Thursday, September 8, 2011

Schools and Prisons

My kids went back to school last week and this sparked some reflections on how lucky they are. The schools they attend are fairly well-funded, diverse, warm learning environments. Most of the children who attend these schools will go on to college, and they are treated from the start as creative, independent, valuable human beings by the staff and teachers.

This is not the case for a vast number of students across the country. Many schools, particularly those in urban or poverty-stricken areas, are run like prison training facilities, with rigid “zero-tolerance” policies, panopticon-like supervision, harsh “security” policies, and rote instruction meant only to prepare students for standardized tests or low-level service careers.

My kids are privileged. They are privileged by race and class, and one of them is privileged by virtue of gender. In their schools they are offered opportunities to explore their identities, and to become creative, thinking, agents. I feel so fortunate that my children will have these opportunities and that their schooling will be a positive, nurturing experience. But I also can’t help thinking about the millions of children who are trapped in the school to prison pipeline that Erica Meiners writes eloquently about in her book, The Right to Be Hostile: Schools, Prisons, and the Making of Public Enemies (Routledge, 2007).

I urge every parent/citizen to read Meiners’ expose. Whether your kids are lucky, like mine, or trapped in the type of oppressive environments that Meiners analyzes, her revelations will enrage you, and, just possibly, spur you to take action to transform the way we are “educating” millions of students.

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