Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Professor David Menefee-Libey

Reader 2

Professor Eleanor Brown

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2017 Maya Kaul


The rise of “zero tolerance” discipline practices in US primary and secondary schools has become increasingly well documented by the media and empirical studies. Despite the extensive scholarship that has emerged from these conversations, many of these analyses are limited in their scope and do not connect the phenomena of zero tolerance in schools to the diverse, shifting forces at play within American politics and policy today. As such, the goal of this work is to synthesize ideas about zero tolerance across disciplines by integrating historical thought, philosophical frameworks of punishment, shifting policy goals within the US education system, the sociological constructions of “deviance” and “disorder” in the context of the US criminal justice system, and empirical data directly from a school district to develop particular policy recommendations accordingly. The primary research question of this analysis is: What are the effects of zero tolerance discipline policies on educational outcomes? To answer this question, Chicago Public Schools will be employed as a case study from which lessons for the nation at large will be drawn. Ultimately, this analysis ends up revealing the ways in which zero tolerance policies stem from much deeper forces at play between dominant and marginal groups, and what comes to be defined as “deviance” in relation to a socially constructed system of “order.”