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Humanities 2017, 6(2), 15; https://doi.org/10.3390/h6020015
Universal public education has two possible—and contradictory—missions. One is the development of a literate, articulate, and well-informed citizenry so that the democratic process can continue to evolve and the promise of radical equality can be brought closer to realization. The other is the perpetuation of a class system dividing an elite, nominally ‘gifted’ few, tracked from an early age, from a very large underclass essentially to be written off...The second is the direction our society has taken. The results are devastating in terms of the betrayal of a generation of youth.
2. Reflection on Crisis
Public education is under assault by a host of religious, economic, ideological and political fundamentalists. The most serious attack is being waged by advocates of neoliberalism, whose reform efforts focus narrowly on high-stakes testing, traditional texts and memorization drills. At the heart of this approach is an aggressive attempt to disinvest in public schools, replace them with charter schools, and remove state and federal governments completely from public education in order to allow education to be organized and administered by market-driven forces.
3. Neoliberal Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation models are the status quo’s and reactionary approach to combating the prison industrial complex. We can tie Michelle Chen’s writing regarding rehabilitation in the private prison industrial complex to this similar situation: “Reform initiatives like rehabilitation…focus on making ‘corrections’ less punitive…rather than dismantling antisocial systems” . So, while in many ways well-intentioned, these efforts are not enough. Through examining the value and efficacy of neoliberal rehabilitation models based on the concept of restorative justice within and beyond the classroom, which in part can serve to elevate instead of condemn our most vulnerable children, we can conclude that a feminist framework and mindset of radically undoing the current system as we know it will be a true advance towards justice and equity.How can we take seriously strategies of restorative rather than exclusively punitive justice? Effective alternatives involve both transformation of the techniques for addressing “crime” and of the social and economic conditions that track so many children from poor communities, and especially communities of color, into the juvenile systems and then on to prison. The most difficult and urgent challenge today is that of creatively exploring new terrains of justice, where the prison no longer serves as our major anchor.
Rehabilitative Models Within and Beyond the Classroom
4. Feminism as a Tool for Educational Transformation
I often like to talk about feminism not as something that adheres to bodies, not as something grounded in gendered bodies, but as an approach—a way of conceptualizing, as a methodology, as a guide to strategies for struggle.
So, this is where we begin. With feminism as our most potent tool in contending with the school-to-prison pipeline, we look to the students and their families to guide us towards a reconstruction of an education system that works for them, that holds their humanity tenderly, that fights for their potential and that aims to secure their futures. What is created will honor accurate and difficult histories that challenge the status quo and delegitimize notions of hierarchy, meritocracy and our current model of democracy. It will empower students by promoting the value of both their personal convictions and their compassion for others. It will approach socio-political and economic terrains through intersectional frameworks and encourage speaking truth to power. It will value the poor, queer, disabled and people of color and not only recognize how their humanity has been wrongfully threatened but also facilitate reparations. Feminism calls for the eradication of the current system as an acknowledgement of how deeply it has failed us. It may be difficult to imagine now, but a feminist approach looks like freedom.“Whenever you conceptualize social justice struggles, you will always defeat your own purposes if you cannot imagine the people around whom you are struggling as equal partners. You are constituting them as an inferior in the process of trying to defend their rights. The abolitionist movement has learned that without the participation of prisoners, there can be no campaign”.
Criminalizing children will have constitutional implications for generations to come. It is corrosive and rends the fabric of our erstwhile civil society, makes a lie of equal opportunity, and rewards authoritarian personality disorder at the expense of our humanity.
Conflicts of Interest
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- 1Bolded emphasis added. Adrienne Rich’s Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversation is a collection of essays that imagine a more socially just world and speaks to those possibilities.
- 2Latinx is intentionally employed to challenge the gender binary and exclusivity in the terms Latino and Latina that do not necessarily include gender non-conforming, Latin American–identifying people.
- 3The American Psychological Association writes that “Zero Tolerance Policies” were “originally developed as an approach to drug enforcement… [and] became widely adopted in schools in the early 1990s as a philosophy or policy that mandates the application of predetermined consequences, most often severe and punitive in nature, that are intended to be applied regardless of the gravity of behavior, mitigating circumstances, or situational context. Such policies appear to be relatively widespread in America’s schools, although the lack of a single definition of zero tolerance makes it difficult to estimate how prevalent such policies may be. Zero tolerance policies assume that removing students who engage in disruptive behavior will deter others from disruption...and create an improved climate for [others].”
- 4The Free Thought Project, founded by Jason Bassler and Matt Agorist, seeks to “foster the creation and expansion of liberty minded solutions to modern day tyrannical oppression” through an online platform “hub”, forwarding a “revolution of consciousness.”
- 5This reference intentionally describes the evolving #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement founded by Black, queer activist Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman after he murdered Trayvon Martin on 12 February, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Due the epidemic of Black genocide, the movement has gained momentum in correlation with each Black life taken with impunity—from Ferguson, South Carolina, Baltimore and to New York, the list continues to grow. Since its inception the movement has expanded to include activists, students, and community members of all intersecting identities, united in their goal of justice and fighting against the crisis that is systematic racism and state-sanctioned Black death.
- 6Similar to the logic of “zero tolerance” policing, broken window policing originated in 1982 and argues that punishing low-level offenses will deter acts of major crime and therefore benefit the overall safety of a community.
- 7Taken from several passages from: Henry Giroux’s “Education Incorporated?: Corporate Culture and the Challenge of Public Schooling," Educational Leadership (, pp. 12–17).
- 8A reference to Henry Giroux’s article “Schools as Punishing Factories: The Handcuffing of Public Education” .
- 9According to the sentencing project’s report in 2013 on racial disparities in youth commitments and arrests, racial disparities among juvenile detainees have increased despite decreases in overall arrests and commitment of juveniles across the nation.
- 10Prominent author, scholar, and activist bell hooks defines and uses this term widely to describe the interlocking socio-political systems that shape the politics of our society. While her analysis does not include the politics or actions of individuals, she notes that both individuals and systems can uphold, support and perpetuate white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy .
- 11Despite rhetoric around bridging the gap of achievement in public and charter schools, reform policies such as “No Child Left Behind”, focused on elevating test scores, incorporating inexperienced teachers who leave after two years, and over-disciplining to weed out “problem” children are not progressive, nor do they address the needs of the students in a way that is anti-biased and just.
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