‘Pretty Much a Catastrophe’: Anna Deavere Smith and the Disaster of the School-to-Prison Pipeline


In the last 20 years, there has been a  shocking rise in the number of schools that embrace zero tolerance policies that regularly leave students suspended, expelled or arrested for the kinds of infractions that once would have meant a trip to the principal’s office. Over the same period of time, police presence in schools has increased dramatically, making it more probable that these same kids will be sucked out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system.

The students affected by these policies are disproportionately black and Latino. The education secretary, Arne Duncan, has highlighted data showing black students are three times as likely to be suspended as white ones. Multiple studies show that for students who get suspended, the likelihood of graduating high school plummets. The issue is so stark that the Obama administration has released recommendations that aim to change these discipline policies and NAACP leaders have called putting an end to zero tolerance, one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time….

“The people that have really dropped out of the system are the poorest people and they don’t get a chance to be educated. It’s not a right in our country, but there are ways that we behave as though it is a right. We expect it; if you want to thrive and have a job and have a family, you’ll be educated, and I don’t think that’s just [about] a certificate. I think other things happen to us when we’re educated that help us maintain relationships, help us have healthy children, help us perpetuate the best of ourselves—that’s what education is.”

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