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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

School to Prison Pipeline? A View from a Teacher

I am involved in several social justice groups and causes including my "social gospel" church Mayflower Congregational UCC, the AFT my teachers' union, the ACLU, and some other organizations as well.  One cause that has received much scrutiny in these groups is the "School to Prison Pipeline."  This is the claim that school policies unfairly target some students for harsh punishment like suspensions or expulsions, even incarceration where other students violating the same rules are not punished as harshly. Those who do receive unfair treatment are often ethnic minority students, LGBT students, and those students in Special Education.  These policies "channel" these students into our prison system. The prison industry, racism, underfunded and overcrowded schools, zero-tolerance policies, and even lazy teachers are typically blamed for the problem.

I can only report anecdotally about this problem as a teacher in urban education.  Today, I think, provides at least some insight into what really goes on when students are disciplined.  I would be interested in the opinion anyone who wished to comment on what happened today between me and a middle-school student and his hoodie.

I have morning duty in the cafeteria during breakfast.  I try to get there before most students arrive to supervise those eating there, usually around 7am or earlier.  I bring my chess equipment for those who enjoy playing a game or two in the morning.  Sometimes I will play with a student or two, but mostly I try to keep an eye out for trouble. 

Today, two middle school students were chasing each other, which can be dangerous in our very crowded cafeteria.  I told them to stop  at once.  One girl did, but the other boy tried to keep at it.  So I intervened and allowed the girl to go her own way.  I noticed that the boy still has his hood on, a violation of the school dress code. I told him to remove the hood. He refused to do so.  He tried to walk away from me still hooded. I followed.  I asked him his name. He refuse to give it to me and kept on walking.  I told him that all he had to do was remove his hood. He told me to leave him alone.  I followed him till met with the school principal who did know his name.  She told him to take his hood off. He refused her.  She then took him to the school office.  I am not sure what happened to him, but he likely was put in in-school suspension for defiance of authority. 

Now, someone might look at this incident and say that this was another example of the school to prison pipeline at work.  The boy was black.  I am sure other students had their hoods on that I did not confront. So from his point of view, I singled him out.  But should that have been a basis for ignoring his defiance?  

Some may even question why I made such a big deal out of a kid wearing a hood up.  Recently, we had some students get into the auditorium and a girl with them was assaulted.  The boys wore their hoods in order to escape recognition by our school security cameras.  So allowing students to wear hoods is at its heart a safety issue.

So, what should I have done other than what I felt I had to do?  All the young man had to do was comply, but his pride got in the way of any sense. 

Tomorrow I will be back in the cafeteria. I will be telling several students to take off their hoods.  I will be defied.

What should I do then?


Edward Anderson said...

If you don't do it, then who will.

Edward Anderson said...

If you don't do it, then who will.