Going Upstream

Life itself is the main source of knowledge, which is then followed by education. In society, “learning” is usually done in school; however according to the U.S. Department of Education, “Roughly 25% of high school students will not graduate, leaving roughly 1 million high school students without a diploma.” Students who do not receive a diploma due to the zero-tolerance policy are typically headed towards the prison pipeline. If students are constantly suspended from school, they are not really given the opportunity to grow as an individual. Nghiep Lam discusses the treatment young people receive in the juveniles justice systems and how it needs to undergo more change. As some schools in the U.S. have implemented a restorative justice program, “the juvenile justice system…has made efforts to restructure itself and to improve outcomes for children and their communities” (Lam). Discipline is taught at a young age, but depending on the type of punishment can have a major impact on one’s life. In the article and video, Watch how this Oakland teen went from being involved in gang violence to being top of his class, Damon Smith expressed his frustrations about discipline problems at his school. He stated, “A lot of problems I was having had a lot to do with my mouth. I had a lot of aggression” (Smith). Adolescents like Damon are ignored the fact that there are issues that occur outside of school causing them to behave in certain ways. If students do not have the chance to correct or even just uncover the truth to their behavior, things will only worsen.

“Zero tolerance policies disproportionately affect students with behavioral, emotional and mental health needs. These students have greater rates of suspension and expulsion than other students. Separation from the classroom often creates or accelerates negative mental health outcomes for “high needs” kids. Being punished for their behaviors shames and alienates these students, who are then less likely to succeed in school.” (“Building Schools”)

Kicking a child out of class because of a misdemeanor without understanding the root causes, will only create more frustrations and the child will begin to believe he/she is not wanted. Those who are most impacted are Black students, they are “2.6 times as likely to be suspended as White students. This disproportionate minority suspension is related to the racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system” (Teske). Students become an easy target because of problems they are having outside of school. If they are not given proper guidance at home, the anger then translates to “bad” classroom behavior. Because of the “misbehaviors” the student is punished and not able to succeed in school if he/she is not allowed in the classroom. Suspension or expulsion leaves a child out of school and limits their possibility to learn. Zero-tolerance policies and the juvenile justice system has a strong correlation:

“For many youth, placement in these harsh detention facilities only worsens their problems, triggering memories of past or recent traumatic events, which can bring upon the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.” (Lam)

Discipline in school generates similar problems that detention facilities overlook. If the school punishments are not transformed or restorative justice programs are not taking place, image the number of young people not receiving an education. Majority of the time young students who are not in school are not being “watched,” and instead of enhancing their knowledge, they are denied the opportunity for change.

The indirect connection with the Kid C.A.T members has altered my perception of youth in detention facilities. The call to action statement I worked on is “Healing is greater than punishment.” When first presented with the statement, I did not truly understand its meaning, which is probably why my group struggled with creating an image for it. After researching about zero-tolerance policies and restorative justice programs for the infographic, everything came together. Without going upstream and detecting the root causes of students’ behaviors will only continue to feed them into the school-to-prison pipeline. Although the Kid C.A.T members are in San Quentin, their voices remained heard and because of that, students who are in school have an obligation to continue the transformation of society.