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Banishing the School to Prison Pipeline

Unfortunately, an undeniable connection exists between poverty (the universal crippler) and minority populations. Although separate issues, race, and poverty often exist hand in hand. As a result, we now have an unintended consequence known as the school to prison pipeline, which shifts students out of school into the criminal justice system. We should not be surprised that this shift predominantly impacts Black male students. How do schools contribute to this loss of human potential?

When schools in low economic areas hire the least experienced teachers, they double the barriers to learning. When those same schools lack safe campuses, adequate curriculum materials, and personal school supplies, opportunities shrink. In cases where children lack stable homes or places to study, homework becomes a joke. Yes, these conditions require financial reserves to repair. Regardless of cost, citizens must demand an overhaul of schools. Inevitably, if we accept third-rate schools, the result will be that of a third-world country.

Fortunately, not every change requires major financial input. With very little money, schools can alter damaging learning conditions while simultaneously raising the quality of learning by simply respecting individual differences. Three suggestions describe ideas below.

  • Some students need to move to learn. Many benefit from music, dance, drama, or art. The areas we tend to reduce or eliminate when finances become limited turn out to be the most advantageous learning avenues for some students. Instead of punishing a student who needs to stand to stay focused, we could say, “Yes, you may stand as long as you do not bother others”.

  • Drill and kill, the major ingredient of overrated test preparation, reduces critical thinking and destroys creative endeavors. A population that does not know how to think falls prey to those who preach fear, hate, and rejection. Without creativity, our country loses its status in the world structure.

  • Many students would benefit if allowed to work from individual contracts with teachers as facilitators. The flexibility gained through contracts allows some to master material quickly while removing pressure for those needing extra time.

Perhaps, when we choose to value each learner, we will eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline. We know that a Black student committing the same offense as a white one reaps a different and harsher consequence. Breaking the pipeline begins by acknowledging different learning needs. Once we demonstrate respect for all students, regardless of economic status or skin color, we will find the determination to pinpoint assets needed to repair crumbling structures and inadequate materials. When enough of us care, we will demand an end to incarceration as a replacement for education.

Research clearly shows that prisons do not remediate social or educational challenges. Young people in prison become better criminals who learn smarter ways to break laws. Even worse, the destruction of their young lives outweighs the losses to society in general. When crime increases, everyone pays.

Clearly, accepting the status quo of schools that feed prisons creates damages too destructive to endure. No one benefits. Not even graduates of our finest schools will truly win as long as their peers across town languish in neglect and lack of respect.

Works Cited:

Amurao, Carla. Fact Sheet: How Bad Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline? “Tavis Smiley Reports. 2016.

Ferriman, Justin. 7 Major Learning Styles — Which One Are You? “LearnDash.” May 17, 2013.

School-Prison Pipeline. “Protect Our Rights: ACLU”. 2016.


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