Commentary and Criticism about the National Education Association
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The School to Prison Pipeline: Just Punishment for Disruptive Students or Unfair Attack on People of Color?
“…our schools have been ‘prisonized’. Normal adolescent behavior—like … cursing a teacher – is criminalized as assault.”
Fania E. Davis
Interrupting the School to Prison Pipeline Through Restorative Justice
I found the above quote after following a link in NEA President Lily Eskelsen’s latest Blackboard post (October 24, 2017) entitled "We spend more to jail our kids than to educate them. It’s time we stop."
Well of course, cursing a teacher is "normal adolescent behavior." Wait, what???????
More on that later.....
WHAT IS THIS SCHOOL-PRISON PIPELINE?
Lily is, of course, referring to something called the school to prison pipeline.
The first time I became aware of this term was by way of an article on neaToday by Mary Ellen Flannery back in January of 2015 called The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Time to Shut it Down
The premise is that students who have disciplinary issues in school eventually end up in jail because schools follow zero-tolerance measures when addressing offensive behavior. Further reading on the subject led me to an article by Casey Quinlan which cited US Department of Education data indicating that the “Pipeline” may even start as early as preschool.
Even worse, the Center for American Progress says that this “Pipeline” most often affects people “of color” rather than people who don’t have any color. See the article Disparities in School Discipline Move Students of Color Toward Prison
Incidentally, does a Southern Italian with dark olive skin appear to be “of color” to a very fair skinned Irish person? Just wondering……
But I digress…….
EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT- FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE
Now, one of the hallmarks of an effective teacher is that he never has to kick a student out of his class. Good classroom management means that behavioral issues get handled as they happen and that potentially disruptive situations get diffused before they get out of hand.
But what about those students who, despite every attempt to prevent further escalation, still continue to disrupt the classroom, fight in the hallways, bring contraband to school (weapons, drugs), or violate other school rules?
MAYBE WE SHOULD CONSIDER THE GOOD KIDS FOR A CHANGE?
James Duran is quoted in Mary Ellen Flannery’s article saying that suspension of students “was a big cop-out…it just gave kids permission not to be in school.”
I get this. Suspended students get a free vacation for a couple of days. How is that a real punishment?
But does Duran look at it from the point of view of the good kids? Maybe these suspensions gave the good students who wanted to learn a break from the disruptions that were destroying the classroom learning environment when bad kids were there.
Flannery goes on to say that the suspended kids had “an interruption in learning [which] can be life altering.”
But does she have any sympathy for the good students who actually benefited by having the disrupting student out of the classroom? Maybe these good students were actually able to learn that day.
In fact, why didn’t Ms. Flannery get some quotes from students who are actually glad that disruptive kids are suspended for a couple of days so that they can finally learn in a proper educational environment? If she did some real unbiased research, she could probably get thousands of students to tell you this. I know my son constantly complains about how the bad kids in class ruin his learning experience.
From my experience, students like to know that there are rules in the classroom. They like to walk into a room where they feel safe and know that learning will occur without the constant interruptions from kids who don’t belong in a regular classroom. Again, does Ms. Flannery have any sympathy for them?
FACE THE FACTS – THERE ACTUALLY ARE BAD KIDS
Flannery says that a suspension is “life altering.”
It should be life altering.
It should mean so much to a student that he would step back and ask himself: “What am I doing with my life here? Why am I choosing to go down this path? Do I really want to be a part of the school to prison pipeline?” In essence, the suspension should be a wake-up call to that student telling him to stop screwing around, not only with his life but with all of the other students in the classroom whose education he is destroying.
Flannery does provide a handful of anecdotal stories of kids that were almost certainly treated unfairly by school administration. Fania E. Davis (see quote at start of the blog) from the Huffington Post does the same with her story about Cameron Simmons. We can all feel for these wrongly treated students and take outrage at how they were unfairly punished.
But to say that this applies to all school offenders is a huge stretch. The kids on the “Prison Pipeline” are serious, repeat offenders who don’t want to be in school and act accordingly. They are students who deal drugs in the playground, fight in the hallways, store weapons in their lockers, regularly disrupt the learning environment in the classroom, curse out the teachers, etc.
Here is a suggestion: How about we spend less time thinking and worrying about the kids who disrupt the learning process and more time on those students who are actually there to learn.
Crazy idea, I know.