Podcast: Schools or Prisons?

In some neighborhoods, public schools feel more like prisons than schools. In this episode, former social worker and attorney Helen Higginbotham discusses the policing of children in schools with BLACK AND CUBA director Robin J. Hayes.

Written/Directed/Produced by:
Ariana Arancibia
Phyllis Ellington
Echo Sutterfield

Executive Produced by:
Dr. Robin J. Hayes

Recorded in New York City at TNS_Logo1_Small_RGB

Central Park Five

educationstrenghtensouryouth

On the morning of April 19, 1989, five Black and Latino teens were arrested when the body of a White female, later identified as Trisha Melli, was found unconscious, beaten and raped in Central Park. Three youth were initially arrested: Salaam, 15, Santana, 14, and McCray, 15, interrogated and held at the Central Park Precinct for the night, without their parents or attorney. The two others Richardson, 14, and Wise, 16, were also later arrested, interrogated and coerced by the police officers into confessions. All of them were convicted with sentences which ranged from six and a half years for the juveniles for rape and robbery, to eleven and a half years for Wise, eldest at 16, who was convicted as an adult for sexual assault, first-degree assault, first-degree riot and sent to Riker’s Island to fulfill his sentence.
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Confined Youth

Photo courtesy of theassailedteacher.com

Photo courtesy of theassailedteacher.com

As the number of incarcerated youths in America continues to rise, there is some hope to be found in alternative approaches that are being adopted throughout the country.

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The School to Prison Pipeline

Image courtesy of thinkprogress.org

Image courtesy of thinkprogress.org

….this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor history will ever forgive them, that they destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not wish to know it..it is their innocence which constitutes the crime.-Michelle AlexanderThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

It is glaringly evident that lower-income youth in urban areas are at a greater disadvantage than their affluent peers with regards to educational resources. One needs only to walk by these underfunded public schools to see the wired windows, relatively barren recreational courts and the heavy presence of police officers patrolling the grounds. High school graduation rates for Black and Latin@ students further reveal the wide disparities in the U.S. public school system along socioeconomic and racial lines. Rather than being placed on a path toward academic success, large numbers of Black and Brown students, especially males, are channeled to the prison system through so-called “zero tolerance” policies implemented in schools across the country. The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the policies and practices that push neglected students into the juvenile detention and incarceration system. Sadly, students of color are often stigmatized with labels like “at-risk,” conveying a narrowed perception of their potential and resigning them to failure before they have been given the chance to excel.

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Season of Change

Elementary school students in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Bed-Stuy.patch.com

Elementary school students in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Bed-Stuy.patch.com

As much as I enjoy the long daylight hours, bare email in-boxes and the balmy breezes of summer, each August I delight in the refreshing prospect of a new school year. The specific mix of excitement and anxiety, which comes from daring expectations and memories of last year’s disappointments, reveals how much we continue to treasure the opportunity to learn and to teach. For those of us who are lucky, school is a sanctuary where we can discover the best of who we are and who we can be.

In the next few weeks, a multitude of teachers, children and parents will scramble to provide the essentials, like chalk, construction paper and pencils, necessary to make their schools work. Vibrant hopes–that they will be as fun in the classroom as the favorite teacher that inspired them to become educators, that they have grown from last year’s lessons, that their children will reach new educational heights–invigorate these contributions. Despite being given meager resources, their dedicated participation as builders rather than consumers, advocates rather than bureaucrats, is what helps so many public schools continue to survive. However, parents, teachers and children cannot transform neighborhood schools into havens of self-discovery without our support.

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