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Education in the Media, Philosophical Meanderings, Student Voices

Something That Needs to Happen: Closing the Pipeline-Pt 1

(Photo from the Youth Justice Coalition)

In America, education is supposed to provide children with endless possibilities and the chance to enter into the profession or trade they love. From day one children are told that if they do their part, if they show up, sit down, shut up, and listen that they will be given a fair shot at becoming a productive citizen. However, this is only part of the truth; this is only how it works for some children in the education system. Other children have to abide by a different set of rules, rules that say children have to show up, become complacent with having mace sprayed in their faces for minor infractions, become complacent with being shackled to radiators and beat with night sticks when it’s excessive and redundant, all the while listening and remaining mute to the abuses they face. What’s even more disheartening than this is that even the children who show up and abide by the sub-section of rules they are given to abide by  are still punished, they are still imprisoned when other options are available, they are denied an equitable education, and put on a track to unproductively living amongst society.

Its amazingly surprising that today that the aforementioned acts of unjust nature still take place  and that the sole practitioner of such practices is the one system that is supposed to free children from the misfortunes it directs them toward. However, what’s more disheartening and dangerously surprising is that while we sit around and discuss and argue about how secondary options to public education ultimately undermines public education we continue to ignore these atrocities that in themselves act as a benefactor to the undermining of public education. The school to prison pipeline that we rarely talk about and work to combat is the sole benefactor in children who have no enthusiastic outlook, who have bleak views on success and who have no hope for a better future outside of the paradigms of poverty.


It’s a shame that children today have to walk into a school and risk being abused by the very people who are supposed to be providing an equitable education to them in an environment that is as safe as possible. It’s a shame that today children are being forced out of school not because of unwillingness to learn but by a system of people who seem to work tirelessly to suspend and expel children at rates that are unexplainable and unjustifiable. Schools are supposed to be havens for children, havens that free them from the atrocities and misfortunes of the world and provide them a pathway to uplifting themselves out of neighborhoods that hinder their success and that unleash their potential. The fact that there are places in the United States of America that do this is just unexplainable. The fact that we as a nation have the nerve to denounce other nations for failing to provide children with opportunities yet we do the same but instead of having them poor and on social welfare programs we have them locked up in jails for infractions that are correctable by other means.  The fact that our education system which is often noted as not having enough capable human capital is the plays a part as a partial benefactor is even more of a shame. How is it even possible that the system that is supposed to uplift and free is pushing children toward what they are trying to escape?

Nevertheless, more disturbingly, this school to prison pipeline is not why children are locked away, it’s not how they are shackled to radiators, it’s not how children are forced to have mace sprayed in their faces when its unwarranted, it’s not even the fact that children are knocked to the ground and beat like savages by not only police officers who are sworn to protect and serve but by teachers who are sworn to educate through providing children with knowledge that eradicates poverty and enlightens hope and prosperity. More troubling thing about the growth of the school to prison pipeline is the fact that it started off in public education, in schools in low income neighborhoods with low income students and has gradually started moving beneath charter schools in neighborhoods that serve no particular student. The most dangerous and socially unjust part about this is that since the charter school serves no particular subgroup of students as they are often drawn from neighborhoods ranging from low income to moderate income it has heightened the number of children who can be forced into the pipeline by drastic proportions. This growth has essentially enabled the school to prison pipeline to suck more children in than ever before and since it continually goes unchecked its reach will only grow more and more until children are swept off to prisons for things so simple that a lunch detention could resolve.

Simply put, if we continue to let the school to prison pipeline go unchecked, unchallenged, and unstopped than more and more future productive citizens will be either forced out of public education through fear and frustration or through imprisonment and resentment. This continued growth of the pipelines reach has become more and more apparent and the benefactors have become more known. If we don’t close it soon we will do more disservice to our society than we have already done and we will limit potential before it even is exposed and America in its current state can’t afford that.


8 thoughts on “Something That Needs to Happen: Closing the Pipeline-Pt 1

  1. So, readers, let me ask you this: is it part of public school culture to enter into power struggles with students in order to escalate a conflict until the student is excluded from the classroom as a relief to the teacher/school?

