Tuesday, June 5, 2012

School-to-Prison-to-School Pipeline

A United States cultural ideological infactuation with punishment permeates through our public schools crippling students ability to critically think outside of the box. Instead walls are built within our institutions to contain and detain knowledge….literally.
Dr.  Kaia Stern, Professor and Director of the Prison Studies Program at Harvard University states, “there is no more pressing human rights issue in the United States , no more urgent spiritual crossroads or threat to our democracy than the current punishment crisis”
                                                      School-to-Prison-to-School Pipeline
In anywhere USA, a child is being actively engaged in his/her classroom. Rules and boundaries are equitably established based on discussion and compromised between students and teacher. The ideas, concerns and inquiries expressed by the students are uplifted and critically analyzed, dissected, and carefully considered by peers and instructors. Wrong answers are graded as a learning experience and corrected through self-examination and further, deeper analysis of contextual meaning. A student’s educational excellence is perpetuated through school and community commitment, encouragement, and involvement. In anywhere USA educational excellence is an inherent attribute that is acknowledged, cherished and consistently developed and nurtured in every child; a child’s character and personality is encouraged in his/her journey of educational achievement. In anywhere USA a child is a human respected for his/her capabilities, social and human capital and regarded as an asset to our nation’s preservation and cultural growth. In anywhere USA, education is the journey to communal acceptance, understanding and knowledge as well as, personal development and discovery.

But that is not our story.

In everywhere USA, children in public education schools are disengaged in their classrooms. There are no rules that have been agreed upon in a manner of discussion and mutual respect. Rules and curriculum are one in the same. They are dictated and drilled into a child’s head. Children are set upon predetermined pathways according to their race, socioeconomic status and gender. The availability of opportunity for a child to succeed and develop skills for critical and comprehensive learning rests upon the ideals of those in power who deem and define who is to be successful, who is to passed through and who is to fail. In everywhere USA a child is not celebrated for his/her inquisitiveness, wonder, and childlike characteristics but instead chastised for questioning, conditioned to obey, and molded to fill a tradition that is anything my extraordinary but everything standard. In everywhere USA our children, especially our African American and Latino children have become customary assets not to sustain a nation of excellence but to preserve a nation of traditional and historical white patriarchal power. Our schools in everywhere USA are failing our children to enhance their knowledge and capabilities and instead recycling them through a vicious system based on a power structure founded by racist, prejudicial, and unequal ideals and practices.

Within this paper I will examine the deep-rooted and historical practices and traditions of racism that are entrenched and perpetuated through our society into our American public education system that is designed to set our nation’s children up for failure. I will examine through historical perceptions of conditional thinking and pervasive systematic sanctioned prejudice and unequal treatment how our nation has developed a misconception of social reality that those children who are failing are characteristically bound to underachieve based on their race. I will integrate my discipline of criminal and community justice studies to demonstrate how our schools have increasingly become prison mill factories that more often than not, prepare our children for physical, emotional, mental and intellectual incarceration.

Upon highlighting systematic approaches that have failed and continue to fail our children and lead them through a pipeline septic with low expectations of academic excellence and high expectations of preconceived notions of mediocrity and delinquency, I will expose the great fallacy we are conditioned to accept as truth; that children of color are more delinquent, less engage to learn or understand critical or comprehensive concepts. This paper will examine why the very same children we have condoned to failure, labeled and stigmatized delinquent and criminal, and neglect in American primary public education have the potential to become and have become some of the brightest, motivated, and curious students in secondary education, ironically behind bars.
Part I
If we intend to learn how the injustices of color have permeated throughout our society into the classrooms, curriculum, and teaching mechanics of our American public schools then it is imperative that we assess the critical foundations of racism our country was built upon. Making sense of ones’ current circumstance and making preparations for ones’ future requires a critical recognition and growth from ones’ past. Unfortunately,  in American society we have become accustomed to convincing ourselves that our history has changed when in stark reality, though America has been through pockets of transformation, the predominate underlying blueprint of our structure is prejudicial and racist and has stayed the same.
            Unequal distributed resources combined with achievement gaps and opportunity gaps have been constant from American conception. A brief timeline of segregation in U.S. Public Education will emphasize the extent of how deeply rooted racism is within the nation’s biggest institutional system; it’s schools. The following brief timeline of segregation in U.S Public Education is a direct correlation to the nation’s devastatingly harmful, racist, and unjust “black codes” or “slave codes” and Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965. These laws originated from “black codes” or “slave codes” that sprouted up in the late 19th century after Reconstruction and lasted until the 1960s. These “codes” and subsequent laws mandated de jure segregation in all public facilities imposing inferior treatment and economic, educational, and social disadvantages for African Americans and other minority groups and persons of color (Blackcode). These laws did not simply criminalize slave behavior, it criminalized blackness itself.

