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Kenneth Noble

Ph.D. Candidate, Education
2016-2017 Rothman Doctoral Fellowship

Kenneth Noble, a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Education studying schools, society, and culture, used his 2016 Rothman Doctoral Fellowship to Travel to Tucson, Arizona and Cincinnati, Ohio to complete archival research relevant to his dissertation, “Patrolling the Hallways: The History of Police Presence in Urban Public Schools.”

Although school policing is often thought of as a contemporary issue, School-police partnerships have existed in the United States for many decades. Noble’s work focuses, in particular, on the “school-police partnerships” of the 1950s and 1960s, which represent the first time that concerns about student and community safety became manifest in law enforcement in schools. Noble uses case studies of schools in Tucson, Cincinnati, and Flint to examine how this police presence in schools and the policing of students evolved to become what it is today. He argues that this system emerged in the mid to late twentieth century as a response to real or perceived juvenile delinquency. His research explores whether the criminalizing and surveilling of students through some of the first school-police partnerships infringed on their rights and contributed to the phenomena described today as the “school-to-prison pipeline”.

These school districts prescribed to the popular reformist ideas—schools were important agents of change that could be used to address societal problems perceived by the dominant socio-cultural group, such as rising rates of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s and 1960s. Educators in the twentieth century sought to foster good citizenship amongst students in a rapidly changing society. They aimed to create these good citizens by teaching students to respect law enforcement, uphold the law, participate in the community, and become compliant law-abiding Americans. By bringing officers into schools and crafting relevant curriculum in collaboration with law enforcement, educators thought that they could catch delinquency early and intervene.

Projects such as the Cincinnati Police-Attitude Project of 1965-1968 aimed to change opinions of police amongst disenfranchised and minority populations. These less favorable impressions often stemmed from the history of police acting as an extension of institutional white supremacy. Educators and police thought that by familiarizing students with police and framing them as highly trained yet friendly necessities for the protection of democracy and law and order using curriculum, they could counter delinquency—a phenomena that they viewed as a product of youthful rebellion and race. In practice, the program operated as an indoctrination effort instead of a teaching effort based on critical thinking and inquiry; the curriculum left little room for personal experience and operated with a disconnect between the educators’ idealized image of police and the real experiences of students with law enforcement.

The police-school relationships reflect dominant society’s perception that marginalized populations were delinquent and in need of socialization. Noble’s work reveals that educators and law enforcement officers worked together to reduce juvenile delinquency but in ways that blamed students of color for urban unrest. Noble’s research reveals how some of society’s most important institutions—education and law enforcement—may end up harming the very students they are enlisted to help if they only talk at students instead of hearing them speak.