This post picks up where I left off. Let’s wrap up chapter 3 “The School to Prison Pipeline.”
The Militarization of Schools
In 2003, administrators at Goose Creek High School in South Carolina coordinated a massive Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT 📖) team raid of their school in an effort to ferret out drugs and guns. Armored police, with guns drawn, ordered hundreds of mostly black students onto the ground without any specific probable cause as administrators went around identifying students to be searched and arrested.
The administrator who had organized the raid apologized to parents but pointed out that “once police are on campus, they are in control”—which is exactly the problem.
Read that again “once police are on campus, they are in control.” Students in school practice active shooter drills. Schools subject students to active policing. At a macro-level, we’ve abdicated education to the police state.
According to the Washington Post, at least 120 school-affiliated police forces in thirty states have utilized the 1033 weapons transfer program (discussed in chapter 1). Niraj Chokshi, “School police across the country receive excess military weapons and gear,” Washington Post, September 16, 2014.
That is an active weaponization of the School Resource Officer (SRO 📖) systems. Military grade weapons: “Mine-resistant ambush protection (MRAP) vehicles, AR-15 assault rifles, shotguns, and grenade launchers.”
For schools. What the fuck has happened?
More mundane violence by SROs is also widespread. In October 2015 a student recorded a South Carolina sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school violently arresting a teenage girl for having a phone in class. The officer flipped the young woman and her desk over, then dragged, threw, and tackled her.
A fellow student who videotaped the incident was physically threatened and arrested when she vocally protested what was happening.
According to a report by Mother Jones magazine, between 2010 and 2015, twenty-eight US students were severely injured by SROs and one was killed.
Reading this my blood boils. Here we see impunity and a system seeking and achieving reprisals against those that bare witness to the impunity.
The current protests appear to be very youth-led. Some have felt the boot of the police system. Others have seen the system for its hypocrsy. The youth have seen the utter and abject failure of “thoughts and prayers” to solve any of the systemic violence they’ve collectively exprienced in the incessant series of school shootings.
Our children know that the system is coming to nor going to save them.
The massive expansion of school police is predicated on the idea that it makes schools safer, but this just isn’t true. Schools with heavy police presence consistently report feeling less safe than similar schools with no police. There is no evidence that SROs reduce crime, and there have been only a few instances where officers played a role in averting a potential gun crime (these mostly involved threats).”
And we are not achieving the stated purpose of SROs. Instead, schools impose pre-prison mindset. They see authority can and will act with impunity.
To anyone reading along, remember “A few bad apples spoils the bunch.” The whole approach looks spoiled. And it’s uniquely American. No where else has SROs.
On a trip to Germany last summer, I remember walking by a school in Hamburg. There were two police officers outside the school (100 feet or so). They had a small enclosed station. Both were armed with automatic weapons.
I asked someone on the street, and do you know why there were police?
They told me it was a Jewish school. The police officers were there because President Trump’s hate rhetoric was giving rise to Nazism and anti-Semetic actions in Germany. I watched for a bit. The police officers focused all of their attention outward, never looking into the playground where children played.
In the United States, we’ve put our police inside our schools. Integrating and accepting their approach.
The role of SROs has continually expanded as officers are given more responsibilities and find more to do with their time in the absence of actual security threats. Armed police officers are now acting either formally or informally as guidance counselors in many schools. They conduct Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) and other drug-prevention programs. Unfortunately, there is little oversight or training for these roles. SROs typically receive little or no instruction in counseling, mentoring, or pedagogy. While some of their efforts are laudable, others are laughable. Decades of research have shown the consistent ineffectiveness of programs like DARE. Furthermore, there is a fundamental conflict in asking kids to treat police as mentors and counselors. While officers want young people to confide in them, they are also law enforcement agents, meaning that these communications can be used as evidence and can lead very quickly to police enforcement action, possibly even against the youth being mentored. In an age of zero tolerance, this could have devastating consequences.
Read that again. There’s not enough “policing type work”, so following a derivative of Parkinson’s Law, the SROs expand their role.
Why not replace the SRO with counselors and mentors? What’s the barrier? What’s the cost? I’m sure I’ll find out as the section continues.
