The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Real Problems of Black Youth

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As Mark Smith describes in his online article “What is education?”, education signifies the wise and respectful cultivation of learning, undertaken in the belief that everyone has the right to share knowledge. Prison, as described by Wikipedia, is a “facility in which inmates are forcibly confined and denied a variety of freedoms under the authority of the state”. Now, what do these two words have in common? How do they relate to one another? For some, this is a very easy question to answer, with the answer being ‘Education and Prison have nothing to do with one another; however, there are countless children and teens who are criminalized daily, based on the color of their skin, and who are affiliated with the term “School-to-Prison Pipeline”. This term School-to-Prison Pipeline proposes policies that encourage police presence at schools, harsh tactics including physical restraint, and automatic punishments that result in suspensions and out-of-class time Throughout generations, the black community has faced many struggles with their rights, as humans, to gain a fair and unbiased education opportunity. Through this pipeline stereotype, the education system is at fault for the discrimination of the black youth; however, there is another main contributor to the downfall of providing proper education to the black youth, which is the lack of adult emotional support. Stereotypes, such as the School-to-Prison Pipeline, have created various struggles for the black youth through the prevention of proper educational aid and adult support. However, not until recently have there been some minor changes for those who have suffered due to the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

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The black community and their activists have been in perpetual battle with the education system since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, which sought to gain equal opportunity in education. So, what kind of progress was made in the last 50 years? Sadly, not very much. Not only are there still unequal educational opportunities for the black youth, but there is more criminalizing of the black youth as the generations get younger and younger. In Dr. Artika R. Tyner’s 2017 article “The Emergence of the School to Prison Pipeline”, he elaborates on the factors for the spreading of the School-to-Prison Pipeline, such as the school disciplinary practices and school policies. He further explains how these school policies primarily target people of color and how they caused great obstacles for them to continue their education. Tyner states multiple statistics, such that “95% of out-of-school suspensions were for nonviolent, minor disruptions such as tardiness or disrespect” and that there were about “3.3 million black children being suspended each year”. Many may agree that these are some drastic consequences for such minor offenses by black students. However, this is not uncommon, and it happens throughout the schools, primarily in the U.S. This proves that students of color are more likely to be referred to law enforcement for school-related disciplinary matters, such that are unnecessary and not fair when compared to white youth.

Not only are the black youth not gaining equal education because of the color of their skin, but also based on disabilities. According to the World Health Organisation, a disability is ‘any restriction or lack (resulting from any impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being’. It’s very common to see that once students are labeled as special education, they are placed on the path of the School-to-Prison Pipeline. According to reporter and blogger Julianne Hing in her 2017 article “Race, Disability and the School-to-Prison Pipeline”, the pipeline is more dangerous if the student who’s been over-identified as disabled happens to be black youth. Hing explains how “more than one in every four black boys identified as having disabilities was suspended in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights” (Hing 1). Thus, not only is there no equality among those in the black community, but also for those students with disabilities who deserve all the right to a fair education. It’s heartbreaking to see how time has passed throughout the generations, where there is an increasing amount of diversity within each community, but there is rarely any improvement to the education system and providing all students, regardless of race or disability, the right to a successful and fair academic career.

As explained, the School-to-Prison Pipeline produced restrictions on a proper education provided for the black youth and it has greatly impacted their academic success negatively; however, the School-to-Prison Pipeline also created a lack of adult emotional support for those students impacted by the Pipeline. There are many types of adult support, such as social workers, relatives, parents, teachers, mentors, etc; however, the School-to-Prison Pipeline almost brands the black youth as defiant, irresponsible, and undeserving of emotional support to do better. According to Bianca White, a recent graduate from Marshall-Wythe Law School and Sewanee: The University of the South, in her 2018 academic journal “Invisible Victims of the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Understanding Black Girls, School Push-Out, and the Impact of the Every Student Succeed Act”, she discusses the negative effects that most black youth experience, while trying to obtain an education. However, she primarily focuses on the problems that young black girls face, and how they are often overshadowed by other issues within the education system. She also included various programs, such as emotional support aid, that aim to help those black girls overcome those stereotypes and strive for academic success. The author, Bianca White, serves as a Regional Treasurer of the Mid-Atlantic Black Law Students Association, the Business Justice of the Moot Court Team, and a member of William and Mary’s Journal of Women in the Law. White states in her academic journal “Black girls are often also burdened with familial obligations that undermine their captivity to achieve their academic goals” (White 10). Thus, it’s very difficult for them to stay in school and continue their academic career path without the proper support system to encourage them to continue in their education. Also, without receiving the proper education, they are more likely to feel the effects of the School-to-Prison Pipeline and miss out on various career opportunities in the future.

