THE SAD CONNECTION OF THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE AND THE ECONOMY OF TOMORROW

By John Schnaars

The article “Bitch,” go directly to jail: Student speech and entry into the school-to-prison pipeline deals with the effects of the educational system on its students. The first issue it deals with is the suppression of the First Amendment freedom of speech. Students in their most sensitive stages of brain development are too often being removed from schools and suspended for advocating for their rights. What are the consequences for these students? Clearly it makes these students less likely to voice their opinion. In turn, this will stop these great minds from speaking out things they do not agree with and also subjects they do agree with. The only way our world and culture can change is by listening to differing opinions.

This has an effect on the students as they make their ways through the school systems. The effects start as early as middle school and high school, and will follow them through college. This draws a parallel to a school that has been in the news lately: The University of California at Berkeley. This is not to say that every subject or view should be allowed to be voiced at our schools; however, far too often if there is even a little bit of discord the school response is to shut it down. Although this is an extreme example, the Harrisburg School District has had significant problems involving children in younger grades as well as at the high school. As we have seen around the world, the world is always changing, and it is up to the people to decide which way it will change, either for the better, or for the worse.

Ms. Ross cites a staggering statistic: well over three million students from kindergarten to high school lost “instructional seat time” in the years 2009-2010. This is not to say that some students that are deserving of a suspension, but not surely not all of them. A school’s “suspend first” policy does not just have an effect on the mental aspects of the students as far as educational purposes, but also has an effect on their lives as a whole. These suspensions lead students to be more likely to act out when they are outside of the classroom and are more likely to end up in prison. The notion that suspended children are the “bad” ones drives this point. Students miss out on educational opportunities are therefore are left behind so that they must look to outside sources to try to survive.

There is clearly a divide in the schools of what races make up the suspension population. According to Ms. Ross’s article, schools seem to suspend and reprimand students of color far more often than students that are white. This creates a marginalization in the minds of all the students, and this too sets up those students for failure. School is where people should be making mistakes and learning from them, but there are other ways to reach this end aside from suspension. I think we should put more pressure on the teachers to create more of an open relationship with their students so they will be more inclined to talk things out, rather than act them out. A student should not be afraid to speak on a topic that they are unsure about for fear of reprimand or to be viewed negatively by staff and other students.

When you take another look at the statistics of the racial divide, this is a clear example of certain people that have a tougher time making it through school and in turn society misses out on the opinions and views of these individuals. People come from very different areas and different ways of family life, however in schools this is supposed to be a non-factor. Everyone should be on the same level and have the same opportunities as the next student. But when these students are subject to increasing suspensions, they may miss out on the economic opportunities as well. It effectively fosters the school-to-prison pipeline. Students with multiple suspensions, regardless of the reasoning for the suspension, are more likely to end up in jail. When suspensions happen at a young age, it leads to an increasing likelihood of ending up in jail when they get older. People at the ages of middle school through college should not be growing up while sitting in a jail cell. Too often the first thing a school does is suspend a student, when really if they took the student off to the side to hear what they had to say they could maybe clear up any of the problems there may be.

This was visible to me at a young age going up through the school system in high school. I had many friends of different races who were far more often in suspension than my friends that were white. Sometimes the school was justified in suspending the student, other times there was no valid basis other than the differing of views. This had an effect on the school as a whole; students were afraid to speak up or have our own voice for fear of being suspended. Some of these students went on to do great things and are still doing great things; others did not see this result.

When students are unable to finish a certain level of schooling the opportunities after school are limited. Even now a college degree from a college has only so many avenues to go to, and it may take an extra 2-3 years in a graduate school to create more than a below average wage. As much as people want to say money isn’t everything, it is a very important thing. In order for the economy to grow, these young students must enter into the workforce and make a living. If many students from different backgrounds and differing opinions are not given these opportunities, nothing will change.

