How do students and teachers understand the law when it comes to school discipline, employment discrimination, and free speech? When is the problem sitting on the principal’s desk a legal issue? And once someone believes his or her civil rights have been violated, what happens next?
These questions are fundamental to the lives of educators and students, and Boalt’s Professor Lauren Edelman ’86 and colleagues in California, New York and North Carolina have received a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to help find the answers.
Edelman, the Agnes Roddy Robb Professor of Law and Professor of Sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Society is working with Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, Calvin Morrill, chair of the sociology department at UC Irvine, and Karolyn Tyson, sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their project, “Law and the Dynamics of Everyday School Life,” examines how students, teachers, and administrators perceive the law and then use their legal rights.
“Rights don’t just jump out at you,” Edelman explained. “Most people don’t know about their rights or how to pursue them. Rights have to be mobilized to protect the intended beneficiaries.”
The multidisciplinary, multi-state project is surveying 12,000 students, 1200 teachers, and 100 administrators in 24 high schools in California, New York and North Carolina. In addition to surveys, the study involves innovative ethnographic research methods, in which graduate students are participating in the daily lives of the schools and learning from extended, close observation. Researchers hope to publish their findings and are planning to write a book when their work is completed.
Edelman, who joined the Boalt faculty in 1996, was the winner of a 2000 Guggenheim fellowship for her work on the formation of civil rights laws in the workplace. She served as President of the Law and Society Association in 2002-03 and has twice been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.