    Is it part of public school culture to trust those administrators who punish kids on behalf of emotionally hurt faculty? Is it part of public school culture to complain about and mistrust administrators who advocate for children over teachers?

    Does this pipeline exist, in one form or another, at all or most schools, even when the students’ exit is not prison – which is, perhaps, the most obvious, damning, and destructive end against which we are right to fight?

    Very curious,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | December 16, 2011, 9:24 am
    • From my perspective: Yes. Of course it is.

      Nancy Flanagen’s post regarding her experience was quite telling — the system grinds forward.

      I have nothing against ‘education’, higher or otherwise, but a fundamental flaw lies at the heart of the “Education Myth” — the Three R’s may be indicia of power, but they are not power itself.

      Seeking change,

      Posted by Brent Snavely | December 16, 2011, 9:43 am
    • Chad, this is no more a public school culture issue, this is now a school issue due to the fact that the pipeline to prison is reaching students it previously didn’t have access to. While the problem can be contributed to the fall of the public education system its growth has nothing to do with the system and has more to do with people migrating from the system into charters and carrying that philosophy of abuse them. Furthermore, this isn’t a problem of emotional damage of adults, this is a issue of societal stagnation caused by ignorance and abuse of authority by a few evil individuals.

      Posted by Jabreel Chisley | December 16, 2011, 11:52 pm
      • Just to clarify – I don’t mean “poor, hurt teachers” – I mean teachers who should be depersonalizing and de-escalating classroom conflicts to find out how to improve relationships and learning, who instead choose to exclude kids from their rooms.

        I don’t differentiate much between public schools and charter schools, which are, ostensibly, public. Very sincerely: what kind of difference is there in how many kids leave/are made to leave charters and how many kids leave/are made to leave public schools? I don’t know, but the public system, even if we separate out charters, dwarfs the charter system nationwide, albeit less so in some cities.

        I work at a grass-roots charter school; I oppose the vast majority of charter management organizations’ pedagogies and approaches to student management; however, these schools, in my mind, hyper-focus on practices already existent in public schools – test-prep and zero-tolerance. I don’t believe there is anything in charter schools not already in public schools – hence my questions.

        Charter schools sell themselves to politicians and families; somehow, somewhere, some people want them more than they want existing schools – one way for neighborhood schools to recapture the public’s imagination might be to aggressively take stock of school culture and to transform it away from sorting, punishing, and rewarding and towards inclusion, community, and collective action.

        That’s my point. I don’t find public schools – especially at the secondary level – to be particularly welcoming places to children. Someone is always excluded, pushed-out, and assigned labels she might never self-select.

        If I’m correct in reading your comment as a criticism of charter schools and the evil individuals behind them, let me offer these thoughts with all the sincerity and camaraderie I can muster:

        1. I would not be who I am today without the charter school that employs me. Instead, I would be at a “public” school sorting kids into three groups – those who could pass standardized tests, those who could not, and those who would be “bubble kids.” I would also be designing interventions to pull the “bubble kids” from their electives for more text-prep, thereby further decreasing the enrollment – and funding – of my hypothetical school’s art program.
        2. Charter schools have everything to do with the system. Our adult leadership is split between supporting them and opposing them. Both sides base their arguments on the performance of traditional schools. The whole conversation is circular. The best way out, in my mind, is to envision and enact new schools inside and outside the system so that the system has to change before it’s irreparably branded irrelevant and harmful.

        Adults all over need to meet their needs without resorting to micromanaging children. How do we move the system away from that – and away from criminalizing pervasive resistance to the micromanagement – all schools included? How do we begin confronting the daily expedience of out institutional injustices, as well as our personal decisions to be unjust? How do we own this problem and care about all children throughout our nation, at even the “best” schools – in our most placid communities? How do we draw connections between the prison pipeline and its less obvious analogs?