What is the effect of all of this? If students are being silenced in the school system and pushed to the side at times, they will not be a benefit to the society. The youth of today are the people that will have our country’s economic system in their hands tomorrow. The differing of views is what will make the system expand faster and more efficiently. If the school systems continue to make everyone conform to a certain way of thinking and limit what students may speak up on and what they may not, we will never evolve. The history of our country has shown that, among the bright spots, there are even more eye opening negatives. Schools have always been a certain way, and their mode of operation hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. However it seems to me, through research and experience, that schools are becoming more restrictive. A topic that 20 years ago that may have been a sore subject to be brought up in a student speech but allowed nonetheless, today would be a cause for suspension or, worse, expulsion. With technology today, people are getting access to the world like never before and at a younger age, and their opinions and views are ever-expanding. Instead of telling these students to think a certain way and be afraid to voice a differing opinion, we should be encouraging a different way of thinking over “group think.” There is a time and place for that, but when we are talking about high school and college, this is when a person is becoming the adult the will be for the rest of their lives and to restrict this growth is going to hinder the growth of our economy.

In the article Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture: “It’s set up for failure… and they know this!”: How the school-to-prison pipeline impacts the educational experiences of street identified black youth and young adults which focuses more directly on the school to prison pipeline to black youth and young adults. The most shocking part of this article to me was the beginning, which recounted a story of a black youth in high school and spoke of how disrespectful the teachers could be. Though this was not shocking because I did know this kind of thing happened, it was shocking just thinking back of how many times I had similar experiences as a white male. The school system looks down on certain types of people; to deny this is to be ignorant. It does not always happen, but denial that teachers could be part of the problem, particularly in relation to students of color, is wrong.

Mr. Brown and Ms. Payne first focuses on the connection of law enforcement and schools. Officers and even courts get involved when suspensions and expulsions take place, giving a student an early and bad taste in their mouth of the system. When it happens to those of color this even comes across as targeting. I am sure you have heard it when you were in school, “That kid will never amount to anything,” or “You’ll be working at McDonalds for the rest of your life.” The fact that some teachers will say this to a student is baffling. Black youth makes up about 40% of those suspended or expelled, while they only account for 16% of the kindergarten to high school population. A 31% of these students are subject to school-related arrests. Is this because certain teachers have irrational and wrongful views of black youth? Most of the time I would like to say not, but it does happen. These students are subject to these types of conditions every day, and it sets them up for failure.

A lot of students just need a little extra help and guidance to get over the hump, but when they come into school and already are subject to a certain depiction as “academically incapable,” this breaks those students down. While there are some that overcome this and go on to do great things and contribute to society and the economy, it happens all too often where they are beat down and pushed to the edge to where it is almost impossible to avoid a negative result.

The article later expresses the view that the school system is set up for failure for black youth. Some teachers see a student falling behind or behaving in a negative way and just think to focus on the other students. This is the complete wrong thing to do because without someone intervening the behavior is just going to get worse. The narrative that a certain person is less likely to succeed and be a positive impact on society and the economy should not be present in schools. Everyone does not start at the same spot, and yes, some students do better than others, but this should not be because of a lack of help or a disdained teacher-student relationship. Teachers are there to teach our youth and prepare them to enter into the world, however sometimes this vision is lost, and people tend to let what happens happen. If we took a hard long look at what we could do to help change this narrative and create a more open, and accepting nature of differing views and opinions, I am sure the world would be a better place. Like I said before, the economy’s future rests on the youth of today’s shoulders. The school to prison pipeline and the staggering numbers of the percentages of colored youth that are missing out on school, can end with an understanding and more open policy. Schools should be the place where you can voice your opinion, no matter who disagrees or agrees, as long as these views are expressed through a safe and respectful manner.

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Sources

  1. Catherine J. Ross, “Bitch,” go directly to jail: Student speech and entry into the school-to-prison pipeline, 88 Temp. L. Rev. 717 (Summer 2016)
  2. Jacey Fortin, Free Speech Week at Berkeley is cancelled, but Milo Yiannopolous still plans to talk, The New York Times (Sep 23, 2017), available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/23/us/milo-berkeley-free-speech.html
  3. At least 45 Pennsylvania teachers quit citing violence, ‘unprecedented misbehavior’, Oklahoma News 4 (Nov 21, 2017 8:25 p.m.) http://kfor.com/2017/11/21/at-least-45-pennsylvania-teachers-quit-citing-violence-unprecedented-misbehavior/
  4. Christine Vendel, Nearly half the student population at Harrisburg High School slapped with suspension notices, PennLive.com (Mar 29, 2017) http://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/03/nearly_half_the_student_popula.html
  5. Yasser Arafat Payne and Tara Marie Brown, Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture: “It’s set up for failure… and they know this!”: How the school-to-prison pipeline impacts the educational experiences of street identified black youth and young adults, 62 Vill. L. Rev. 307 (2017)