Angel, a Black tenth-grader at a New York City public school, self-identifies as a nerd and likes to learn. But she’s troubled that her history classes leave out events like the genocide and dispossession of Indigenous people in the Americas, presenting a sugar-coated image of the United States that is at odds with her everyday experience. “The history I learned in school is simpler,” she says. “The world I live in is a lot more complex.”
Angel, like every student interviewed in Discipline Problems, has been identified by teachers as a “troublemaker,” a student whose behavior disrupts classroom norms and interferes with instruction. But her critiques of the curriculum she’s taught speak to her curiosity and insight, crucial foundations for understanding history. Like many students who have been marginalized by systemic racism in American schools, she exposes the shortcomings of her classrooms’ academic environments by challenging both the content and the methods of her education. All too often, these challenges are framed as “troublemaking,” and the students are disciplined for “acting out” instead of being rewarded for their intellectual engagement.
Tadashi Dozono, a professor of education and former high school social studies teacher, takes seriously the often-overlooked critiques that students of color who get labeled as troublemakers direct toward their high school history curriculum. He reinterprets “troublemaking,” usually cast as a behavioral deficit, as an intellectual asset and form of reasoning that challenges the “disciplining reason” of classrooms where whiteness is valued over the histories and knowledge of people of color. Dozono shows how what are traditionally framed as discipline problems can be seen through a different lens as responses to educational practices that marginalize non-white students. Discipline Problems reveals how students of color seek out alternate avenues for understanding their world and imagines a pedagogy that champions the curiosity, intellect, and knowledge of marginalized learners.
Tadashi Dozono is Assistant Professor of History/Social Science Education at California State University Channel Islands.