Breaking the Pipeline | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Breaking the Pipeline

It's graduation season in Jackson, and it's an excellent time to reflect on what it takes to do the best for the future of our state: our kids.

Unless you've been cowering under a rock, you've heard the phrase "cradle-to-prison pipeline." The unflattering moniker describes what can seem like a smooth superhighway, where kids born into less than ideal situations find themselves as little more than fodder for Mississippi prisons.

Because the pipeline has been so much a part of our lives for so long, it can look like a large measure of inevitability comes along with it. But it's not true. There's simply no reason that children born of poverty and ignorance must end up as criminals.

On the pages of this JFP, you'll meet some local kids who are not part of that pipeline. These teenagers, many of whom did not grow up in the idealized American dream of families, are bright, involved and engaged. Their futures are quite possibly brighter than many children of privilege.

What makes the difference? Parents, of course, but not every child has the great good luck of having two educated, nurturing adults in their corner. Alleviating poverty, of course. But society isn't moving on that very fast.

If we, as a society, want to break the pipeline, we have to begin making our commitment real instead of settling for what we've been handed. Oftentimes, the difference between a college-bound kid and one headed for Parchman is only one caring adult, someone who takes an interest and then follows through for a child, being a role model with integrity of actions and the courage to tell the truth.

We could be doing so much more. In spite of a mountain of evidence that shows children begin real, life-long learning at age 2, Mississippi still does not have a statewide pre-K program. Despite years of "teaching to the test," we stubbornly cling to our notion that testing more teaches more. Instead of teaching self-confidence and social skills, our overwhelmed teachers follow zero-tolerance policies, which, like "truth in sentencing" and other tough-on-crime measures, benefit no one and nothing but the pipeline.

Jackson Public Schools, underfunded and over-burdened with children from less-than-optimal home situations, should look at solutions other urban schools have put into place. First, aim to lower children's distress, the abnormal stress resulting from never-ending testing combined with a life lived in poverty and fear. Then, provide kids with the social skills they need to make their way through the world.

The experts tells us what it takes to make criminals—poverty, high-crime environments and families under stress. Now, let's get busy figuring out how to have great kids, instead.

Previous Comments

ID
163302
Comment

Interesting article Donna, Mississippi does indeed suffer from over testing. Many school leaders claim that NCLB is the culprit, but in reality, they are masking the fact that they are clueless as to how to teach a school full of students who are not supported in the home and community environment adequately to pursue a 21st Century, global education. It would be interesting to see what the price tag would be to fully prepare a student from a single parent, poverty stricken home for the global economy and diverse community they will inherit as adults? Also, does MAEP truly “adequately” fund this type of education for these students? The Youth Conference at the Mississippi Freedom Riders 50th Anniversary Commemoration is planning to launch a national initiative to demand quality education as a civil right for all students. This is where these issues must head. As it stands in MS, and all of the country, quality education is a privilege for the elites and well to do. Until the status quo educational system is indicted in the cradle to prison pipeline as a key arbiter and distributor of this privilege, we are spinning our wheels. Policies and practices like assuming that the “same funding” is “adequate funding” of public schools, that there is a way to fully prepare students in a school system that is 90% free and reduced lunch (no one has found a way to do that in a compulsory attendance context), and rewarding districts more for test scores (that result from mostly successfully limiting the number of poor and minority students in your school-check Madison and Rankin County schools) rather than measuring the growth of students from year to year; all prove to feed into the cradle to prison pipeline. Ultimately, the education issue is a community development issue. Until we as a community start challenging the conventions of residential segregation and the resulting concentration of poverty, we will continue to have these discussions and continue to have pep rallies for these struggling schools, rather than really engage in transformative practices that will solve problems.

