Monday, September 9, 2019

Punishment creates multiple victims

One subtle thing about schools that I like is that the staffs typically span all ages. We have Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and age disparity that is actually refreshing.

However, one problem with older populations is that they have a harder time understanding change and often times, fall into habits or ideas from yesteryear.

I bring this up because many educators call for old-school discipline of suspensions and punishment when a problem arises. We have the data, and we know that this type of discipline does not work. Yet here we go again with a discipline song and dance that continues to punish mostly boys of color.

In Victor Rios' 2011 book Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, we see the astounding statistics of how these boys are systemically treated as well as personal narratives that show this in action.

Rios' personal story is captivating as he grew up in Oakland, dropped out of school in eighth grade and ended up in juvenile hall at age 15. He soon got his stuff together and eventually got a PhD from Berkeley and now is a professor at UC Santa Barbara.

Right off the bat, Rios will tell you that the entire framing of "at-risk" youth and "at-risk" neighborhoods is way off. In fact, he vehemently opposes that terminology because it sets up youth for risk. To me, it also puts some sort of blame on the youth, and that it is not all what is happening. Looking at the big picture, these so-called at-risk youth are the victims of what Rios calls "The Youth Control Complex."
The Youth Control Complex is the combination of the schools and prisons that work hand-in-hand to send black and Latino boys to prison and hardly have any hope. I would add that since many of the educators in school don't understand this and/or are culturally irrelevant, they become unknowing foot soldiers of perpetuating this horrific system.

Since 70 percent of the teachers in the United States are white women, there is an excellent chance that people of color are "taught" by white women who are blind to the Youth Control Complex. In addition, just like the prisons, there is a charter school movement that is perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline — for corporate profit.

Through it all, perhaps the best point that Rios makes is that we've had a far off Cultural Misframing of what is happening in poor neighborhoods that are black and Latino. Perhaps I'm crazy to think that schools exist to help young people. However, when I have studied and even seen first hand the treatment of "at-promise" youth, I see that the words and approach often criminalizes the kid at the first opportunity.

I had a deep idea the other day. The United States has long been a champion of the individual, the superhero, the myth that "anyone can do anything." But wonder if that whole individualistic view is wrong.

Wonder if we are all one organism, rich or poor, black or white, female or male, etc. When we punish part of the organism, we are punishing all of us. That's why I know that the school-to-prison pipeline needs resources to reform and more attention ASAP. The for-profit prison system needs to stop as well as our mistreatment of Latino and black boys.

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