How does one endure a society in which race, attire, and body language make up the criteria for the identification of a threat? Take these examples:
*Two students set off fire alarms in the same school district. One of them, an African-American kindergartner, is suspended for five days; the other, a white ninth-grader, is suspended for one day.
*An African-American high-schooler is suspended for a day for using a cellphone and an iPod in class. In the same school, a white student with a similar disciplinary history gets detention for using headphones.
*Two middle-schoolers push each other; the white student receives a three-day, in-school suspension, while the native American student is arrested and suspended, out of school, for 10 days. (Khadaroo, 2013)
Experiencing fear and discomfort from others based solely on one’s appearances is demoralizing and isolating. To experience that reaction regularly, and in the systemic form of disproportionate disciplinary action from Kindergarten on indicates larger problems at play.
Schools in which Blacks comprise the predominant racial group are more heavily monitored by the police. Furthermore black students typically receive more out of schools suspensions. If we look at data from Miami this trend is verified. Power U Center for Social Change, one of the leading organizations combating the school to prison pipeline in Miami, surveyed 600 students to look into this problem. Their results showed that 22% of respondents had received out of school suspensions and that over 80% of those suspensions were based on minor infractions such as tardiness or dress code violations. In the year 2009-10, 67% of school-based referrals to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) were due to misdemeanors (disorderly conduct, low level assault/battery, trespassing, etc), as opposed to felonies. Blacks students were sent to DJJ three times more often than White students. Aside from the racism implied in this statistic, the intolerance driving this disciplinary action is counterproductive in and of itself. Of all the students that reported having been suspended, 80% said they think the situation is likely to stay the same or worsen after returning from suspension.
So if high school graduation is still regarded as a rite of passage into the workforce, those labelled as “at risk youth” are discarded from the productive and upwardly mobile (however likely this might be) sector of society from the beginning. Disciplinary actions, however seemingly well intended, fail to address the root causes of students’ frustrations. In fact, they tend to backfire and thus uphold a cycle of violence.
Whether explicit or implicit, schools transmit moral values simply by its daily practices. If schools do not intentionally form a holistic moral environment, schools risk unintentionally forming students in a way that is counterproductive to experiencing human flourishing. The criminalization of schools reproduces moral values that emphasize a strict adherence to rules and laws without any critical engagement of those rules. Year after year, students graduate without the socio-moral skills necessary to negotiate moral decision-making, which is at the heart of moral formation. (Farmer, 2010)
During adolescence we form our identity while questioning society’s norms. Perhaps it’s adults’ failure to consider both this stage and their fundamental attribution error, or the tendency to underestimate the level influence situational factors have on one’s behavior, especially others’, that keeps them oblivious to this injustice. These news make it our social media newsfeed regularly, yet the level of support for organizations such as Power U and Empowered Youth, both working towards prevention against the School to Prison Pipeline, is not at the level where we need it to be.
At Catalyst we're convening meetings with local leaders that are combating the School to Prison Pipeline. Stay tuned for our next blog on the issue, in which we'll talk about strategies to address this urgent problem.
Farmer, S. "Criminality of Black youth in inner‐city schools:‘moral panic’, moral imagination, and moral formation." Race, ethnicity and education 13.3 (2010):367.
Khadaroo, Stacy Teicher. "School Suspensions: Does Racial Bias Feed the School-to-Prison Pipeline?" Christian Science Monitor (2013): N.PAG,N.PAG. Print.