School Wreckers: A History of Destruction in American Education
Campbell Scribner

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Maryland, College Park

Primary Discipline

History of Education
Vandalism has always plagued American schools. Property destruction cuts across lines of class and race; it afflicts urban, suburban, and rural areas; and it is as often perpetuated by adults as by children. School Wreckers uses vandalism as a lens into the lived experience of education, from the colonial era to the present. Examining bathroom graffiti, broken windows, and arson attacks, its goal is to manifest in physical terms the inequalities and power struggles underlying educational policy, to present a countervailing and (in multiple senses of the word) graphic history of schooling. The study draws from philosophy, criminology, and developmental psychology to offer new insights into the meanings that adults have assigned to vandalism, but, as importantly, it foregrounds children’s voices, which rarely appear in the historical record. By analyzing physical artifacts as well as archival sources, pairing adult reactions with the damage that prompted them, School Wreckers allows readers to see the complexities of education through the eyes of its often resistant subjects, prompting broader reflection on the status of schools as community and custodial institutions.
About Campbell Scribner
Campbell F. Scribner is an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching & Learning, Policy & Leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he offers courses in the history and philosophy of education as well as educational policy. His primary area of research is the history of school governance and curricular reform. His first book, The Fight for Local Control: Schools, Suburbs, and American Democracy (Cornell University Press, 2016), examines school district politics across the twentieth century, with attention to desegregation, funding, professionalization, and curriculum. Other articles have appeared in the American Journal of Education and History of Education Quarterly. Scribner holds a B.A. in history from Haverford College, and a Ph.D. in history and educational policy from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is a parent and supporter of public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

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