Breaking Through the School-to-Prison-Pipeline

The establishing of zero tolerance policies in public schools has resulted in the creation of a school-to-prison pipeline where low-income and minority students, primarily black and brown youth, are disproportionally affected by disciplinary measures including funneling black and brown youth into the criminal justice system and removal from school. In recognition of this fact, stakeholders are increasingly seeking legislative relief by advocating that schools reevaluate policing practices, and to remove police from the school setting. While these solutions may reduce the school-to-prison pathway they generally fail to genuinely engage the community and address larger systemic concerns. Community organizing is one alternative strategy that seeks to create transformative and sustainable change by empowering individuals as leaders and political players in their own communities.

According to Catherine Kim, one of Americas leading social critics, in her book, The School-To-Prison Pipeline Structuring Legal Reform, argues that the latest war in America is not simply the war on drugs, but the war on black and brown youth, who are trapped in the horrendous cycle of poverty, and captured by the inescapable horrors of systemic oppression and marginalization at the hands of the American education system. Kim speaks the unadulterated truth of how a failed educational, social, political, and economic system is the fundamental root cause for the pernicious failure of our young people. Kim identifies four crucial areas that she thinks is to blame for this grave systemic failure: Patriotic and religious fervor, the instrumentalization of education, deregulation, and the militarization of society. She makes the claim that “schools are increasingly designed to churn out drone-like future employees, imbued with authoritarian values, inured to violence, and destined to serve the market.” She suggests that these tend to be the lucky kids with respect to honoring the status quo.

Conversely, however, the young people who chose not to embrace the status quo, and thus, who are more likely to challenge and confront such systems, are left to break through the cultural and economic barriers on their own; Hence, she argues, “if they are black or brown, they are likely to become ensnared by a harsh penal system.”

Kim argues that “revolution, not reform, is required to change the culture in our schools …. We can’t get to that point by tinkering with a broken system. We must change our intellectual structures, definitions and assumptions.” For Kim, critical engagement is not about the task of reproducing the past and understanding the present, but rather offers a way of thinking beyond the present and into the future.

Hence, we must continually identify alternative, unconventional and revolutionary strategies to include— eccentric grass roots organizing, progressive legislative lobbying, radical policy advocacy, and legal test cases, to name a few-- in order to protect the rights of students and ensure equal educational opportunities that exists for all, and that seeks to eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline. We owe it to our children. We owe it to our nation. And we owe it to ourselves. We should invest more in our schools rather than investing in prisons to house them. Put simply, it is cheaper to send them to Yale than send them to Jail. Let us all take on the mantle of being educational advocates. When children succeed, we all succeed. It shouldn’t matter where you are from or what you look like, every child deserves a quality educational experience in America.

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