NEA’s Stand: Just Say No, School-To-Prison Pipeline.


I met Leslie Van Houghten. It’s not something I often talk about. Tonight, it has resonance. There comes a time we must reach deeply into our hearts and souls and reflect on common truths.

Recent violent events in our country trouble us all. I know we wake up and wonder what’s happening next to test our patience, unsettle us as a nation, try our core values as a collective people. We wonder how to help our children living in poverty, how to level the playing field and bring us together as a village of leaders and learners. Our Vision and Mission for safe, well fed, educated children is more important than ever before.

Before I was a Principal and Curriculum Consultant, for a number of years I worked in penal education. Just happened. Starting as High School English teacher, it was apparent too many kids couldn’t read well, or at all. One thing led to another and there I was teaching Reading and getting my Masters in Reading. My thesis was on “delinquency” and the non-reading correlation. Paths go in circuitous routes sometimes.

I worked for Ariz. Corrections, youth and adult, Title I program for inmates under 21, then Calif. Department of Corrections, the real deal. I “walked the line” at Deuel Vocational Institution, taught with cell study teachers at San Quentin, visited all prisons at that time with under 21 year old inmates. Our hope was to catch young people with aspirations for a better life and provide intensive academics, in particular how to read.

My first visit to a prison I met Leslie Van Houghten. I was told she would never be paroled, but that’s questionable now. She was working in the school office at the Women’s Institution. I vaguely saw the x on her forehead, but never dreamed she was one of the infamous Manson girls. As a Program Evaluator, I traveled to all the prison programs, including in remote camp areas, had to take tiniest of planes to get into the desolation.

I don’t know now how I did it. Young family, scary places, just a strong will to maybe make a difference to those I served. Once you get into a prison it feels so weird and unsafe, regardless how many times one does it. More importantly, kudos to forward thinking institutions which believe in rehab., not just punishment, or I would not have had opportunities to test my faith.

I met some interesting inmates during those years, but most of all, the dedicated teachers working with scarce materials, hostile work environment and institutionalized mentality, deserve medals.

I like to think ESEA made a difference. I doubt many of you realized that Title I was originally intended and extended beyond public schools into the most unimaginable places. I was there.

My life’s work has always been to work with the neediest of the needy, in particular, the kids no one wanted because I get it, they were really hard to deal with and really disrupted their classrooms and unglued teachers. I just like that kid the most, sometimes.

A number of studies cite stunning differences in discipline referrals, rigid restitutions and out of school suspension for children of color, most quoting at least three times more. What should be a huge concern to us all, corporal punishment is still allowed in nineteen states.

Bringing tears to our shared eyes, many children are in effect beaten, in about nine states, primarily. One is too many. Don’t you think? The actual numbers are staggering.

I’m sharing several worth reading links in a bit. There are so many studies to pick from. I was shocked when I started the research, and I thought I was already pretty expert on the subject. Looks like the school to prison pipeline is no joke. It’s real, with tentacles into many societal ramifications, both negative and positive.

Recently I wrote a blog post about kindergarten supensions.This is a worthy read, highighting the increasing number of kindergarten suspensions, and suspensions, in general. That starts the ball rolling, just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

I loathe writing with such venom about children being beaten, in this day and age, when my last two posts were so feel-good about letting go of our floaties in life, and preschool and life graduation.

Before we review the NEA Statement, let’s take a look at several insightful studies regarding racial inequlity and school discipline.

Here’s another deeply disturbing articleyou simply must read. There are so many research studies I am simply aghast as I write this, but I do want to give you some grist for thought before you take action as a concerned individual.

Here’s another.

Let’s take a look at what the NEA stated in their July 6thPolicy Statement. This seems so obvious to us, but then take a look at the details delineated in their fuller commentary.

What can we do? There are alternatives. Let’s share the good things happening for kids. It’s time for a serious dialogue, for kids’ sake.

We need to keep hardcore children in school, whatever it takes.

Thank you NEA, for taking a strong stand and offering ways for true equity to ring true.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita

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