Rethinking Schools Editorial: Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Illustration by Seth Tobacman

“The more that schools—and now individual teachers—are assessed, rewarded, and fired on the basis of student test scores, the more incentive there is to push out students who bring down those scores. And the more schools become test-prep academies as opposed to communities committed to everyone’s success, the more hostile and regimented the atmosphere becomes—the more like prison. (This school-as-prison culture is considerably more common in schools populated by children of color in poor communities as opposed to majority-white, middle-class schools, creating what Jonathan Kozol calls “educational apartheid.”) The rigid focus on test prep and scripted curriculum means that teachers need students to be compliant, quiet, in their seats, and willing to learn by rote for long periods of time. Security guards, cops in the hall, and score-conscious administrations suspend and expel “problem learners.”

Schools without compassion or understanding occupy communities instead of serve them. As our society accelerates punishment as a central paradigm—from death penalty executions to drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen—the regimentation and criminalization of our children, particularly children of color, can only be seen as training for the future.

But the movement to end the school-to-prison pipeline and the movement to defend and transform public education are too often separate. This must be one movement—for social justice education—that encompasses both an end to the school-to-prison pipeline and the fight to save and transform public education. We cannot build safe, creative, nurturing schools and criminalize our children at the same time.

Teachers, students, parents, and administrators have begun to fight back against zero tolerance policies—pushing to get rid of zero tolerance laws, and creating alternative approaches to safe school communities that rely on restorative justice and community building instead of criminalization. (See Haga.) A critical piece of that struggle is defying the regimen of scripted curriculum and standardized tests, and building in its place creative, empowering school cultures centered on the lives and needs of our students and their families.”

Read the entire editorial: http://rethinkingschools.org/archive/26_02/edit262.shtml

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