How Closing Schools Impacts Democracy

How Closing Schools Impacts Democracy

Sally NuamahSESP faculty member Sally Nuamah is the author of How Girls Achieve.

Chicago closed a record-high 50 public schools in 2013. But more will likely be permanently shuttered in the wake of a COVID-19 pandemic-related budget crisis, Northwestern University political scientist Sally Nuamah predicted in an interview with Citylab.

Additional school closures could cause “mobilization fatigue” for black and Latino families and ultimately influence the upcoming 2020 presidential election, says Nuamah, who explores these theories in her forthcoming book Closed for Democracy, which she recently completed.

Nuamah, assistant professor of human development and social policy at the School of Education and Social Policy, found that when school closures were proposed in Chicago, African Americans mobilized against these policies. They “basically become model citizens,” protesting, voting, and attending community meetings at higher rates than any other racial group, she told Citylab’s Brentin Mock.

Their efforts fighting school closures were in vain, however,  The disappointment and frustration can lead to “mobilization fatigue” which kicks in when people expend considerable political energy fighting to keep their schools open only to watch their elected officials cater to families who actually support closing schools, Nuamah says.

“In the long-term, because African Americans are most impacted by these policies but don't necessarily experience that democratic responsiveness they would expect, they end up becoming pretty disillusioned by the democratic process,” she said.

Unless there’s a significant shift in the pandemic before November, “we should expect decreased voting among African Americans” given that African Americans turned out in lower numbers in March right before the stay-in place order was issued and after schools were closed, Nuamah said. "Hopefully, the recent protest against racial injustice will change that."

Read the entire CityLab interview.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 6/4/20