Author
Renaldo Bryant
Date
2011-04-29T08:44:09-06:00
ID
163320
Comment

Blackwatch, Teaching to the test just adds more stress to kid's lives. It's either boring or devastating for children who all have the capability to do so much more: boring if they're up to speed on the curriculum; devastating if they're not. We have to give our kids more options than that. Transformative practices are making a huge difference in children's lives in places like Harlem and East L.A. Things like teaching kids basic social skills and conflict management skills; teaching kids how to soothe themselves, lowering their stress; and how to form bonds. And giving children realistic hope while embracing (instead of punishing) failure. All of those skills are of primary importance for an at-risk child, because without them, the child will not learn anything else. Trying to teach a non-social, angry and isolated child is like using a rock for a sponge—nothing gets in. Other parts of the puzzle include providing strong adult role models and engaging their natural curiosity. It is, as you said, a community development issue: It really does take a village.

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2011-05-01T18:54:35-06:00
ID
163324
Comment

I tend to agree Ronni that teaching to the test is a major problem. But, I wonder, does it have the same effects on students in Desoto or on the Coast as it does in the Delta or in JPS? You bring up great points about the social skills these students in the cradle to prison pipeline need to learn in order to be better situated to learn. I wonder, is there enough time and resources to provide this type of education to these kids? You mentioned Harlem, and I presume Harlem Children’s Zone, which is funded by a variety of sources, and extremely expensive. Yet, the gains it produces are modest when compared to public schools in more affluent neighborhoods in NYC (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/13/education/13harlem.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=education) which suggests that there is a structural issue concerning the concentration of poverty and the educational environment. When do we as a community address the concentration of poverty and its adverse social effects on our community? Perhaps these children are suffering from some defective educational structures, rather than just social-emotional deficits.

Author
Renaldo Bryant
Date
2011-05-02T13:16:11-06:00
ID
163333
Comment

Blackwatch, I agree with you, but unfortunately those are very difficult conversations that most people are uncomfortable having. It seems clear that what works in a classroom of children from educated parents might not always work for classrooms filled with children living in generational poverty. Another thing that seems important is how education is viewed by the children. In middle class and upper middle class families, education is usually seen as valuable and necessary. In families living in poverty, the children may know that their parents have a high school diploma, yet still work at a local fast food restaurant and live in a bad area. When the child looks around at the local high school graduates, they don’t see anything to aspire to, and they probably don’t see many college grads in their neighborhood other than the educators at school and possibly the ministers in their churches. The entire perception of what it means to be educated and the doors that are opened through education are lost for many poor children. I’ve spent a lot time volunteering in public schools and mentoring through organizations, and after countless workshops, conversations, trips/experiences, tutoring sessions, etc, I can’t say that I really feel like I’ve helped the mentees. I will continue to try, but realistically, it seems like their other influences were just much stronger in their lives than I was. I look at some middle class parents who have done everything they can to give their kids a bright future, and even they have trouble keeping their kids from “the streets.” It’s an issue for all people, but it seems to be even worse for minority children. There are so many children who buy in to the negative and unfruitful ideas of what it means to be black, which is nothing more than self-hate. This problem is much bigger than JPS or Mississippi.

Author
News Junkie
Date
2011-05-03T11:10:57-06:00
ID
163350
Comment

Blackwatch, I don't have to tell you that poverty is a complex issue. Our culture of extreme inequality and divisive politics makes all of poverty's affects more harsh and difficult to resolve. Kids—all of us, really—are bombarded every day with a hundred direct and indirect messages that money equals happiness. Then, our culture denies millions the ability to achieve monetary wealth through inadequate education. God forbid we actually teach people that money doesn't equal happiness. No. We have to figure that out on our own. You asked if there are enough time and resources to give kids the kind of socialization and emotional education they need. My question back to you is what's the alternative? Like the editorial says: We already know how to make criminals out of our kids. When are we going to try something different?

