Diversity Blast: The School-to-Prison Pipeline and the Promise of 2014

Happy New Year from TFA Nashville!

Welcome to the first blast of 2014!

2013 was a year fraught with setbacks along the lines of diversity, equity and justice:

But it was also a year marked by deeper examination and dialogue. I feel like the 2013 calendar year brought more revelatory conversations than ever before. There were more characters of color on television. I saw exponentially more Facebook posts calling for action, discourse and/or organizing on topics ranging from food deserts to trans- rights. A number of films such as Fruitvale Station and Twelve Years a Slave garnered both political and critical attention, raising the awareness of many who might otherwise opt out of conversations about equity and fairness.

All that being said, there is much to do in 2014. The theme of this week’s blast is dual: the School-to-Prison pipeline and the Promise of 2014. Why start with the School-to-Prison pipeline, a seemingly dour topic during this time of hope and renewed spirit? Because the beginning of the year is a good time to reflect on promises, sometimes empty ones. The American education system promised to provide equal opportunity for all children, yet nearly the diametric opposite has been achieved in over one hundred years of public schooling. Furthermore, the end/beginning of the year usually means the aggregation and dissemination of data across the year from various federal and governmental agencies. As the data and narratives culled below show, there are many promises we’ve yet to fulfill.

Arrests, the Police state and racism:


The School-to-Prison Pipeline:

First, check out this incredible infographic on the school-to-prison pipeline put out by the Advancement Project. The school-to-prison pipeline is a shorthand to describe the ways in which our schools have become increasingly prison-like (security cameras, zero-tolerance policies, police officers inside schools) and increasingly more likely to produce students who will enter the criminal justice system at some point. As educators and activists, it’s worth examining the ways in which our schools reinforce the narratives of control, petty discipline and surveillance that are replicated at large in society.

Federal School Discipline Guidelines: How to Stop Racial Discrimination in the Classroom

  • Breaking news out today from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice: new guidelines to curb racially discriminatory practices in schools. From the article: The guidelines are the product of a joint federal initiative between the two agencies to address school discipline issues, and more to the point, the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The Children’s Defense Fund’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign

  • For years now, the CDF has been concerned about the rapidly increasing rate of children interacting with the criminal justice system. Visit this page for information about campaigns, resources and events, as well as to hear Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow speak on the issue of youth mass incarceration.

Teaching in Prison’s Shadow

  • Sally Lee, Executive Director of Teachers Unite, provides a narrative of how teachers and students can both fight the school-to-prison pipeline by increasing awareness of discriminatory policies and collective power. The teachers who comprise Teachers Unite also seek to deeply understand how oppression plays out in the communities they serve.

Suspension Stories

  • This blog (touted by Sally Lee) counters the zero-tolerance policies of schools with more culturally-responsive, fair and dignified methods. The blog follows zero tolerance cases, unfair suspensions and the Dignity in Schools Campaign. There’s also a “What Kids Can Do” section!

On complications of race and gender in the school-to-prison pipeline:

What’s sometimes left out of the school-to-prison conversation is a focus on girls, but new numbers suggest a big uptick in the rate of young women entering the criminal justice system. The articles and authors below seek to raise awareness and action around the ways in which schools police the actions and bodies of young women of color.

Little Black girls are the new “angry black women”: race, gender, and the School-to-Prison pipeline

  • In this article, J.N. Salters explores the role of gender in the school-to-prison pipeline. She writes, “black females represent the fasting growing segment of the juvenile justice system, as well as the most dramatic rise in middle school suspension rates.” Additionally, black girls tend to receive more negative feedback if their teacher is white.

“Race, Gender and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Expanding our Discussion to Include Black Girls” by Monique W. Morris

  • Morris complicates the school-to-prison pipeline by adding on the ways in which black girls are forced by schools and society into a sort of confinement.

“These Loud Black Girls”: (Black) Women, Silence, and Gender “Passing” in the Academy

  • This academic study and brief examines the ways in which black girls assert their identities in the academic space, set against the backdrop of an urban high school.

Given the roiling climate of 2013, 2014 is poised to be a year of deeper reflection, discourse and change. Depending on how you get your hope and hype, please peruse any of these links to gear up for the worthy fights and challenges that 2014 may have in store!

Tennyson (in a badly-received, but often-quoted play) once wrote,


Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,

Whispering, ‘it will be happier’…”

Here’s to a happier 2014,