        Posted by Chad Sansing | December 17, 2011, 3:11 pm
        • Chad, Im just a equal opportunism criticizer, as a choice advocate I cant stand when people like to pretend that charters, especially ones backed by EMO’s and CMO’s are the perfect entities that’s where my slight criticism of choice comes from. However, the more you explain yourself and the more questions you ask the more I start to wonder (which is good) and paste together instances of social indifference and academic injustice. But I must admit, without choice I wouldn’t be the advocate I am today or even the writer I am today because I’d just be another “public school student” who needs “intervention.”

          Nevertheless, I am addicted to organic grassroots charter schools that serve an actual purpose aside from competitiveness with their district counterpart. One school that has me overly fascinated (you might have seen me mention this school before) is the The Intergenerational School because of its rather simplistic and basic, yet complex, understanding of how children learn and find their passion.

          I have a question for you though: Why do you think it is that the school to prison pipeline has not made its way beneath the truly organic, independent charter schools but has aggressively funneled its way beneath the EMO and CMO backed charters? And, Why do you think that big CMO ventures like KIPP: (referring to their school in NOLA) have let this go unchecked?

          Posted by Jabreel Chisley | December 17, 2011, 3:54 pm
        • Those organizations have set up a loop through which their reputations – and bottom lines – are built on high pass rates on standardized tests. The easiest way to get high pass rates is to deliver test-prep to compliant students. Those schools and organizations have much to lose in terms of political and economic currency if their scores plummet. Better to lose a kid than a score. Therefore, resistance to their brand of teaching and student management is criminalized – or at the very least – pathologized as something that needs to be fixed or excluded. “That kind of behavior doesn’t belong here” becomes “you don’t belong here” becomes “you are the problem.” The most controlling CMOs – but also the most controlling adults, regardless of setting – don’t see anything wrong with this colonial, hierarchical, great-chain-of-being way of treating kids who dare bristle against “the gift” of discipline these adults “give.” They miss the point that their forms of academic and behavioral discipline do nothing to foster self-discipline or any kind of belief in kids’ agency in their own lives. So, kids who desperately want agency – kids who have such a strong need for freedom that they break the adults’ rules and cross the adults’ need for control – are a threat to the adults who set up these environments, whether they’re in CMO org charts or plain old classrooms. The more one invests in control, the more threatening freedom is, especially freedom for all the “others.”

          Of course, given where we are in ed policy, these pressures are on all schools.

          The problem of CMOs is the problem of traditional schooling – neither institution habitually analyzes the way its treats children or what it takes for granted as evidence of achievement. Nor does either institution investigate other ways to teach and learn outside school. The systems are too concerned aggressively pursuing high pass rates or playing defense against low pass rates. Making schools something else never crosses the systems’ minds. Are there adults inside both systems willing to dare something worthy? Absolutely, but public schools and pop #edreform charter schools don’t have the political will or economic standing to support these teachers as they should, especially when the teachers’ work with students is geared towards something other than the scores needed to attract funding instead of punishment from state and federal government.

          The biggest imaginative leap my generation of Ivy-League peers has taken in education policy has been a complete failure of imagination. Without school, what would we do with all we have available to us, and why don’t we do that? Those are all better questions than, “What do we do with the kids who don’t do what we say?”


          PS – These posts get at more of what I mean –

          Posted by Chad Sansing | December 17, 2011, 9:38 pm
  2. Jabreel,

    Not only do I see a pipeline to prisons, but also to military service. I have yet to fully examine the matter, but I sense there is a correlation between federal education initiatives, funding and impositions and military operations (which are so frequently tied to economic issues).

    Keep up the good work,

    Posted by Brent Snavely | December 16, 2011, 9:46 am
  3. Jabreel,
    Thank you for shedding light on this injustice. I’m probably like many adults out there who definitely suspect something is seriously wrong, but can’t quite put our finger on it. It wasn’t until I attended the How to Handle Poverty presentation last month at the Global Education Conference that I started getting a clue. It’s the first time I learned that students aren’t merely being left behind, they are actively being pushed out the school door whether due to inability of the system to meaningfully engage them, deal with their complex needs or provide a safe environment. What you rightly point out is that it’s a system and process that is being perpetuated by adults whether through collaboration, apathy or ignorance.


    Posted by Kim Wilkens (@kimxtom) | December 16, 2011, 10:07 am

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