1779  Thomas Jefferson proposes a two-track educational system, with different tracks, in his words, for “the laboring and the learned.” Scholarship would allow a very few of the laboring class to advance, Jefferson says, by “raking a few geniuses from the rubbish.”
1830s  Most southern states have “slave codes,” making it illegal to teach Blacks to read or write. Thus, roughly five percent of the slave population is literate at the time of the Civil War.
1859  The Chinese are excluded from San Francisco public schools. In 1885 a family sues the school board to enroll their Chinese daughter in a public school. San Francisco responds by building a new segregated “Oriental School.” It is not until 1905 that the U.S. Supreme Court requires California to extend public education to the children of Chinese immigrants.
1864  Congress makes it illegal for Native Americans to be taught in their native languages. Native children as young as four years old are taken from their parents and sent to Bureau of Indian Affairs off-reservation boarding schools, whose goals, as one BIA official put it, is to “kill the Indian to save the man.”
1896  In Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the state of Louisiana has the right to require “separate but equal” railroad cars for Blacks and Whites, thereby officially recognizing segregation as legal. One result is that southern states pass laws requiring racial segregation in public schools, which remain in place for almost 60 years.
1941  Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorizes the internment of 120, 000 persons of Japanese ancestry. These Japanese Americans-half of whom are children-are forced to evacuate their homes, jobs, and schools and are incarcerated for up to for years in camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Schools are not part of the original construction plans in many camps, so classes are held in mess halls and other makeshift structures. It is difficult to recruit outside educators because of the harsh living conditions, so access to adequate teaching staff is limited.
1975  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is passed. Prior to its implementation, approximately 1 million children with disabilities were shut out of schools and hundreds of thousands more were denied appropriate services. Ninety percent of children with developmental disabilities were previously housed in state institutions. Many of which were catergorized “imbecile” and “low-functioning” because “scientific” research supported genetic intelligence levels based on race (Anti-Defamation League, 2004).