The implicit goal is to establish the importance and legitimacy of the police in the eyes of students; by virtue of being a formal authority figure, police in schools are valuable. This view argues that young people can benefit from the appreciation of authority well instituted. This is an inherent aspect of the liberal adherence to procedural justice discussed in chapter 1: the problem is not that there are agents of formal state control in schools, it’s that they sometimes act improperly and abuse that all-important authority.”
Right there. In school, children witness the abuse of power and authority. I would imagine that this leads them to implicitly accept the behavior; After all, in school they have a different set of rights than if they were an adult at an office.
There are efforts at reform. However, as Vitale points out, they come from classic control theory. Which leads towards, what Alfi Kohn calls “Treating Kids Like Pets”, where we use bribes instead of threats.
I don’t understand what it’s like to be a teacher nor administrator. Teachers help children navigate from adolescence to adulthood. That seems challenging enough.
Add to that the daunting requirements imposed by legislation, and things feel oppresive. Now, do all of this within a structre that normalizes policing for any semblence of variant behavior seems.
I remember a field trip with my daughter. We spent a day up at a camp. One of the boys had a lot of behavioral issues in the classroom. I watched him shine at camp. He had a fishing rod, helped others string up worms, and unhook fish.
Variant behavior. In my dreams I wish we could have 8 children per teacher, and really look to each child’s learning styles and work with those. Focus on helping children discern how they want to engage the world.
Schools cannot solve all the problems students bring in, but they can be part of the solution rather than part of the criminal justice system. To do that, they need more resources to deal with the whole student. You can’t just teach to the test or focus on fundamental knowledge and skills at the expense of the bodies and emotions of young people. Abundant research shows that learning can’t happen effectively when young people are emotionally or physically distracted. Relying on school police, however, removes the bodily, emotional, and behavioral aspects of the student from the responsibility of teachers and outsources it to police. This is a huge mistake.
Trust the professionals, not the legislatures. When I need my car fixed, I trust a professional. One that has invested time in training and tools. We must extend that same mindset to teachers.
We must listen to what teachers need. They interact each day with our nation’s children. Imagine equipping them as a nation. How much would it say “We want what’s best for our children” by treating teachers as professionals and getting their professional opinion and supporting them with services that they say they need.
To respond to these needs, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has recently been supporting the creation of “community schools.”52 These schools provide a range of wraparound services, such as medical and mental health care, personal counseling, tutoring, community service, and social-justice programming, as well as adult education and counseling for parents. Services are often provided by community organizations working in partnership with the schools, allowing services to be tailored to the particular needs of that community.
Vitale then outlines two success cases Baltimore and Salt Lake City.
And Vitale calls for evidence-based reform: “Social and emotional learning, behavioral monitoring and reinforcement, peaceable-schools programs, and restorative justice systems.”
These systems cost less and don’t rely on control and punishment.
Restorative justice practices are based on a variety of indigenous practices from around the world that predominate in traditional, close-knit communities, in which problems need to be resolved in ways that encourage community stability, cohesion, and self-sustainability.
Hmm. Perhaps a hint at what might be a suitable replacement for policing? And Vitale identifies that this takes time and support. Which, sadly, schools chasing test scores (because of legislative mandates), may not have space for this.
Social and Emotional Learning is around strengthening student emotional intelligence. And Behavioral Monitoring and Reinforcement helps develop self-awareness and empowerment strategies.
These programs are incompatible with the current emphasis on high-stakes testing that measures school success almost entirely on student performance on these tests. Programs that deal with students’ overall wellbeing are too often viewed as a distraction from teaching to the all-important test. Any effort, then, to make school safer and less punitive has to break away from that approach to education and address student needs more holistically in a way that takes in their specific needs and the larger context in which learning is occurring. The research shows that when students feel safe and supported their learning improves.
Phrased another way, collectively, we’re failing our children.
We must break completely with the idea of using police in schools. They have no positive role to play that couldn’t be better handled by nonpolice personnel. There may be a need to protect schools from intruders, but so far, having armed police in schools does not appear to be the solution. Even if armed police are needed, they have no business operating on school grounds. If necessary, they can be stationed at the school’s perimeter or dispatched as needed. Will there be tragic events on school campuses? Yes, and having more armed police on campus has not proven effective in reducing them.
Again, we must look to evidence. Instead of funding SROs, let’s look to funding the necessary resources to help our children grow and develop. And take away the chronic standardized testing. That is a weaponized and deliberate distraction. But I’m sure there books on that subject as well.
Until next time.