Welcome to Prison-Prone America

Posted: January 14th, 2010 by Militant Libertarian

by Carolyn Bennett, TPV

“American primary and secondary schools fail to educate because that is not their function, Dmitry Orlov writes. “Their function is to institutionalize children at an early age.” In due course inmates of the U.S. education enterprise “will go on to other institutions – jails, psychiatric hospitals, the military.”

“… There is a reason why jails, hospitals and schools are often architecturally indistinguishable: they are but different parts of the same system, representing different phases of the institutionalization life cycle.”

What of higher learning?

Those “who learn obedience while retaining some semblance of sanity [enter] U.S. colleges and universities [that] fail to produce graduates who have adequate general knowledge, good command of their native language [Illiteracy in the United States is abnormally high for a developed nation], and the ability to acquire specialized knowledge without any further institutional assistance.”

This failure can be attributed to many factors; Dmitry Orlov deepens his thesis in Reinventing Collapse: “the star system of professorship, where politically connected faculty members teach seminars on how and why they are glorious. Most of the actual teaching is left up to adjuncts, associate professors, post-docs, teaching fellows and other academic rabble; the dead weight of so-called chips off the old block – children of alumni; the refusal of talented Americans to teach, leaving the field open to foreigners who couldn’t get in at home…. But … again, a much simpler explanation should suffice: the goal of the American higher education system is not to educate.”

Orlov was writing in the same period the American Civil Liberties Union was reporting American ‘Education’ as a “School to Prison Pipeline.”

The process of criminalizing rather than educating America’s children as manifested in zero-tolerance discipline, school-based arrests, disciplinary alternative schools, and secured detention marginalizing the most at-risk youth and denying them access to education – amounts to a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Zero-tolerance punitive policies of severe discipline and expulsion unmindful of individual circumstances begin the child’s journey through the pipeline.

American schools no longer rely on teachers and administrators to handle minor student misconduct, but on law enforcement: full-time police officers (or ‘school resource officers’) untrained in working with youth. These enforcers patrol secondary school hallways, approach youth as street ‘perps’, and arrest students for “non-violent offenses such as ‘disruptive conduct’ or ‘disturbance of the peace.'” Pupils are led handcuffed from classrooms for “throwing temper tantrums, throwing an eraser at a teacher, breaking a pencil, having rap lyrics in a locker.”

Though no evidence supports the notion that minority students misbehave more than non- minority students, the former (including students with disabilities) are punished more often and more severely and piped into prisons. In under-resourced U.S. schools, budget allotments better spent on basic educational resources such as textbooks and libraries fund security. Schools spend millions to procure police officers and security personnel.

The ‘punishment gap’ grows in proportion to schools’ race to stay alive, retain federal funds, in a rigid “no-child-left-behind” codified teach-the-test curriculum/testing that eggs on the manipulation of school performance data by eliminating “low-performing” students.

In some states, expelled or suspended students “have no right” to education at all.

Rising numbers of districts dump students, involuntarily, into disciplinary alternative schools – sometimes run by private, for-profit companies [similar to contracted mercenaries] – not subject to accountability or traditional school standards such as minimum hours and curriculum requirements, teachers and textbooks, diplomas upon graduation.

Whatever this “states rights,” private-public, fragmented enterprise in U.S. education is purporting to produce; it is most assuredly not a critically vital education, or educated people.

Education is not about learning “unquestioning obedience within a complex rule-following system,” as Orlov terms it; education at least equips the learner with “a wide mental horizon” making one “at least theoretically capable of disobedience.” Orlov concludes that in his view, and I quite agree with this view, an educated person is not “just someone who can get a job that pays well,” but an educated person is “someone free in mind and spirit to explore the universe on [her/his] own.” In the current narrow approach to education “lies [America’s] undoing.”

Sources and notes
Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects, Dmitry Orlov, New Society Publishers, June 1, 2008, excerpts from pages 94-97
“School-prison pipeline,” ACLU, June 6, 2008, http://www.aclu.org/print/racial-justice/school-prison-pipeline-talking-points, published at American Civil Liberties Union. http://www.aclu.org/


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