Earlier this month, NPR reported in “The Civil Rights Problem in US Schools: 10 New Numbers” that the US Department of Education released its Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2013–2014 school year (Though times can’t have changed that much, the data is for two years ago.) As I browsed their bulleted list of ten factoids, the statistics were upsetting, though not surprising— even this one: “Black preschoolers are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white preschoolers,” which did make me wonder, who suspends a preschooler?
One problem with quickie news reports on complicated issues– even ones on NPR – is that they can make us think we understand things that we actually don’t. Statistics on race and discipline in education do tell one side of the story, but they don’t necessarily tell the whole fleshed-out story.
What story these bulleted points do tell is: double-standards do exist in public education. The most disgraceful of the numbers, to me, was that a million-and-a-half US high school students have a police officer on campus, but not a guidance counselor. If I’ve ever heard a statistic that sounds indicative of the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, that statistic does.
These summations of data sets from all over the nation – keep in mind that schools in Wilcox County, Alabama and schools in Beverly Hills, California can hardly even be compared – show a 21st century American student body with broad diversity and changing needs. If public schools are going to succeed, we’re going to have address that diversity and those needs with educational, not disciplinary solutions (like suspending four-year-olds).
Education is about lifting people up, empowering people, and sharing the knowledge and skills that improve access to the best things in life. Teachers, principals, counselors, and aides perform those functions, and support staff enable them to perform those functions. While campus police officers can serve an important function on campus – no one can learn in an unsafe environment – their presence, in the absence of necessary educators, works against all notions of “education as the practice of freedom.” Where there are officers and no counselors, where law enforcement practices supersede educational practices, notions of freedom cannot flourish. That’s when schools become warehouses, not institutions of learning.