Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Keep kids out of the pipeline to prison

I spent the evening in a church basement trying to convince a group of Detroiters to stand up and demand that their legislators change our state's laws on zero tolerance in schools so that more good students have a chance to stay in school and graduate. It's a needed reform, because we're sending more black males to prison than to college, and to push them out of school and into the pipeline to prison is just wrong.

I shared with them that there were 46,000 suspensions in Detroit Public Schools in 2007-2008. In one school year. That is insane.

I am not suggesting that educators have any fewer tools to manage classrooms, only that in-school suspensions or restorative practices are better ways to address discipline children, and keep them out of the pipeline.

I got a call a couple of days ago from a friend who was frustrated by an incident he had just been involved in with a group of young black men at a local gym. It appears the men, all apparently in their late teens and early 20s, decided to relax after a workout by shooting dice in the bathroom of the facility. He was genuinely bothered by their lack of recognition of their criminal behavior, not to mention their lack of respect when he called them on it.

But this is what happens when we kick children out of school and leave them to their own devices. They end up living street life24/7. I'm assuming the worst, I know. But the reality is that black males are suspended or expelled at a rate of almost 3-1 compared to their white classmates. That blacks are suspended for committing the same offenses as whites who are not. The disparity is so great that the Justice Department and Department of Education are jointly investigating the disturbing trend. It's a civil rights violation and an educational inequity that threatens our neighborhoods and our region. When educational opportunity is denied to children because they are suspended because of offenses like loitering and insubordination they end up hanging out on the streets or gambling in bathrooms, unless someone with a substantial amount of compassion intervenes.

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