Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Police State Schools

All day, my head and heart have been hurting over a cell phone video clip of a Black GIRL being brutalized by a police officer in a school. She was a quiet student, we later find out. She had just lost her mother and had been placed in foster care. This makes the situation all the more unbearable.

I wish I could say that this one incident was just that—only one incident. But we know that it is not.

We love the Hollywood stories of the tough, gritty urban teachers who whip the class of rowdy Black and Latino teenagers in shape. The story of the principal who traveled the halls of the high school with a baseball bat in hand. 

THIS is what THESE kids need, we say.  

Tough love. A firm hand. Respect. Grit. 

Of course it’s racist. Of course that would never, could never happen in a predominantly White and middle to upper class school of any kind. But we have bought into this. 

And we don’t care.

I say we don’t care, because if we did I think it could be, would be different. Schools would have more funding for counselors and social workers. Teachers would get paid better and have budgets for supplies, professional development, and planning time. Classes would be smaller. We wouldn’t test children for four weeks out of the year. 

But school is not about the whole child. School is about meritocracy and keeping the less intelligent masses in their place. Let the cream rise to the top. That was the philosophy of the creator of the now ubiquitous SAT. 

Before that, school was about keeping the upper class in power. That has really never changed. With the onset of standardized testing, the upper class was quickly populated by the best and brightest… White people. Because Black, Brown, and Native people were not allowed in the same schools, anyway. 

We are now almost as racially segregated in schools as we were BEFORE Brown v. Board of Education. I ask myself, in this “post-racial” society, how we sleep at night with this knowledge. 

I also wonder why we are okay with POLICE OFFICERS in schools. I have heard teachers explain that they need to feel safe. And yet study after study makes it clear that this militarization of schools has only created a quicker route to prison than dropping out, aptly called the “school to prison pipeline."

I can only conclude that we have justified this with the very same logic that we use to justify mass incarceration, which is the belief that Black and Latino people are inherently more violent, and therefore, prone to criminal activity, than White people. And this logic also governs the way we school (I dare not say “educate”) Black, Brown, and Native children. 

We have to confront this lie head on. We are all made in the image of God. “Race” is not really a thing; we have created it. No person is inherently more violent than another. White people are just as likely to commit violent crimes, and are more likely to sell or use drugs.

This situation is further compounded by the growing poverty faced by children and families nationwide. We have cut ONLY the kinds of welfare that help poor people, so that families are facing nearly insurmountable housing, food, transportation, and child care costs. The environment in which people of color living in poverty find themselves is often one that is without resources, but WITH many possibilities for police encounters, many of which end up being fatal

This brings me what I have been thinking about in terms of the parallels between between the police state and schools. Both are professions that are being asked to pick up the pieces of a mess that resulted from society pulling out the rug from under people living in or close to poverty. Both professions are underpaid, predominantly White, and not nearly trained enough to work in an increasingly diverse society. Neither profession can fix all of societies ills. Policy and changes in laws must do that work.

However, one very obvious difference between police and schools is that in most schools where common sense prevails, teachers don’t have guns. Nor should they. Further, when left to their own devices, schools are places where de-escalation is possible. Counseling is possible. Provided that schools don’t resort to suspensions and continual in school suspensions, it is a place where a community can grow. Schools hold potential for comforting and healing the whole child in ways that police cannot.

Police do not belong in the mix of schools. 

If police have not shown they can be trusted on the streets, then they most certainly should not be trusted with our children.