Author
Ronni_Mott
Date
2011-05-03T19:13:43-06:00
ID
163352
Comment

Ronnie and News, The conversation about improving the educational opportunities for urban youth is quite complex and daunting. There are aspects of the “culture” (for lack of a better term) that need to be addressed. At the same time, we need to critically assess whether the educational structures we champion in public schools are even useful in the development of these youth. I believe News mentioned that the environmental influences are hard to counter with these young people. One way to do that is to teach them to critically assess their environment. When I taught high school economics in Columbia, MO, I had a project where I took my students on a mini tour of their neighborhood (I had a “Special education” –read so called “at risk Black boys”-class). I asked them about the types of businesses, institutions, and homes they saw. They noted a tremendous amount of churches, convenience stores, check cashing businesses, public housing, and low income rental units. Then, we studied the money cycle in the class where it was noted that the basis of the market driven economy is consumerism and money turning over in a community. They noted that real community investment comes from banks, small businesses, and real investment in the public services (schools, parks, libraries, etc.). They themselves noted the absence of these types of investments in their communities. For at least that lesson, they were able to begin to grasp the machinations that create and sustain the concentrated poverty that they lived in everyday, yet never really understood, and thus felt powerless to change. The next logical step would have been to devise a group research project on addressing how these structures come to characterize their communities and how to begin be real investment so that their community could improve and they present their findings to institutions like the city council, chamber of commerce, and the local university business and economics department. But, because the school’s curriculum was aligned to a state test, we “didn’t have time” to explore that type of real learning. That experience taught me that the relevance of the education depends on its usefulness to these students contemporary and near future reality. If these schools are not integral in developing a vision for these kids’ futures as well as advocating for a better learning environment, in the school house and the home, then the students will not see the relevance of the educational enterprise. Schools in urban settings should not only look different, but be different, in scope of learning and goal of education. While most education leaders believe career and technical education (CTE) should be the goal for most of these students, to a man or a woman, ask any parent in these settings what they want for their children and they will tell you they want them to go to college. These parents know more than anyone else how much opportunity is available to a college educated person. The challenge of educators in these areas is how do we prepare students for college given the realities that they face, the disadvantages they inherit, and the lack of real role models (human and institutional) necessary to make a long term goal of a quality education realistic? The answer lies in an education for liberation. Even in the schools in these communities, the education is about getting a kid in the best position to get a job (thus the CTE push), rather than to educate a kid to transform their community. The literature classes in these schools should inspire students to analyze and challenge the status quo, the STEM classes should be about invention and problem solving, the social studies classes should gear kids to critically analyzing interlocking systems of oppression (race, class, gender and other “-isms”). The arts should be training students to express their angst and frustration with the status quo, and the Phys Ed should also incorporate the notion of sports as a professional business, and note things like sports marketing, coaching, training, and agency. The CTE education should be geared toward entrepreneurship, and not limit students to technical schools (anything they need to learn in a technical education they can learn as they prepare to go to college, the two are not mutually exclusive). Ultimately, this will take courage, courage out of out institutional leaders (schools, churches, artists, professionals, etc.). A grassroots movement starts with education and enlightenment of a critical mass of people. How do we reach that critical mass in MS?

Author
Renaldo Bryant
Date
2011-05-04T09:20:42-06:00
ID
163356
Comment

Very interesting dialogue from both Mott and Blackwatch on Ladd's well thoughout article. The problem is not a chicken-egg debate. This argument has been settled: The fertilized EGG comes first and then the little chicks are then spred into homes with inadequate conditions, poverty, parents who are laced with poor parenting skills and these conditions create the vicious cycle of more poverty, illness and in too many cases, deliquncy and criminal activity: that activity that leads to decay of the "NEIGHBORHOOD" losing its title to become "THE HOOD". This problem can only improve with the focus being placed on planned parenthood and instituting some type of reward for not bringing unplanned/unwanted children into the world. Since these problems start in the home, we must assertively deal with the parents who are root causes: The children described in the article are only symptoms!

Author
justjess
Date
2011-05-04T12:01:06-06:00

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