My mother always said that if my brother or I pushed a girl in kindergarten or elementary school, that we would be told to stop.  But if a black boy pushed a girl, he would be thrown out.  The Solutions not Suspensions initiative has called for a moratorium on-out-of-school suspensions.  I totally support this moratorium as a parent, an educator and an activist.  Dignity in Schools, one of the two driving forces writes:

“This ‘pushout’ crisis is fueled by many factors, including zero-tolerance and other punitive discipline policies, one-size-fits-all educational models, a lack of adequate resources and support for teachers, and a lack of meaningful participation of students, parents and the larger community.”

The other impetus behind the moratorium, the Opportunity to Learn Campaign, announced last week:

“Every year, 3.3 million students in the U.S. are suspended from school, causing them to miss critical learning time and pushing them out of school, often for minor misbehavior. Federal data shows that students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended and subjected to harsher punishments…  Advocates called on states and districts to implement positive discipline alternatives that keep students in the classroom rather sending them down the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The campaign is very positive and offers things every student, parent, educator and activist can do.

Study after study shows that the best way to get of rid of crime is to increase equity in the economy, yet, strangely, U.S. policy frameworks exacerbate inequity.  Policies, for instance, that make it so wealthy communities have more dollars and can pay their teachers more than high-need communities – these policies and the U.S. legal framework “exacerbates inequity in access to high quality education for all our children and young people.  Consequently, our school systems are failing entire communities, particularly students of color, low-income students, English Language Learners and members of other marginalized communities,” says legal scholar Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow.

Alexander documents the mass criminalization of our society.  She lays out U.S. policies and “the systemic breakdown of black and poor communities devastated by mass unemployment, social neglect, economic abandonment and intense police surveillance.”  Cornell West applauds her analysis of “the massive use of state power to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of precious poor, black, male (and increasingly female) young people in the name of a bogus ‘War on Drugs’.”  Just like the bogus Iraq War on Terrorism,”  both “lay bare the structures of a racial caste system alive and well in the age of colorblindness…  How sad that this blindness has persisted under both Republican and Democratic administrations” to this day.   A few tidbits from Alexander's book:

  • The Supreme Court upheld forty years of imprisonment for possession and an attempt to sell nine  ounces of marijuana. 
  • The same drug-related crimes that have a mandatory ten-year sentence in the U.S. would get six months in prison in England;
  • In the U.S. a life sentence is deemed appropriate for a first-time drug offender;
  • The Supreme Court upheld a sentence of 25 years without parole for a man who stole three golf clubs from a pro shop and 50 years without parole for another man for stealing children’s video tapes from a Kmart… both driven by the three strikes and you're out minimum 25-year sentence.
  • In major cities across the United States, the majority of young black men are under the control of the criminal justice system or saddled with criminal records.

Alexander does not call our policies strange, but deliberate, and shows the continuity from blacks not being able to vote as slaves, then during Jim Crow and now, in our age, criminalized.   The suspension policies in schools continue this legacy of institutionalized racism and it has got to stop.  There are things each of can do to stop it.  Go to the website, sign on and find out what you can do:  http://stopsuspensions.org/

For educators and students, I particularly recommend the Dignity in School's Model Code:   http://www.dignityinschools.org/...

In my next post I will highlight some of my favorite solutions from DSC.

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