The timeline above significantly accentuates the pervasive and legally sanctioned perceptions of racism apparent throughout American history that has manifested and rooted itself in our public education system. The continual and overwhelmingly negative perceptions thrown upon minorities throughout our history has inevitably produced conditioned feelings and misconceptions of social reality towards these persons and criminalizing persons of color on the basis of their race has become second nature in American society and sadly breeds rapidly in public schools through policies formulated and implemented by persons in power. 
In 1970, Richard Quinney, a criminological and philosophical theorist published his theory on the “social reality of crime”. Quinney explains in this theory that “the legislative process of defining criminal laws and the criminal justice process of enforcing criminal laws occur in a political context in which the persons with the most power within societies pursue their own self-interests”(Vold, pg. 250).
He continues to assert that “conceptions of crime and what is criminal are promoted by individuals and groups with a great deal of power, and will be and often widely accepted as legitimate by other people in the society” (Vold, pg. 251).
According to Quinney, “the social reality of crime,” particularly conceptions of crime in order to legitimate their authority and allow them to carry out policies in the name of the common good that really promote their own self-interests” (Vold, pg. 251).
Can this conflict theory of “social reality” explain American’s silent covenant of complacence that allows so many of our youth to be tossed away in our educational system only to be recycled into another oppressive system of a prison industrial complex to uphold traditional white patriarchal interests ?
Rebecca Gordon, in the article Facing the Consequences makes a striking examination and comparison of racial discrimination within U.S. public schools that emphasizes the criminalization of children of color and glaring disproportionate inequalities compared to that of their white counterparts. Gordon states that, “a preponderance of statistical evidence on every key factor, from drop-out rates and discipline rates to access to advance placement courses and entrance into college, students of color are at a serious disadvantage compared to their white counterparts. Though the discrimination may not be intentional, its persistence and pervasiveness, as measured by actual statistical impacts, amounts to a deep pattern of institutional racism in U.S. public schools” (Gordon, pg. 2).
Consequently and unsurprisingly with overwhelming and enduring research, minority youth are disproportionately represented throughout the juvenile justice system in nearly every state in the nation. According to research by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, minority youth receive harsher treatment than their white counterparts at every stage of the juvenile justice process. Minority juveniles are sentenced for longer periods and are less likely to receive alternative sentences or probation compared to white juveniles (Armour, pg.1).
The following article, Minority Youth in the Juvenile Justice System: Disproportionate Minority Contact written by Jeff Armour and Sarah Hammond for the National Conference of State Legislatures, discusses several explanations for disproportionate minority contact. 
According to Armour, data from The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) states that one of these explanations is the jurisdiction in which the juvenile is processed. Minority populations are often more concentrated in urban areas and harsher results are more likely in these urban areas than non-urban areas.
Another explanation is law enforcement. Police practices tend to target low-income urban neighborhoods and the arrest rates for African-American youth are substantially higher than that of their white peers for drug, property, and violent crime even though white juveniles are just as likely, if not more so, to be involved with illegal drug use and sales (Armour, pg4).
Harsher punitive juvenile laws arose in the early 1990s, due to an increase in juvenile homicides with handguns. Many states enacted “automatic transfer laws” to exempt certain crimes from juvenile court jurisdiction (Armour, pg.4). OJJPD’s data indicates that African American and Native American youth are more likely to face conviction in adult court. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency indicates that three out of four of the 4,100 new admissions to adult prisons were minority youth and a recent study conducted in 2005 by The Building Blocks for Youth showed that 85 percent of youths transferred to adult court were African American (Armour, pg.4).
A final explanation for the disproportionate treatment of minority youth according to Armour is racial bias.  The OJJDP’s analysis of studies spanning 12 years unveils that around two-thirds of the studies “negative race effects” (race explains why minorities remain in the system) were present in different stages of the juvenile justice process (Armour, pg.5).
The four explanations of disproportionate minority contact with juveniles that Armour highlights in this article are not only complex, but mixed with race and ethnicity issues make for an important and difficult challenge for states to develop strategies to reduce such contact and overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile justice system.
The problem of disproportionate minority contact, besides the blinding and apparent overrepresentation of minorities, is that many of such infractions that are occurring in schools! There has been an overemphasis on discipline within schools to ensure student conformity.
Gordon adds to the recommendations of proposing ways to reduce disproportionate minority contact by suggesting that a “challenging, respectful and culturally appropriate learning environment” (Gordon, pg. 14) be established and maintained within public schools concentrating and providing training for teachers and administrators to enable them to work effectively with a multiracial, multicultural student body. Mutual respect and excitement about teaching and learning are the most effective discipline measures available to any teacher or school (Gordon, pg. 14).
The importance of equal, challenging, critical and comprehensive education should be at the fore front of agendas to preserve and build a stronger and more cohesive nation. Continually supplying ramifications and imposed sanctions of discipline disables children to freely liberate themselves in an inquisitive and wondering curiosity of attainment for knowledge. Individuals need “instruction and connection” (Payne, pg. 116) to recognize the freedom to be a free-thinker.
“A school with poor and unsympathetic teachers, with hostile public opinion and no teaching of cultural awareness and uplifting; with ignorant placeholders and inadequate equipment” (Dubois, pg. 335) negates higher and holistic appreciation and a love for learning and traps individuals in a state of educational incarceration. The quest for “sympathy, knowledge and truth” (Dubois, pg. 335); through equal and empowering education, by those who “profess to favor this freedom” (Chafe, pg.3) will endure and prevail through societal confinement of race.
Part II 
The American social construction of race and the negative connotations that have been annexed to ideals that have been unjustly associated with its many distorted definitions in social institutions seems at times dismal and overwhelmingly a lost battle.
