Our Children: Arrested Developments

Yesterday, Think Progress reported that administration in Meridian, MS sent children (predominantly special needs and / or Black) to prison for infractions as small as dress code violations. Read:

After months of investigation into claims of such a pipeline, the Justice Department released Friday a definitive letter revealing that the Meridian Police Department “automatically arrests all students referred to MPD by the District. The children arrested by MPD are then sent to the County juvenile justice system”:

“The system established by the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, and DYS to incarcerate children for school suspensions ‘shocks the conscience,’ resulting in the incarceration of children for alleged ‘offenses’ such as dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect.” The Justice Department findings letter noted.[...]

“The systematic disregard for children’s basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings in a collaborative fashion, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if necessary.”

How many times do you refer to your students as animals, and your classroom a zoo? How often do you already assume their disposition because of the masks they wear? How many of those boys and girls in your classroom used to believe in magic, wonderment, and possibility? When you look at your boys, are you OK with those children wearing handcuffs?

Would you like your disciplinary style applied to your own kids, or is that too far for your kid?

I get it, too. Teachers are human. Sometimes, we can’t stand some of the actions of kids take. Frankly, they can piss us off. But our feelings shouldn’t determine their path (because often they do).

Plus, most educators I know have an obligation towards a child’s learning; the other stuff comes secondary, if not tertiary. Teaching them life lessons implicitly comes with that territory, and educators (that includes administration and support staff) ought to demonstrate some integrity in helping to develop better people. Most of the other stuff, including chewing gum and dress code, don’t take precedence over their learning.  That’s why I’ve only had seven write-ups in the last two years, and I still think that’s too much. I rather handle it myself. Once I’ve assumed that the law will catch them later on in life, I might as well give up teaching now.

Actually, if this is what’s happening in Meridian, MS, all those teachers should as well. We don’t need more prisoners. We need more students. The kind that will keep asking questions, and arrest themselves in trying to solve problems rather than internalizing them.

Jose, who has one more to go before he gives away these limited edition and signed books!

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Jose VilsonOur Children: Arrested Developments