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Stealing an Education: On the Precariousness of Justice

by Clarence Joldersma & Lisa M. Perhamus - 2020

Background/Context: This article examines a 2011 court case in which an Ohio state court convicted and jailed a poor, single, Black mother of two school-aged children for “stealing an education.” Using a false address, the mother, Kelley Williams-Bolar, enrolled her daughters in a public school district that was more privileged and amply resourced than their home district in order to provide her children a “better education.” The court’s ruling and public opinion on this case (as illustrated through media) serve as the context of this article’s analysis.

Purpose: Employing Judith Butler’s concept of precarity, Jacques Derrida’s theory of justice to come, and Hannah Arendt’s and Walter Benjamin’s ideas about state violence, the article offers a conceptual framework of the precariousness of justice to analyze the implications of this case. Through the precariousness of justice framework, the article examines the ways that racial and class societal inequities manifest themselves through the judge’s juridical determination and journalistic expressions of public opinion. The purpose of this article is to explicate the intimate and structural connections between racism, classism, educational policy, and the U.S. court system.

Research Design: As a conceptual analysis, the article theoretically examines the Williams-Bolar court case as a demonstration of the ways in which the juridical apparatus of the state (the court system) and mainstream media (public opinion) divide people by race and class within inequitable societal structures. The article uses the theoretical framework of the precariousness of justice to examine the political implications of the court’s ruling on educational policy regarding school districting.

Conclusions: Findings include that school district enrollment boundaries create borders around people by race and class, and that these educational enrollment borders can lead to people “border-hopping” in an effort to equalize educational access. The court system plays a role in reifying race- and class-based educational boundaries and borders. The concluding analysis situates this case within the context of both state violence and hope.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 2, 2020, p. 1-24
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23034, Date Accessed: 9/23/2021 7:09:18 PM

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About the Author
  • Clarence Joldersma
    Calvin College
    E-mail Author
    CLARENCE W. JOLDERSMA is Professor of Education at Calvin College. His research interests include the intersections of philosophy of education with neuroscience, environmental ethics, Levinas studies, and social justice. Recent publications include “Earth Juts into World: An Earth Ethics for Philosophy of Education” in Educational Theory and “Philosophical Questions and Opportunities at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Education, and Research” in the International Handbook of Philosophy of Education.
  • Lisa Perhamus
    Grand Valley State University
    E-mail Author
    LISA M. PERHAMUS is Associate Professor of Educational Foundations at Grand Valley State University. Her qualitative research asks questions about the human experience of oppression across multiple contexts. Her research includes how young children, their families and community members create emotional and material conditions of resiliency. Recent publications includes “Interpellating dispossession: Distributions of vulnerability and the politics of grieving in the precarious mattering of lives” in Philosophical Studies in Education and “’But your body would rather have this…’: Conceptualizing health through kinesthetic experience” in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies.
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