The 'School to Prison Pipeline': Education Under Arrest
by Kanya D'Almeida
WASHINGTON - Metal detectors. Teams of drug-sniffing dogs. Armed guards and riot police. Forbiddingly high walls topped with barbed wire.
Such descriptions befit a prison or perhaps a high-security checkpoint in a war zone. But in the U.S., these scenes of surveillance and control are most visible in public schools, where in some areas, education is becoming increasingly synonymous with incarceration.
The United Nations, along with various human rights bodies and international courts, have recognised that "free education is the cornerstone of success and social development for young people".Metal detector at a school in Boston. (photo: Seth Tisue)
The landmark Brown v. Board of Education court ruling, which officially desegregated U.S. schools in 1954, stated, "It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if (he/she is) denied the opportunity of an education."
Yet hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. are being systematically stripped of their right to education and transferred from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse.
Along with tough disciplinary measures such as "zero tolerance policies", the last two decades have seen a huge influx of law enforcement officers into playgrounds and classrooms.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicate that the number of school resource officers (SROs) increased by 38 percent over the last ten years, even while reported incidents of theft and violence in schools are at their lowest since the National Center for Education Statistics first gathered comprehensive data in 1992.
A report released Tuesday by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) detailing the extent and impact of policing in public schools confirmed what education and justice experts have argued for years: increased law enforcement does not make schools safer for students or foster better learning.
In fact, the report found that police presence in schools devastates the learning environment, increases the number of arrests and referrals of youth into the juvenile "justice" system, and disrupts a child’s educational process by favouring suspension and expulsion over communal learning.
"Police in schools undermine the education of thousands of students each year," Amanda Petteruti, lead author of JPI’s report, told IPS.
"The impact of arresting and incarcerating students is significant: research has shown that within a year of reenrolling after spending time confined, two-thirds to three- fourths of formerly incarcerated youth withdraw or drop out of school. After four years, less than 15 percent of these youth had completed secondary education," she stressed.
"Even contact with courts increases the chances that a high school student will drop out," she added.
Children under siege
According to ‘Derailed! The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track’, a detailed study undertaken by the Advancement Project, a six year-old student in Palm Beach County, Florida was arrested back in 2003 for ‘trespassing on school property’, while walking through the schoolyard on his way home.
In Indianola, Mississippi, elementary school students have been hauled off to jail for talking during an assembly.
Two elementary school kids from Irvington, New Jersey were charged with ‘terroristic threatening’ for playing cops and robbers – with a paper plane.
In 2007, school security cameras captured footage of two guards in Palmdale, California assaulting a 16-year-old girl and breaking her arm for dropping a piece of cake on the floor. Both armed guards pushed the high-school student down on a table, throwing racial slurs like "nappy-head" at her while twisting her arm.
These stories, unfortunately, are not exceptional, but have become the norm in hundreds of public schools across the country. Most of the thousands of arrests and referrals that happen each year are for minor infractions, misdemeanors or perceived 'threats' such as those outlined above, based on the subjective opinions of teachers or security guards.
Students of color often bear the brunt of these punitive policies.
"Data from (think tanks) suggest that students of color are disproportionately affected by the presence of SROs," Petteruti told IPS, particularly "in districts like Pinellas County, Florida, South Carolina, Colorado and, according to the ACLU in Connecticut, East Hartford".
The Advancement Project also found that it was 58 percent more likely for police to be called into schools whose student body was majority black, Latino, Native American or Asian American.
"Data from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) indicates that students of color are more likely to be suspended than white students, and are more likely to go to schools where there are more law enforcement responses. Students of color are more also more likely to come into contact with police and surveillance in schools," Petteruti said.
The severe policing of urban schools in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color is an extension of a nationwide racially biased strategy that hounds minorities and swallows them up in burgeoning prisons. The strategy has roots in the ‘get tough on crime’ movements of the 1980s and early 1990s.
According to the Advancement Project, "the media and political world focused on a growing crime problem and a few brutal crimes to create a new type of criminal, the 'superpredator'.
"Superpredators were brutal, conscienceless, incorrigible and, most frighteningly, they were young. They were presented as the products of permissive single-parent families, poverty and a lenient judicial system," it continued.
