I posted a blog last week on my personal website about the school-to-prison-pipeline (STPP) from the perspective of one who is presently incarcerated. As I shared the blog with others dedicated to prison activism, prisoner advocacy, and reform of a broken system that perpetuates the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people, I received a comment from a member of the aforementioned community who challenged me to take action — to do more than simply write about the ills of our society.
Funny. I thought that I was doing exactly that by teaching and writing — apparently not. When I thought about it, the member was absolutely correct: There’s always more each of us can do and I am certainly no exception.
I began to look at the STPP from a different angle — a preemptive approach, if you will. What knowledge could I impart to my readers so that they could put their children on a school-to-college pipeline or a school-to-career pipeline? As I thought further, I realized that the entry point for student learning is not school — it’s their home. The course of a child’s life begins with the twenty-three chromosomal contribution each parent gives to them. Additionally, the environment that their parents/guardians provide during their formative years prior to entering school informs who they will become and how far they will get in life. THEN school comes into play.
But a lot has happened already by the time those 1.1 million students educated by the New York City Board of Education walk through each school’s doors.
I begin to get a glimpse into my students’ homes and family lives simply by the way they present themselves when they enter my classroom for the first time. Overwhelmingly, the stories they tell without ever uttering a word are riddled with disconnection, disengagement, and discombobulation. Children are living in homes where disrespect is the norm. Naturally, they come to school and try to disrespect their teachers. Children are living in homes where hot meals and talks over the dinner table are the exception, not the rule. Naturally, they come to school high on the cheap, sugary sweets they purchase and consume every day for breakfast from the corner bodega. Children live in homes where everything is debatable and every directive warrants a rebuttal — just because they can do so with little to no recourse for their actions. Naturally, then, they come to school and cry bloody murder when they are written up and held accountable for insubordination. Children are being rewarded with $275 sneakers and $700 SMARTPhones when they’ve done nothing for which to be rewarded. Naturally, they come to school baffled as to why they failed when they did no work all semester.
All of these faulty notions contribute to the STPP and what I’m saying to you, parents, which is what I heard that reader say to me, is that the barrier to the school-to-prison-pipeline begins in our homes. Parents and guardians, please spend quality time with your children, talk to them, watch what you say around them as well as what you expose them to, hold your kids to high standards and support the other people in their lives, like their teachers, who strive to uplift them and prevent them from encountering harm. In order to effectively combat the STPP, we must all be vigilant in filling our children with knowledge worth knowing.