“Does That Make Me the Police?”: Studying Toward Abolitionist Teacher Praxis

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“Does That Make Me the Police?”: Studying Toward Abolitionist Teacher Praxis

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In their scholarship on the connections between schools and prisons, education researchers have recently taken up the theoretical frameworks of abolition and abolitionist teaching, but have yet to conduct studies with abolitionist teachers. Drawing inspiration from praxis-oriented, critical ethnographic, and participatory research, as well as the long tradition of study groups in grassroots revolutionary struggles, this qualitative research takes up abolitionist teacher praxis, utilizing a study group with K-12 teachers to explore how they engage with abolitionist theory and how abolitionist theory informs their thinking and practice.The question driving this research is, how do abolitionist teachers think about abolition as it relates to their work as teachers? I recruited three teachers who were self-described abolitionists working in K-12 public schools in the Twin Cities area to participate in a study group focused on police and prison abolition. During eight group study sessions and two interviews with each participant, we discussed shared readings and talked about how abolitionist ideas informed our thinking about schools and our practice as teachers. I find that participants wanted to create a culture of community in their schools and classrooms, but felt unsure of how they could teach without replicating policing. To make sense of this dilemma, I take up abolitionist theorizing on policing. An understanding of policing as a form of power aimed at the fabrication of capitalist social order helps explain why policing and community are antithetical and why schools are contradictory spaces. I argue that when teachers work to build a communal social order, they are not doing the work of policing. I also find that participants felt a tension between teacher authority and classroom community. I argue that when teachers draw on competent rather than coercive authority, and when they emphasize relationships over rules, they help build, rather than contradict, classroom community.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2023. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Timothy Lensmire. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 157 pages.

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Jefferson, Noah. (2023). “Does That Make Me the Police?”: Studying Toward Abolitionist Teacher Praxis. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/258762.

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