Youth of color and the school-to-prison pipeline

One of the reasons I have become so alarmed at what’s happening to black and brown youth is due to their escalating rates of incarceration, which many adults don’t seem to notice.

Did  you know that since 1980 the number of prisons has QUADRUPLED? The United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any industrialized nation. We have over 2.1 million people living behind bars. And that number grows every day. Guess which races of people get locked up the fastest and most often? I have a personal interest in the rising numbers of black youth getting locked up, due to my own sons’ involvement with the prison-industrial complex. A black boy growing up today has a one in three chance of going to jail by the time he turns 30. I feel like we are running out of time to protect our black and Latino sons and brothers–and let’s not forget our sisters and daughters. More of them are getting locked away, too!  Something needs to be done about it NOW.

Dr. Jason Irizarry and I have been working together to study this trend. Because we teach future teachers, we’ve been looking into the role of teachers who make discipline referrals that, more and more, end up sending students from the school house to the jail house. We wrote an article about the school-to-prison pipeline to try to make a difference. We want to wake up teachers so that they can work with youth to RESIST letting the pipeline take hold in their own school.

Our research shows how the teaching profession plays a role in the spread of the prison-industrial complex. The nation’s teaching force, which consists overwhelmingly of middle class white women, has been trained, in a sense, to EXPECT criminal, deviant behaviors among their students who are African American and Latino. Sometimes teachers do this without even realizing that they are doing it. Because most teachers (even teachers of color) are disconnected from the lives and neighborhoods in which working class urban youth of color live, we find that teachers are often completely unaware of how tightly youth of color are being monitored by police on the streets, security guards in stores, and even by teachers, police, and administrators at school.

What does this have to do with transracial adoption? Well, first of all, transracially adopted youth are not automatically exempt from this growing national problem. Second of all, white parents of children of color are often as unaware as teachers of the ways black and brown youth are being racialized and monitored. Yet intelligent youth of color instinctively sense that something is amiss. They KNOW that they are being watched and targeted. If teachers and parents want to gain some insight into this spreading pattern of surveillance and mass incarceration, we think they need to talk directly to–and really LISTEN to–students of color.

To gain some background knowledge into this growing phenomenon, I would encourage everyone–youth, teachers, and parents alike–to read our article. It is hard-hitting and tells the truth about what is really going on with teachers, and teacher educators (the professors like me who prepare teachers for tomorrow’s classrooms). Even though we wrote it mainly for researchers and educators, we want other people to read it, too. We think everyone can get something out of reading it. Hopefully, it will open your eyes and make you mad enough to want to take a stand.

Click here to download our article.