Schools to Prison

When I decided that I wanted to become a teacher rather than practice law after graduating from law school, I received plenty of confused looks from those I spoke to about my decision.

But for those who knew my reasons for going to law school in the first place, it was not so surprising. The issue of most importance to me is poverty, its causes and its consequences. One thing that is clear to me is that the lack of an education begets poverty and poverty begets a lack of education. I think that as a teacher I have a unique opportunity to work with “at-risk” children and give them the support they (often desperately) need to help them make decisions that may keep them from a life of poverty.

A study in the last decade showed that only about 33% of the general population in our prisons had attained a high-school diploma. And 1 in 10 male high school dropouts is incarcerated in prison or in a juvenile detention system, as compared to 1 in 35 for male graduates. Statistics like these are why I wanted to become a teacher and why I think it is so crucial that I do my job very well.

My friend Jason, whom I met while working at The Public Defender Service for D.C., is currently working for Legal Aid in North Carolina and is fighting hard to curtail that state’s “schools to prison” pipeline. In North Carolina (which is one of the worst states for this), students can be expelled or in some cases, arrested, for violating school rules, which is one path to a juvenile detention center (and later prison, for some). The standards for achievement in the state’s schools also “weeds” out many students, particularly minorities and students from impoverished backgrounds, and leads to many students failing or dropping out. As the statistics in the previous paragraph show, this does not bode well for the future prospects of these students.

The achievement gap and growing incarceration rates in this country are serious issues that I feel are connected. There are numerous ways to address these issues if you care to, and I am privileged to know a few people like Jason who are doing their part. If you would like more information of Jason’s efforts, check out his Twitter or Facebook page on the schools to prison problem.

Update: In case you are skeptical of the connection between poverty and poor education, check out this chart. Call me crazy but it is hard to escape poverty if you cannot find a job.

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