By: John Jusu
It has always been a well-recognized principle that a society’s youth act as the pillar of a successful culture’s future. Children are often molded and educated to transform into our world’s impending trailblazers, instilling in them a sense of work ethic and responsibility that emulates societal standards of leadership and fortitude. However, some children are stripped of this opportunity at a young age due to some of the disciplinary policies that are enforced in a number of educational settings.
The “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the procedures and practices that drive our nation’s schoolchildren out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education. One of the most prominent reasons why this conduit from school yard to prison yard exists has to do with inadequate resources in our nation’s public schools: Students are constantly hampered with congested classrooms, outdated materials, and understaffed, underpaid, and unqualified educators. These economically deficient factors undoubtedly lead to disinterest amongst students, resulting in a substantial number of dropouts.
With these factors looming, schools have implemented zero-tolerance policies which result in suspension or automatic expulsion. In recent years, suspension rates have radically increased from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000, with this spike most notably seen in minority students. For example, in a recent study, Jason Langberg, the supervising attorney of Advocates for Children Services in Wake County, NC, found that black students in the county’s schools were suspended five times as often as their white peers. However, Langberg found no evidence to suggest that black students misbehaved more often or more severely than white students. Thus, there remains an anomaly regarding the treatment amongst various races within the school systems.
If our country intends to uphold the mantra that no child should be left behind, then our educational officials should consider revamping its policies which ultimately lead to impoverished results for our youth. It is true that once these children enter the juvenile justice system, many of them no longer have the opportunity to return to a traditional school setting, thus giving these individuals virtually no chance at a productive future. Although improving the economic settings of these facilities seems to be a daunting task, altering our school’s tactics when disciplining troubled youths appears to be manageable. If we begin to show these young people that they will always have a support system in light of the mistakes they may make, then we can start to eradicate these extreme procedures, which do nothing more than strip our youngsters of potential bright futures. It takes a village to raise a child, so we must stop throwing these kids to the wolves of our criminal justice systems, and instead take the time to nurture them, so that they can grow into the upstanding citizens that they are destined to be.