Calvin Zimmermann: "Looking for Trouble: How Teachers’ Disciplinary Approaches Perpetuate Racism in Early Childhood"

Hybrid: In Person, 402 Social Sciences Building & via Zoom

Racial disproportionality in school discipline is a major educational problem. Official data show that Black boys are disciplined at the highest rates of any group. Scholars suggest that the “criminal” Black male image shapes teachers’ views and treatment of their Black male students as early as preschool. Yet the interactional mechanisms of racialized discipline are unclear, particularly in early childhood. This study uses ethnography to understand first-grade teachers’ disciplinary interactions with Black and White boys. The findings uncover teachers’ racialized disciplinary approaches via differential surveillance of, differential engagement with, and differential responses to noncompliance from Black and White boys as a key mechanism that produces unequal disciplinary experiences in early childhood education. I discuss the implications of these findings for the racial socialization of Black and White boys.


Calvin Zimmermann is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame. His current research examines how racial and gendered meanings shape children's social relationships in early childhood. His work contributes to race and intersectional scholarship that moves beyond examining inequalities among youth or adults, and instead demonstrates how inequalities manifest themselves early in the life course of individuals. Much of his work centers on Black children and aims to enhance our understanding of their school disciplinary experiences. He also works with schools to address these issues and create school contexts where Black children can thrive.