April Swanson

Professor Salo

UP 260

29 September 2013

Critical Review #3

Not only is the United States home to the highest incarceration rates around the globe, but is also increasingly plagued by what is referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline. This system of education and public policies has both directly and indirectly funneled countless students from their seats in the classroom to a life behind iron bars. Students are forced out of their elementary, middle, and high schools for minor offenses that would have traditionally been handled by administration staffed by the school. Particularly after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, many zero-tolerance policies have been adopted (Amurao, 2013). This shift in administration is targeted at public schools, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods and including a large proportion of children who are of historically suppressed identities, namely African American boys and children with disabilities (Amurao, 2013). The historical and social groundwork of these victimized areas perpetuates the lack of opportunity these children have at a democratic education.  Deregulation and lack of investment in public education are markers of neoliberal ideology that have helped to fuel the increase in inequality among American children and their access to pursue an education.

Historical inequalities in the United States education system heavily impact how school faculty and law enforcers deal with children of varying socioeconomic and racial backgrounds both within and between schools in modern America. Areas of heavily concentrated poverty are susceptible to the prison pipeline. The students that attend schools in these areas are not seen as fit to serve positions as human capital for the prevailing neoliberal system (Giroux, 2012).  These children tend to score low on the standardized tests that are implemented to manufacture the generation that will fill the ranks in corporate America, sucking the education system dry of a democratic right to education. As more school mentors, social workers, and counselors are laid-off because of severe budget cuts, disabled students and those from troubled backgrounds are unable to attain the necessary resources to become successful students. The neoliberal concepts imbedded in the national education sector do not allow this demographic to succeed beyond what is expected. African American students also tend to receive harsher punishments than white students for the same misconducts in school (Amurao, 2013). These disciplinary issues are also increasingly conducted by law officials than by social workers and school administration. African-American students originating from low-income families often come from neighborhoods where the alternative to school is the streets and eventually the jail cell. As schools around the nation close and become privatized because of insufficient funds allotted for education within city and statewide budgets, children of these neighborhoods become greatly influenced by their destructive environment. Through school closings often caused by privatization, these children are even more likely to be thrown in jail for offences on the street. That is, if they already have not been imprisoned in juvenile detention centers for a minor offence made in school.

It is no surprise that many zero-tolerance policies have been formed, as states are investing more in constructing and sustaining prison facilities than in the education of children. The neoliberal framework ensures that a capitalist society be maintained through accumulation of profit (Giroux, 2012). Advocates of neoliberal policies are more concerned with filling prison cells than classroom seats. Investment is not given to low-income students in the form of educational resources that help to blossom them into powerful adults; rather the investment is given to what they are more predisposed to become: prisoners.  These zero-tolerance policies do not allow school officials to work with mildly troubled students, who would probably otherwise be easily integrated young citizens. Instead, these policies cause high rates of suspensions and expulsions in certain inferior demographics. A white child, for example, would more likely be dismissed from any punishment that would hinder their completion of school than would an African-American. These equity issues cause more low-income, minority children to become suspended or expelled eventually leading to an overall increase in drop-out rates. The schools most affected by these statistics are the first to close. (NAACP, 2013).

As Alan Goodman stated in his Race is a Myth, Racism is Real lecture given at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center Ballroom, race is a cultural construct and there is no biological basis for its reasoning. It is society that builds inequalities between people on the basis of historical hierarchies and in this case it is the neoliberal society that dismisses the largely African American lower class youth of their right to a fruitful education. This culturally appropriated “inferior” race does in fact carry the capitalist society on its back. These inferior children are funneled from the classroom to prisons in order to generate an exorbitant sum of profit for mainly private hands of a higher valued race. Similarly in pre-Civil War times, African Americans were considered the foundation of the United States economy, as it thrived and sustained itself on plantation slavery. The current movement of children from schools to prisons is a parallel situation of the modern day racial hierarchy that targets many innocent youth, preventing them from grasping their supposed equal right to education.

The No More Jails in Champaign campaign is a local initiative raised by concerned activists called the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ). This campaign was developed to fight the construction of a new twenty million dollar prison in the Champaign County. Mass incarceration has not only deepened its presence on a national level, but specifically in the Champaign area of Central Illinois as well. Not only are its advocates concerned with discouraging the county budget from including over twenty million dollars to be spent on a new prison facility, but they are adamant about reforming the budget to include funding for preventative programs such as investment in education. If education fails to become a priority of the government, citizens dealing with this same issue will continue to be ravaged by neoliberal policies that are unconcerned with welfare programs and more concentrated on turning a profit through mass incarceration. These programs and are actually preventative methods that keep unwarranted citizens out of prisons. Shifting the focus to improving education can be crucial in reversing the current school-to-prison pipeline.

The inequality generated by neoliberal policies has forced many schools to close, privatize, and militarize their policies as well. Primarily minority and disabled students are targeted as many schools around the nation adopt zero-tolerance policies that increase suspension and expulsion rates. Law enforcement presence in schools is becoming more wide-spread as privatized prison facilities are hungry for more students, particularly those originating from low-income households. The historical and social groundwork of the communities susceptible to the school-to-prison pipeline is perpetuating a whole generation of young citizens who cannot grasp the reigns of upward social mobility. Seen on a national and local level, this social inequality in the education system is created by neoliberal policies that undermine the abilities of thousands of misunderstood children.

Works Cited

Amurao, Carla. Fact Sheet: How Bad Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline? PBS: Tavis Smiley

Reports. 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/tsr/education-under-arrest/school-to-prison-pipeline-fact-sheet/

Giroux, Henry. Henry A. Giroux: Can Democratic Education Survive in a Neoliberal Society?

Truthout. 16 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/12126-can-democratic-education-survive-in-a-neoliberal-society

School to Prison Pipeline. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  2013. Web. 29 Sept.

2013. http://www.naacpldf.org/case/school-prison-pipeline


 Discussion Questions

  1. Are there any other large causes of the education crisis in America aside from neoliberal policies or does it all stem from this ideology?
  2. It seems as if though education in America would be heavily invested in because children are the future generators of all the profit for the nation, how does neoliberalism justify its adverse effects on the economic situations of thousands of capable children?