At this point in the program, we have discussed social justice and reform of countless systems in our society from the criminal justice system, to the welfare system. But one of the things I never really considered to be in need of reform before this program is education.
Now, when people talk about education reform, it usually ranges from things concerning curriculum rigor to how the United States’ public education system stacks up to the rest of the world. But there are facets of education reform that many are blind to that affect many parts of our society today. Working with Girls For Gender Equity, I have been able to work with students in the New York City Pubic school system and have conversations about their schools that you will not find in the news papers and policy books. These conversations and interviews were part of a data analysis that compiled their answers around different themes like issues of overpolicing, harsh discipline, and lack of diversity in curriculum. It was so incredible to see the problems these students face every day in their schools. One response to a question about metal detectors in schools I found fascinating was from a middle school student. This student talked about how metal detectors were a mandatory part of every student’s morning, which meant hours of waiting in line to be searched before entering the school. Not only did this make the school climate “feel like a prison,” if a student was late because they were going through metal detectors, they were sent to in-school suspension, where they missed material taught in the classroom.
It does not take a genius to see how debilitating this is to students.
According to national statistics as well as the data I’ve analyzed at GGE, these issues are disproportionally affecting minority communities- especially girls of color, LGBTQ and gender non conforming folks. This research from Colombia Law School outlines how incredibly targeted black girls are when it comes to school discipline. (http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/app/uploads/2015/09/BlackGirlsMatter_Report.pdf)
These aspects of harsh discipline, and zero tolerance that target girls of color are the very pieces that build the School to Prison Pipeline. When meeting with people who work with schools on policy, I find it incredibly discrediting when people refer to this system as simply a theory and not something we see unfold every day in our schools. What is even more unfortunate is the fact that, the targeting of women of color is often overlooked. Monique Morris’s book Pushout discusses the criminalization of Black girls in school systems. School upshot refers to a system or parts of a system that target a minority group to drop out of school, leading them to unfortunate circumstances. Thing like the harsh enforcement of dress codes more for girls of color than their white peers, and punishments for things like ‘insubordination’ are fueled by stereotypes and implicit bias from teachers. The stereotypes of Black girls being loud, rude and hyper sexualized are thing that contribute to this system. In addition to the systematic struggles these students have to deal with outside of school, they have to work twice as hard to redefine themselves and deviate themselves from the perceived negative stereotypes of their identity among their teachers and other school staff. When suspended, these students often get behind on their work, receive no support to catch up on their school work and are often inclined to drop out because of the frustration. The criminalization of these students follows them beyond school, creating the school to prison pipeline.
So what can be done? Implicit bias training, school policy reform around discipline and restorative justice are a few of the things NYCPS are starting to implement in their schools. These changes are able to reduce the amount of students who are expelled and suspended, and implement systems that restore community, build relationships and avoid having to make students miss school. And even though these changes take time, they are changes that can affect larger parts of society.