitical change in Bronzeville, and the relationship of public school policy to the rise and fall of public housing in the community. Using critical discourse analysis of hearings and meetings surrounding school closure, I compare community members’ and district officials’ opinions of race and racism and their role in the policy decision. I then present the narrative case of Dyett High School, which was slated for closure and later set to re-open after a hunger strike and vehement community protest. Finally, I present a theory of institutional mourning, a framework for understanding the emotional aftermath of school closure, developed from interviews with community members, parents, teachers, and students.
This study offers insight to Chicago stakeholders facing the post-closure landscape and will provoke a new set of questions for district leaders and community members across the country to consider as they evaluate the effectiveness of school closings as a policy. Further, the study models a framework for critically examining the popular conceptualization and social consequences of racism itself in order to enable more productive conversation about the role race plays in school closures and in debates about district policies more broadly.
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