Summer college course sheds light on prison pipeline

By Christopher Zoukis

Evidence continues to mount that the school-to-prison pipeline is a huge issue in our education system, contributing to the mass incarceration across United States.

Yet the vast majority of our educators lack the knowledge and training necessary to implement changes that currently contribute to juvenile justice and recidivism. If we don’t properly equip our teacher, we are in turn setting up our youth to fail.

Thankfully, some educators are taking steps to resolve this lingering problem. One of the best I’ve heard of lately is the New England College Summer Institute for Educators, which this year has a course called A Teachers Role in Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline.

The summer institute has been offered since 2001, and offers courses that are developed in response to current issues, needs, and goals of schools and institutions, and which offer educators accreditation – required hours, graduate program credits, and practical tools and skills to enhance their teaching and improve learning. Other courses offered this year included Dynamics of Educational Reform and Systems Change, Social Problem Solving and Student Centered Learning.

The 4-day course on breaking the school to prison pipeline was offered with a goal of deepening the understanding of issues related to the school to prison pipeline, including inequality, systemic criminalization of youth, discipline policies, structural racism, and the prison industrial complex. The course, taught by Charles Virga, was worth 3 credits and offered at the graduate level.

While the idea of the Summer Institute is great – there are now many articles, online resources, and toolkits to help teachers and other staff realize their role on how to break the school to prison pipeline. But we need these across America if we want to educate teachers about needed reforms as well as new innovations.

Hands-on initiatives and educational opportunities like this are given, and encouraged, to our educators, teachers, and school staff, so that each person who is front of the line in the educational system can develop an awareness of the consequences of certain disciplinary actions, and how the current system embodies systemic, unequal, and racist policies.

Through continued knowledge and action, as well as sufficient resources, we can continue to move towards a system that is increasingly equal, fair, and provides the best education for youth, while reducing incarceration rates.

And we need to make sure that teachers, who can bear the brunt of new programs and initiatives, know that they have resources and training, and are adequately supported.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.comPrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com