Zero tolerance, The Future, and Dreams

School to Prison Pipeline

For the past three weeks in my Urban Political and Social Systems, Issues and Practices class we have entered the topic of education. More specifically how public policy affects the quality of education as well as the ongoing issues of implementing Zero tolerance policies in schools. Our case study starts with the Philadelphia school district.

We first took a trip south of Philadelphia to Furness High School. As we entered the public school, we were all surprised to see that we had to go through metal detectors to enter.

 What is this? I thought, but I complied.

I removed all my belongings which were to be X-rayed into the machine while I walked through the detector. Flash forward a week and we are in Philadelphia’s county prison. In a single file line, our class was guided towards the prison’s metal detector. Sound familiar? How is it that a public school and a prison have the same initiatives?

School policies are somehow being intertwined with those used in prisons. If policies remain like this, our youth will walk out of high school and into the open arms of a jail cell. We cannot keep running our schools like we run our jails. There were no metal detectors where I attended high school — we were not treated as criminals. It was a safe and trusting environment. Youth in these schools are being affected by each of these new rules and regulations. Metal detectors indicate that students cannot be trusted; which in turn turns school into a hostile and stressful environment incapable of helping children learn. Instead of using zero tolerance punishment to solve dress code violations, schools need to dive deep into the issue of why this is happening. Little Tim’s mom might not have enough money to provide him with clothes for school. There’s always a reason why..

My Experience into the Eyes of the Future

During our visit at Furness high school we met students from Upward Bound who were interested in talking to college students. I was somewhat nervous walking in, but the students were even more nervous. They didn’t know what to ask us. Each one of us sat on different tables. My classmate, Lobna, and I sat with two girls. We all introduced ourselves and they introduced themselves as *Rachel and *Natalie. They were both a little hesitant about asking us questions, but they finally got the courage to ask us some questions. To put it into perspective, these girls do not have contact with college students; none of their family members have ever traveled that road. So here are a couple of questions that they asked us:

What do you do in college?                                                    How many hours do you study?

Is there a lot of homework?                                                   Are there cute boys?

Is it expensive?                                                                           Are there a lot of school clubs

It was exhilarating being able to provide answers to these basic questions. We enjoyed talking about all the aspects of college they should prepare for and expect. After giving them our side of college, we also wanted to learn a little more about them. Rachel told us that she wanted to be a writer, she loves writing stories. In that moment, Natalie told us that Rachel had submitted a short story (more than ten chapters!) in the publishing website, Scribd; she also mentioned that Rachel received positive reviews. Lobna and I were astonished that she had written a story that long as a sophomore. To us, that was amazing. I had not even accomplished either one by the time I graduated! Natalie was also a talented individual; she was the one that crafted the plot of the story. She told us it was her specialty to think of intriguing plots and she shares them with her friends at school. Both girls have the ability to succeed and as we both talked to them we felt like a need to guide them.

While we were there, we also heard some pretty disturbing things about their high school. For one, the school did not provide clean water fountains. The students told us that they will not drink from them because the water tastes like rusted pipes and they have to bring their own water bottles from home. How are students supposed to learn when they don’t have the basic necessities like water? Secondly, the library does not have a librarian and they can only access it during lunch, other times it is locked. Compared to my high school in Santa Ana, this library was small.  Thirdly, there are no dance classes offered. This was one of my biggest concerns because dance was an important aspect of my high school life. It was the place where I would relieve myself of a stressful day.              

Before going to the high school, we only knew the statistics like the following. According to the department of Education of Pennsylvania, in 2010, the South Philadelphia high school district had a 57.4% graduation rate.  We heard this and we were shocked, but when you actually spend time with these students and just listen; you can easily realize they have the same hopes and dreams as any other person in America and you want to help them get there. Education equality is the first step for these students. Once these city schools receive the same resources as those at the other end of the country, they will begin to grasp the American dream.

 *names have been changed to protect the individuals

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5 thoughts on “Zero tolerance, The Future, and Dreams

  1. I’m still curious. Why are high schools like prisons?? Is it because of some crazy kids with guns? Because of vandalism? Because they live in a marginal area? I still can’t get it.

  2. Eli, I probably don’t have to say any of this but you were there for a reason. It’s in your hands to become a role model and a resource to these talented girls. If you mentor these girls, they will mentor others and the chain will go on. One student at a time.

    So, how does your high school experience compare to what you experienced in Philly?

    • That’s true, I was there for a reason and it did impact me in a good way. Well for one, the school did not provide clean water fountains. The students told us that they will not drink from them because the water tastes like rusted pipes. Second, the library does not have a librarian and they can only access it during lunch, other times it is locked. It is also as big as NAC 1, while the one in Santa Ana is twice as big. There are no dance classes offered. This was one of my biggest concerns because dance was an important aspect of my high school life. It was the place where I would relieve myself of a stressful day and seeing that they did not have it made me feel for them even more.

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