This section of the paper is designed to bring into question “why have so many of the individuals that have failed in primary U.S. public K-12 education and have been passed through the school to prison pipeline find themselves flourishing in higher education college programs, ironically in prison?”
I will specifically reference a particular liberal arts program, The Bard Prison Initiative and attempt to comprehensively explain its bottom up attempt to rehabilitate individuals by providing them with an opportunity of educational advancement and achievement that primary U.S. public education failed to supply or make an equal opportunity towards. 
In The Allegory of the Cave, by Plato, Plato contends that the world is not the real world but merely a poor copy of it, and the way to see and become part of the real world is intellectually. He continues to say that knowledge cannot be transferred from teacher to student, but rather that education consists in directing students’ minds toward what is real and important and allowing them to apprehend it for themselves; his faith that the universe is ultimately good; his conviction that enlightened individuals have an obligation to the rest of society, and that a good society must be one in which you are truly wise. Plato compares the student that is spoken to with the inability to think for himself and formulate ideas about the world around him is like a prisoner in a dark cave, blinded by the darkness and only being able to believe what is true to be what is told to him. This education limits the prisoner and shackles in a way one understanding of the reality of the world that is dictated to him (
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is a significant metaphor for our society.
Individuals in our society are constricted and confined to develop only is substantial ways that are deemed appropriate by the ruling and dominate class, and in American society that is the white, affluent patriarchal symbol and ideology.  This ruling class formulates and implements policies and procedures that protects its self-interests and in doing so creates systemic oppression to ensure its continued existence. This oppression is cyclical through education and criminal justice systems.
It is only when persons begin to see one another’s obligation to each other in a society that we can corrode the shackles on one another’s neck to be able to turn and truly see each other for our goodness instead of being prisoner to the captor. Saul Alinsky was quoted that “ it is the responsibility of individuals to be responsible for individuals”. We as a society are a collective force that is only as strong as our weakest link. Allowing people to find and grow their knowledge of empowerment not only strengthens our human capital but strengthens our social capital as well.
The Bard Prison Initiative is a liberal arts program within the confines of prison walls that enables inmates to work through a rigorous college curriculum to attain their Bachelor’s Degree. What makes this program different in educational learning? Anthony Cardenales a former inmate that after being labeled with a learning disability in primary school and dropping our of school at fourteen years of age, attained his Associates and Bachelors degree at Bard, now released and a successful recycling plant operator and speaker at esteemed colleges such as Princeton, Yale, and Cornell University says that the curriculum challenged him to think and develop critical processing skills that he was never given the opportunity to discover and refine.
“I wasn’t handed the steps but was allowed to develop potential to make decisions along the way” (Interview, 2011).  “I had never felt more educationally liberated and part of a critical thinker of society than when my “societal freedom” was taken away and I was given “liberated educational freedom” while incarcerated (Interview, 2011).
Cardenales and Program Director of The Bard Prison Initiative Max Kennar both agree that when an individual is consistently belittled by policies and programs that are only meant to produce outcomes that serve dominant culture interests rather than empower those within communities to create and sustain a collective and cohesive capital then a system of pigeon-holing and handouts are administered, temporarily placing band aids on social ills rather than aiming at the source. A similar idea is expressed by John McKnight in the article Why Servanthood is Bad. McKnight assert that when you continually give to others what they can do for themselves you are debilitation their potentials to use their gifts, capacities and contributions that gives them a place in a community (McKnight, pg. 3).
Is this why our schools and children are failing? Are we taking away from them their ability to problem solve, critically think, question, and build relationship with one another by asserting rules and dictations and preconceived conditioned historical fallacies and social realities of one another?
Not only are the power and politics within U.S. public schools stifling our nation’s children’s’ thirst and desire for knowledge and development of their human capital; our systemic oppression of social capital through institutional abuse of racism, prejudice, and criminalization is steadfastly closely the entrance of Plato’s cave. If continually efforts of community support and rehabilitation of equal public education and ostracized members of our society are not adamantly demanded and nurtured as cherished building blocks for a sound foundation of academic achievement and intrinsic growth then the chains we shackle to one another will cripple us as a whole.
In today’s American society it is more prevalent than ever that race is still a determinate factor of equal education and justice within our institutional systems. Top down approaches and policies that serve the interests of the more affluent, traditional class stifle and stigmatize persons of the “lesser” class such as “Zero Tolerance” disciplinary policies for juveniles that filter youth into the prison system (minority youth represent 62% of youth in detention) and bills such as the 1994 Repeal of educational grants for offenders that stagnate opportunity for educational advancement for offenders (40% of incarcerated offenders are African American males, 38% of incarcerated offenders are Latino males)(Alexander, 2011) must be combated with bottom up approaches of community collectivity and organization to uplift our nation to create enduring and prosperous communities that value human and social capital like wall street values market capital.

Admittedly, the economic needs of a society are hound to be reflected to some rational degree within the policies and purposes of public schools. But, even so, there must be something more to life as it is lived by six-year-olds or six-year-olds, or by teenagers, for that matter, than concerns about "successful global competition." Childhood is not merely basic training for utilitarian adulthood. It should have some claims upon our mercy, not for its future value to the economic interests of competitive societies but for its present value as a perishable piece of life itself.” –Jonathan Kozol

For more information and another great article publish in The Carolina Peacemaker by Atty Lewis Pitts Advocate for Children's Services at Legal Aide of North Carolinca visit:

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