The School to Prison Pipeline

Young students in urban areas who do not have support systems, can inadvertently find themselves on trajectories to incarceration, not only because zero tolerance ideologies permeate urban school landscapes, but according to Educator Garrett Albert Duncan, “public schools prepare students of color to accept subordinate roles within the socioeconomic system so that they fill the jobs that remain after full white employment” (Duncan 35). Duncan advanced this argument through positing an interrelation between the “the service industry, popular culture and information media and public school curricular, arguing that these domains construct urban students as superfluous populations for whom society deems prison as a natural and reasonable option” (Duncan 36) Duncan argued that young black students become deemed in society as “undesirable” particularly when they are not trained to compete within the demands of job markets given increases in the sophistication of technologies, and most assiduously, because “popular culture conceives them as violent, lazy and incompetent” (Duncan 40). Under these negative belief systems, it can be perceived that urban pedagogies structure learning practices that reify minimalist approaches to learning that incorporate such austere practices such as curriculum narrowing. Therefore, racial stratagems work against the interests of minority students so that they are unprepared to take on the demands of technologies in a global economy, as was forewarned in A Nation at Risk. In his writing, Duncan illustrates how the undereducation of minority communities via urban pedagogies contributes to their unemployment, creating a surplus black workforce and an inherent danger. Urban pedagogies do not foster critical thinking skills or situate minority students to create economic opportunities in markets that were constructed to exclude them from participating as contributors. Yet, under current methodologies, minority students are prepared for menial employment, or their services are appropriated in the prison industrial complex. Thus, racist paradigms will essentially force undereducated black students into state dependency, as the intent of urban pedagogies reify racial conceptual frameworks for minority students as society’s underclass.

Rather than supporting prison industries with black and brown bodies, this paper argues that because prison is a dangerous reinforcement of racial subordination, community disempowerment, tension, and divisiveness, it is essential that minority communities have access to pedagogical practices that reframes K-12 education, as deep learning in which it is normative that literacy, educational equity, and intellectual property becomes synonymous with K-12 education in disenfranchised communities. Consider the fact that “it becomes more likely than not that two-thirds of black male high school dropouts will become incarcerated rather than complete higher educations” (Hagan and Foster 259–260). There is a dire need to reconstruct education in minority communities not only because these students are not situated to compete through the lens of meritocracy, but also because their ability to engage technologies must become a realistic and solid avenue to remain viable contributors throughout societies. In this regard, DH and ITP are well situated to reframe urban pedagogies to practices that support students’ ongoing active curiosity through the exploration of data in relation to their social and cultural interests. Student learning can become informed using technologies and digital tools, and appropriately scaffolded across interdisciplinary areas to create ethos of ongoing discourse, through constructivist experiences. It is unconscionable that the hopes and dreams of uneducated young black males are being fractured and shattered as they experience undesirable outcomes as wards of the state. Arguably, the dollars that are being poured into prison systems could be used to support under resourced schools, or to fund activities that support learned knowledge, yet “it is alarming that correction budgets received funding at a much higher rate (127%) than was provided for higher education (21%), making the 45th senatorial district in New York a populace of 14,000 prisoners all of whom are counted as residents of that district” (Marable 59, 61). According to Professor of Sociology and Public Policy Devah Pager, the proliferation of prisons within our society has essentially become normalized and underscores the urgency to address the prevalent nature of the crises, as under-resourced schools are not positioned to fill gaps presented by poverty, absentee parents, and homelessness. Homeless students and low income communities at large struggle to meet the imperatives of achievement within normalized systems, rather than becoming victimized and objectified by trajectories that work against their interest, to posit outcomes of “incarceration, marking, and negative credentialing” (Pager 32) that essentially position them on the margins of society. Given these constructs, a moral imperative and crucial need exists for students to become fully literate, and supported through adequate resources, and pedagogies that reframe how education is experienced. Failure to do so posits their continued stratification into social outcasts and semiliterate others.