Contested Geographies of School Segregation and the In/security Paradox

Authors: Symon James-Wilson*, University of Toronto
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Social Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: Critical Geographies of Education, Urban Geography, Social Geography, Mobility Studies, Black Geographies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8211, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Since their earliest conceptions, public education systems have been essential to the creation of opportunities for upward social, political, and economic mobility in the United States. Public schools have been decisive institutional and interpersonal spaces for shaping nationalist (and alternative) notions of democracy, freedom, and choice. However, the provisioning of these promised mobilities, freedoms, and choices has, and continues to be, highly inequitable. While on the one hand public schools act as government sponsored agencies of social welfare and protection, they also extend the very intergenerational cycles of socio-cultural exclusion, political marginalization, and economic insecurity that they claim to remedy, with particularly detrimental consequences for racialized and low-income students. As racial and socioeconomic segregation continues to intensify across the United States, this paper offers a timely investigation of the ways in which the in/security paradox operates within public educational spaces' changing geographies of social welfare.
The following analysis turns to Rochester, NY’s Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program (USITP), the oldest voluntary school desegregation program in the US, as a case study of how uneven urban and suburban geographies of education position public schools as contested sites of both: social welfare and social control; security and insecurity; and mobility and confinement. Drawing on interviews and focus groups with former USITP participants, this paper offers insights into public education systems' multiple roles in individual and collective struggles for socio-spatial justice, self-determination, and more transformative twenty-first century urbanisms.

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