school to prison pipeline

This article in the Education special edition of The Nation briefly discusses the increasing criminalization of behavior within low-income public schools as well as other aspects of school policy in Texas:
This summer, the ACLU of Texas is working to counter widespread misinformation and ignorance with its “Youth Rights in Texas” conference on July 31st. With Ed Burns, co-creator of HBO’s “The Wire,”, in attendance, the event promises to discuss alternatives to the harsh disciplinary measures that marginalize inner-city students.
“So much of school today has been criminalized,” says Dotty Griffith of the ACLU of Texas. “Throwing a spit-wad on a bus can get you a Class C misdemeanor. Minor infractions are now cast into the criminal justice system. Well once someone gets into that, it’s hard to get out of.” Constitutionally, the ACLU is concerned about the manner in which these punishments are meted out. And with good reason: A report by Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit based out of Austin, shows that minority and special education students are most likely to be put in some form of in-school suspension or alternative schooling facility, and that these methods of punishment are pipelines to dropping out. The report also demonstrates that where a child attends school, rather than the offense itself, is a greater predictor of the degree of punishment she will receive.
 A post at Grits for Breakfast shows the declining number of criminalized youth, many victims of the schools to prison pipeline:
The number of juveniles sent to youth prisons from Texas' largest counties dramatically declined after 2007 - when the Legislature implemented reforms at the Texas Youth Commission in the wake of a sex abuse scandal - demonstrating the remarkable extent to which state and local decisionmaking drives incarceration policy as much or more than crime rates.
Mass institutions called schools, with no real feedback mechanism or design for parent and citizen control are now an industry that manipulates and coerces our children and youth in ways we have never yet endured in the US. The school to prison pipeline is one example of how this massive and now extended institutionalization of our children in compulsory public schools can abuse children and families who have no ability to get out of the system that feeds upon them. Class and race discrimination only intensify the problem and determine the early victims.

Schools as pipelines to anything, either a corporate job or a prison sentence, are a new thing.  Schools were never a pipeline to jobs for the majority of our history until quite recently. Communities and families provided most people with support and access to jobs while time in schools, though compulsory, was of a shorter duration and had far less, if any, impact on one's future job, at least for the vast majority of citizens.

Until the 1930s, the majority of vocations within the US were agricultural and truly small businesses.  And these jobs did not require an education nor were they in any way linked to the schools.  People got jobs from the people in their communities. The 1930s was the first time that most Americans lived in cities and agricultural work grew more mechanized and centralized. This was a primary cause of bread lines as many people could not feed themselves as the social safety net at that time, the family farm, was now only available to a minority of the population.  The New Deal was an effort to make a new safety net for the many newly urbanized and industrialized workers. 

After WWII, many unionized jobs and small businesses did begin to require a high school degree, now increasingly common as young people spent less time farming.  Mandatory education was extended to 12 years after which the majority of people were hired by industries.  The high school degree was something many used to distinguish themselves and the building of many public schools during the Great Depression meant it was, theoretically, possible for anyone to get a free education at a public institution. In truth, racial minorities and the poor struggled with basic access and quality.  Even for these groups, there were often functioning communities that provided support for the children and youth.

The rise of neoliberal policies in the last 50 years expanded the required length of schooling to now include the BA, for the first time requiring education at a school that is not free to the public, while simultaneously reducing the number and quality of jobs available overall as well as decimating the communities that provided support for the children and youth conscripted into the system. It was easy to manufacture the consent of the many middle and working class citizens who were able to achieve a BA or advanced degree in good economic times.  The system made them feel they had earned it through the long years spent on task. Few seem to notice the steep inflation of a decent job requiring 16 long years of education, four years of which are not free for jobs that no longer provided a living wage that a family could live on with dignity. 

At the same time, the poor and working class sectors were  getting jobs that could no longer provide a living wage and the communities they lived in were collapsing further, straining the ability of children and youth to cope with mass industrial education.  The downdraft accelerated and the school to prison pipeline was born as prisons were privatized and began looking for a market.  The inherently anti-democratic and authoritarian structure of public schools acculturated several generations of citizens to many mass structures, whether it is the school to prison pipeline, or the school to corporation pipeline carefully preserved by elite schools.

Compulsory attendance has created a mindset where children and youth can be easily exploited by institutions and parents are required by law to place their children into these institutions. Citizens have objected to these attacks on their freedom throughout our history but many were more complacent when a strong economy and strong communities somewhat offset the negative effects on individuals, though it is an open question whether this institutional mindset has not been a factor in the endless wars perpetuated by the military industrial complex.

It is time to get children out of the pipeline altogether and into sustainable, voluntary, community-based social settings where families can choose educational courses like we choose books in a public library. Children and youth need real communities -- not schools that attempt to "be communities" -- and a social experience that does not subject them to mass institutionalization and its supposedly necessary crowd control techniques like grading and truancy issues.

Democracy starts here, with children and young people making choices and spending time in small, social groups that are not authoritarian in structure and purpose. It is a very short journey from a prison-like school to a prison for everyone involved. Stopping that journey means transforming the very first steps so that, right from the start, the path leads somewhere else.
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