"The public and political system responded with outrage and with draconian changes to juvenile law - boot camps, and a zero tolerance attitude that made even the slightest offence a crime.
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From Heart of a Teacher
by Paula Fox
He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. Very neat in appearance, he had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful.
Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for misbehaving. "Thank you for correcting me, Sister!" I didn't know what to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.
One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice teacher's mistake. I looked at Mark and said, "If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!" It wasn't ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, "Mark is talking again." I hadn't asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it. I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark's desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark's desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, "Thank you for correcting me, Sister."
At the end of the year, I was asked to teach junior-high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instruction in the "new math," he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in third. One Friday, things just didn't feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, "Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend." That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual.
On Monday I gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?" I heard whispered. "I never knew that meant anything to anyone! I didn't know others liked me so much." No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.
That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip, the weather, my experiences in general. There was a lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad a sideways glance and simply said, "Dad?" My father cleared his throat as he usually did before something important. "The Eklunds called last night," he began. "Really?" I said. "I haven't heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is." Dad responded quietly. "Mark was killed in Vietnam," he said. "The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend." To this day I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.
I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, "Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me." The church was packed with Mark's friends. Chuck's sister sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water. I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to me. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. "Mark talked about you a lot," he said.
After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates headed to Chuck's farmhouse for lunch. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it." Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him. "Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it." Mark's classmates started to gather around us. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at home." Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album." "I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary." Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said without batting an eyelash. "I think we all saved our lists." That's when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.
The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one day will be. So please, tell the people you love and care for that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.
August 23rd, thru November: Recruiter Watch would very much appreciate THE PORTLAND ALLIANCE's assistance in getting the word out about Opt-Out. High school registration starts the week of August 23 at most Portland high schools.
OPT-OUT AND NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND. Under the No Child Left Behind Act,
schools receiving federal funding MUST release students' personal information to
military recruiters if they are to continue to receive funding. Students may "opt-out" of this military database at the beginning of the school year.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
The September, 2009 article in MOTHER JONES by David Goodman, entitled, "A Few Good Kids?," deals with the heavy military recruitment of at-risk (low-income and/or minority and/or less academic youth) and the insidious invasion of student privacy under the No Child Left Behind Act and the JAMRS (consumer) database maintained by the Pentagon. See www.motherjones.com/politics/2009/09/few-good-kids
* Students must opt-out EVERY YEAR.
* Traditionally, the deadline for opting-out for the year is October 1.
* Students do NOT require parental or guardian consent to opt-out.
* EVERY high school students' personal information is being released to military recruiters -- not just those of juniors and seniors!
* Girls are NOT exempt from this provision.
HOW CAN STUDENTS OPT-OUT?
* At registration -- before the beginning of the school year. There is usually a checkbox on the registration form that allows for opting-out.
* By going directly to their school main office and amending their registration form if they have not checked the box to opt-out. (If they don't remember whether they opted-out or not, students can go to the main office to verify the information on their form.)
* By submitting an opt-out form (either that supplied by Recruiter Watch volunteers or by download at www.themmob.org/lmca
) to their school's main office.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
* Talk to your family, your neighbors and the youth in your circles about the effects of militarization on victims and perpetrators. Remind high school youth about the opt-out provision on their high school registration form.
* Educate yourselves about truth-in-recruiting issues. Share your knowledge with others!
* Volunteer with Recruiter Watch for its upcoming opt-out campaign. Recruiter Watch can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
ON-LINE RESOURCES ON OPT-OUT:
ALTERNATIVES TO THE MILITARY?
(Center on Conscience and War provides a state-by-state
listing of alternatives to military enlistment.)
TRUTH-IN-RECRUITING ON-LINE RESOURCES:
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
"Before You Enlist" -- in English and Spanish
Video: "Before You Enlist" (revised 2011)
Quaker House (Sgt. Abe the Honest Recruiter Tells All!)
National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth (NNOMY)
Project Yano (Project Youth and Nonmilitary Opportunities)
(Click on Military Enlistment)
War Resisters League (WRL)
(Click on Programs/Counter-Recruitment; G.I. Rights Resistance)
(Check out Ya-Ya Network's and WRL's new brochure, "Know Before You Go 'Cause There's No Reset Button.")
Ya-Ya Network (Youth Activists, Youth Allies)