To fully grasp the social importance of the Modern School, we must understand first the school as it is being operated today, and secondly the idea underlying the modern educational movement[…]
It is for the child what the prison is for the convict and the barracks for the soldier – a place where everything is being used to break the will of the child, and then to pound, knead, and shape it into a being utterly foreign to itself.
-Emma Goldman, The Social Importance of the Modern School
I have always known that the American education system was more focused on punishment and discipline than education. The war between the individual and society begins at school. Those who do not fall in line, even the slightest, are simply thrown away like trash. Even when I was in high school, I still recall people getting suspended or expelled for every little thing. The people who get expelled usually don’t come back, or they are sent to an “alternative school.” I’d like to discuss my views on the school-to-prison pipeline.
I liken the so-called education system to a social Darwinist experiment on children, an experiment in which the people who cannot be “taught” to be good citizens are simply thrown away like rubbish. The purpose is not to educate, but rather, it is to indoctrinate, to create the gears necessary to run the capitalist machine. I do not think that one can deny that there is a racial element to this. According to a study conducted by the US Department of Education, Black students are three times more likely to be suspended out of school or expelled than White students. Only 4.6% of white students, on average, receive suspensions, whereas a staggering 16.4% of black students are suspended[i]. This merely confirms something I have always known: America considers people of color to be worthless human beings from the day they are born.
I had a friend in middle school and high school, an African-American, we will call him Rick. Rick lived down the street from me, so we were close. Rick lived with his aunt and was shuffled from foster home to foster home. He was a fairly intelligent child who could have done better had he been more privileged in his life, but he was not privileged, and he often lashed out in class.
Rick got into a fight with, and it is very much worth mentioning, a White student and was not only expelled, but he was arrested. Of course the White student was only suspended for a few days and came right back. When Rick got expelled, his aunt sent him to a group home, and I never saw him again afterwards. I don’t know where Rick is or how he is doing, but I do know that he is a tragic example of someone whom society deemed worthless and suffered because of it.
The experts call this phenomenon the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The actual words “school-to-prison” do not make sense if you go to most public schools in America. I do not think that anyone can tell the difference between a school and a prison in the present day with all of the “resource officers,” “zero tolerance policies,” metal detectors, and check in stations. Yes, they have check-in stations now, and as recently as when I graduated in 2011, at least at my high school. You were issued an identification card, and every morning you were to run it through a machine and you were punished if you did not. If you lost your card, you received a hefty fee. That does not sound like a place where one is supposed to learn, it sounds more like a prison. It is a prison.
From the day I started pre-kindergarten, up until the night I received my diploma, I dreaded walking into that building. I still do. That prison, that brick-and-mortar dead zone where anyone who could not pass a standardized test was labeled an idiot. I simply could not process the often worthless information I was given, which is why I would just walk out of class and wander the halls, coming back halfway through the class. Even though I tried to stay out of trouble, I found trouble anyway. I once got suspended for getting my phone taken away, almost getting into a fight with another student. Children got suspended for making finger guns. They call this, the zero tolerance policy.
Some say that this is because of Columbine and other horrific incidents of mass murder at schools, but these things precede Columbine. This is what zero tolerance means: zero tolerance for rebellion. The slightest form of rebellion results in one being targeted, and yes, the schools do target certain students who are rebellious. I have watched teachers and principals provoke students, and then send them to the office when they become angry. The education system has always been an institution devoted to the destruction of children, transforming them into mere objects that the state and capitalist society need to function, and throwing away them away when they rebel, the trash usually being people of color.
Even Malcolm X was a victim of this, when his teacher told him that Black people can’t be lawyers. This is what led him into the self-destructive lifestyles that he eventually fell into, before he finally realized who he was and became the person we now know him to be. A Black person potentially being in a position of power (i.e. being a lawyer) was a threat to a White supremacist society, and still is. Malcolm, as well as Rick, are just two examples, albeit contrasting examples, of children who were not allowed to achieve their true potential because they rebelled. These children are eventually integrated into the penal system because they are not aware of who they are, nor are they aware of their conditions. They lack the political and social consciousness necessary to navigate an anti-Black, capitalist world that seeks their destruction. So, they tend to rebel for the sake of rebelling, they don’t know who their true enemy is. They blindly rebel, not knowing that, rather than destroying it, they are actually giving in to the very same world that seeks their destruction.
How do we solve this problem? We must first recognize that you cannot reform something that is working exactly as it was intended to work. This has been the failure of liberals for decades. Extreme conditions call for extreme solutions. The school system was designed, not to teach, but to form the individual into someone who will perpetuate an oppressive and violent society. The public school must be completely torn down and reconstructed along the more humane lines. Education, individualized education, must be made the number one priority. The nurturing of critical thinking, intellect, and imagination must be the primary goal again, not punishment.