A strong career that has the power to provide for the black youth, primarily as emotional support, would be a social worker. Social workers render unparalleled knowledge and skills to the school system, that exceedingly positively impacts the students. According to McCarter’s 2017 journal “A School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Primer for Social Workers”, the effects that an adult support system has on those troubled by the School-to-Prison Pipeline can either steer them to the right path of educational success, or the wrong one of criminalizing the black youth. Not only does McCarter focus on the black youth, but also on those with disabilities and those who identify as gay, lesbian, etc. McCarter aims to reduce the impact of the School-to-Prison Pipeline, by providing support to those children in need, thus changing and persuading how the education system continues. As McCarter explains the four primary steps that social workers look to, when addressing the School-to-Prison Pipeline, which is “ (1) improve data collection, analysis, and dissemination; (2) provide a race analysis, courageous conversations, and professional development opportunities to collaboratively strengthen school climate; (3) use positive, appropriate, and graduated school discipline sanctions; and (4) facilitate continued education and re-enrollment for students returning from out-of-school placements” (McCarter 5). Therefore, the emotional stability and support for a teen being pressured by the School-to-Prison Pipeline are crucial for them to maintain their academic path. The adult support system, such as social workers, are trained to understand their kid’s problems and seek out the best way to help them get better and succeed. The importance of child development, especially for the black youth impacted by the School-to-Prison Pipeline, is a heavily weighted factor that unfortunately dictates whether or not the child follows the wrong or right path. Thus, having the right emotional, adult support system, has the power to help the black youth escape this pipeline that is expected of them.

To expand, using McCarter’s 2017 journal “A School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Primer for Social Workers”, there have been multiple schools around the U.S that have started to implement policies and provide proper support to the black youth that faces educational obstacles, due to the School to Prison pipeline. As McCarter elaborates on the school discipline sanctions, she explains that “Some communities (Georgia and New York) have limited exclusionary discipline and zero-tolerance policies and instead introduced intensive education settings and progressive discipline policies; others (Connecticut and New Hampshire) have improved judicial response” (McCarter 6). Thus, teachers and other administrators have taken action towards preventing the growth of the school-to-prison pipeline. They are trying to create a more safe and more effective learning environment for those in the black youth community who are targeted by the pipeline. Actions as small as a proper educational setting can make an impact on thoonstudents wanting to gain knowledge and pursue their academic careers without unfair prejudice placed against them.

Now, some may say that the high incarceration rate of the black youth relates to the low crime rate since crime is down; however, the crime rate will increase and decrease no matter how many of the black youth community is sent to jail. According to the 2015 TEDtalk spoken by Alice Goffman, titled “How we’re priming some kids for college – and others for prison”, she goes in-depth about how multiple teens of African -American, and Latino backgrounds are funneled down the path to prison, no matter the situation. Goffman goes on throughout the TEDtalk, speaking about the common misconception about “justice being good and bad, innocent and guilty”. Henceforth, what Goffman is trying to say is that the justice system for this School-to-Prison Pipeline is too broad, and should be looked at more carefully, in casesofh the black youth in low-income families. Just because someone of color does something not necessarily right when compared to societal standards, doesn’t mean that they deserve to be incarcerated, even though there are related cases that involve white people that don’t end up being punished for doing the same thing. We, as a society, cannot expect these children who live in bad neighborhoods, with no family support system or motivation, to act like an ar-student in schools. It’s overall ridiculous. We need to look at the world through their eyes, have empathy for their daily struggles and seek to help those students being wrongfully punished by the School-to-Prison pipeline.

To conclude, the School-to-Prison Pipeline is a real-life problem that affects millions of black youth in a negative way that puts their academic path at risk and creates a lack of adult emotional support. These various stereotypes surrounding the black community, that say black teens are delinquents, disrespectful, criminals, etc, will only prevent them from a fair education and chance of a successful career. Also, another contributing factor to the school-to-prison pipeline, other than race, is a disability. The prevention of providing the proper education to any child or teen because of their race or disability is unjust and immoral. However, when black youth don’t have access to conventional education, due to the School-to-Prison Pipeline, there also comes a lack of emotional support, which only assists them to sink faster into a pit of sadness and hatred of society. So it’s time to spread awareness of this ongoing problem that plenty of black youth go through, even though they don’t deserve this kind of treatment.  

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