Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Instructional Technology and Educational Studies

Major Professor

Handel Wright

Committee Members

Diana Moyer, Trena Paulus, Barbara Thayer-Bacon


My interest in schools’ zero tolerance policies as a method of discipline arose out of the manner in which my son’s behavior was singled out as troubling to his teacher. In addition, the fact that my daughter, despite her proclivity to socialize during classes has never been labeled by any of her teachers as troubling aroused my parental curiosity. I noted how teachers related differently to my son than they did to my daughter and discovered through my interest in this subject that African American males are being displaced from the educational system and routed to alternative schools or directly to juvenile facilities via zero tolerance polices.

For that reason, the purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the literature on zero tolerance as a disciplinary tool and educational policy and discern its racial implications in general and its implications for the education of Black male students in particular. The study was not limited to an analysis of zero tolerance policies for public schools, but also included an analysis of the history of discipline in American public schools, racialized discourses, politics of zero tolerance, and legislation pre-dating zero tolerance policies in public schools. Personal memories of my lived experiences are an important part of this thesis. Information collected since the policy was instituted shows that all children are potentially affected by this policy; however, statistical data supports the premise that the policy is being used at an alarming rate to push children of color out of the educational system, especially Black males.

The theoretical framework for this qualitative study was a hybrid of Cultural Studies and Critical Race Theory because it analyzed various discourses using theories from both cultural models. Using a Cultural Studies discourse, I was able to explore zero tolerance and the criminal association that has taken hostage of the discipline process related to children’s behavior in the social setting of the school. Critical Race Theory sanctioned an exploration of racial issues like the stigmas that history has placed on African American males that associates a life of criminality with the color of one’s skin.

This was intended to be a qualitative case study, but due to difficulties locating participants for the study, I decided on an approach that would allow analysis of discourses or written text. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) emerged as a viable method for analyzing written language or text within a given discourse. CDA fits well within the network of my chosen theoretical framework of Cultural Studies and Critical Race Theory. “Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance and inequality are enacted, reproduced and resisted by text and talk in the social political context” (Schiffrin, Tannen & Hamilton, 2001).

The analytical results from this study revealed that our lived experiences, social constructed teachings, memory modes, positions of power, religion, and economics all inform decisions we make, especially policy makers and those dominant society. Historical and racialized discourses inform our identity on a daily basis. Identity is not static and morphs (changes) depending on how we are situated at any given moment.

The five policies analyzed reveal how school districts interpret the law differently leading to misinterpreted language in zero tolerance policies that allows for subjective implementation based on the students’ gender and color of skin. Safety in schools is paramount for all parents. However, the findings of this study show that zero tolerance polices as interpreted and implemented is not an appropriate form of discipline and that our society should collectively work toward a system of discipline that is equitable and does not victimize students from particular groups.

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