This section includes a synthesis of two practitioner-oriented articles and a synthesis of two peer-reviewed, scholarly articles. I include this section to offer an in-depth look at what experts in the field have been writing about recently, since all of these articles have been published in the last three years.
Wilson, Harry. (04/2014). “Turning Off the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Reclaiming Children and Youth. Vol. 23, No. 1.
Mullet, Judy. (07/01/2014). “Restorative Discipline: From Getting Even to Getting Well.” Children & Schools. Vol. 36, No. 3. p. 157.
Synthesis of Practitioner-Oriented Articles:
Both articles explore the importance, within schools, of building relationships both between teachers and students and among students. On the systemic level, both article emphasize the importance of changing zero-tolerance policies as a means of resisting the school-to-prison pipeline.
Wilson writes, “Research has shown that educators can prevent students from entering the pipeline by establishing relationships of mutual trust, building a caring learning environment, and applying positive behavioral approaches to prevent and respond to problem behavior (Coggshall, Osher, & Colombi, 2013)” while still acknowledging that “some school districts are entrenched in what they know and resist new ideas” (51). In other words, though Wilson does not explicitly address the possibilities of restorative justice, he emphasizes the importance of transitioning away from punishment-oriented disciplinary practice toward ones that seeks to support and include all students, particularly those who have experienced negative and unwelcoming school environments. His ideas, discussed above, of “mutual trust,” “a caring learning environment” and “positive behavioral approaches” stand in stark contrast to existing schools that rely on the police for discipline and the juvenile justice system for the long-term exclusion of disenfranchised students. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that Wilson’s suggestions can be put into practice by a variety of individuals, including teachers, principals and school district administrators; still, as Wilson notes, existing practices have institutional momentum, making the widespread dissemination of alternative ideas crucial to change.
Mullet, in her argument for restorative justice–essentially, practices which bring offenders and victims face-to-face in a structured setting to determine how the wrongdoing can be set right–brings up several similar concepts that Wilson does. Mullet writes of the purposes of restorative justice in bullet-point form: “Heal or repair the relationships that have been harmed–‘put things right’ . . . Encourage accountability through personal reflection and a collaborative decision-making process . . . Reintegrate the student who harmed into the community as a whole . . Create caring climates that prevent harm” (158 — 9). This rhetoric of fixing a problem not through punishment but through personal relationships and the maintenance of the community changes the role of teachers and administrators. No longer would they exist to impose law-enforcement concepts of order on a student body, but, rather as Wilson argues, would they focus on the well-being–emotional, social and academic–of the students with whom they interact.
Ultimately, because the above arguments were published in practitioner-oriented publications, it is not only possible and desirable but likely that they will impact disciplinary practice in the real world. Furthermore, the changes advocated by Wilson and Mullet have the potential to transform schools but are still achievable and somewhat intuitive. After all, since education policy created the school-to-prison pipeline, it can also undo it.
Gonsoulin, Simon, Mark Zablocki and Peter E. Leone. (07/23/2012). “Safe Schools, Staff Development and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Teacher Education and Special Education. Vol. 35, No. 4, p. 309 — 319. doi: 10.1177/0888406412453470.
Snapp, Shannon D., Jennifer M. Hoenig, Amanda Fields and Stephen T. Russell. “Messy, Butch and Queer: LGBTQ Youth and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” (11/12/2014). Journal of Adolescent Research. Vol. 30, No. 1, p. 57 — 82. doi: 10.1177/0743558414557625.
Synthesis of Peer-Reviewed Articles:
These two scholarly articles examine two different, though both important, aspects of the school-to-prison pipeline. Gonsoulin et al. explore professional development as a means for changing communities’ and, in particular, school employees’ attitudes toward disciplinary; they use Denver as a case study and consider “tiered” professional development that both seeks to include a wide variety of adults at some level while focusing on the adults who make the most disciplinary decisions. Snapp et al, in contrast, consider the school-to-prison pipeline through an intersectional lens. They argue that, though the school-to-prison pipeline is highly racialized and a product of a racist system, queer youth are at higher risk than their straight and cisgendered peers, since, compared to others, queer youth are more likely to be punished for incidents of PDA, as well as to be punished for defending themselves from bullying, and, additionally, that queer youth are less likely than straight youth to be supported by their parents.
Gonsoulin et al. write: “The Denver Plan . . . established the need for students to assume responsibility for their actions by seeking to repair harm they may have caused. Rather than using suspension or expulsion to exclude students from school, the Denver Plan has students work on restoring the relationships their behavior has affected. This is very similar to the principles of Balanced and Restorative Justice (Morris & Maxwell, 2001)” (315). In other words, the Denver Public School System has put into place a strategic plan of which both Wilson and Mullet, the authors of the practioner-oriented articles referenced above, would approve. Furthermore, Denver’s plan resonates with this site’s overall idea: that overhauling school policy, rather than simply “getting tougher,” offers the key to transforming schools into more positive places. However, the essence of the article lies in the tiered process which Denver used and the authors commended. Here’s their graphic:
(For image citation, see Gonsoulin et al. article citation above.)
This idea–that professional development should include many people but focus on those with the most direct impact–seems to offer a lot of promise.
In a very different article, Snapp et al. make the case that a significant aspect of the school-to-prison pipeline is often not studied sufficiently, namely the role of sexuality in institutional discrimination. They write: “One state-wide study revealed that LGBTQ youth were 3 times more likely to be injured or threatened with a weapon and 2 times more likely to get in a physical fight at school compared with their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education [MDESE], 2006). Furthermore, when students are bullied based on sexual orientation, teachers seldom intervene (Peters, 2003)” (59). In an educational system in which authorities’ distinction between victims and victimizers is often blurred, it makes sense that students who are disproportionately bullied are perceived by teachers and administrators as violent and antisocial. Furthermore, with regard to teachers’ indifference to sexuality-related bullying, it is possible that many teacher may be homophobic themselves and thus are on the side of the bullies. The article explores many factors involved in school push-out and criminalization and argues in its conclusion: “This study is one of the first to illustrate how LGBTQ youth experience discipline disparities, establishing that LGBTQ youth are part of the pipeline population” (77). Since intersectionality has, in recent years, become an integral means of understanding individuals’ identities, as well as social issues, perhaps it is high time that it be applied to education policy.
Because these two articles explore very different aspects of the school-to-prison pipeline, together they highlight the complexity of the issue.