She had two strikes against her — 4 years old and black. Her teacher punished her by zip-tying her hands behind her back as though she were under arrest. Although teachers perpetrating these outrages against children generally go scot-free, community pressure forced this teacher to resign.
He was a black 3-year-old preschooler, one of only two black children in his class. Teachers and school administrators were overwhelmingly white. He was suspended from school for garden-variety rambunctious 3-year old behavior. None of the white children, behaving similarly, were suspended.
“Suspending or expelling young children has not been shown to produce positive behavioral results. These practices…have even been discussed as the first stage in the preschool-to-prison pipeline.”
The drip, drip, drip of the militarizing of public education has finally reached its nadir — invading U.S. preschools. That’s right, 3 and 4-year-olds at the mercy of a pitiless state determined to bring its own brand of law and order to the very youngest Americans. Establishing behavioral norms that reward obedience and punish spontaneity is the way a plutocracy, protected by the best law enforcement money can buy, produces a generation of compliant citizens resigned to living in a neoliberal country where wealth and status are the keys to enrichment.
Three and four-year olds feeling the weight of Uncle Sam’s boot on their necks in a racialized attempt to engender robot-like adherence to the rules of an increasingly repressive state… middle and working class parents, particularly African Americans, on the horns of a real dilemma: compelled to work to make ends meet, anxious to give their kids the benefits of early learning programs in preschool yet facing the real prospect that their kids may wind up being victims of the system.
As the youngest entrants into the school-to-prison pipeline (now the preschool to prison pipeline), 3 and 4-year olds are being held to a standard they aren’t mature enough to understand and punished for age-appropriate behavior. Not isolated occurrences, this is a national phenomenon. Witness: every day in 2016, 250 preschoolers, aged 3 and 4, were suspended from pre-school for “bad behavior” and upwards of 17,000 were expelled. Racial underpinnings come with the territory. Black children of all ages are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. Even black girls cannot escape the rigors of racial profiling, being suspended one and one-half time more frequently than boys of every race other than African American.
“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days…” that’s the way it was in 1911. A century later, a xenophobic nation has become the bully on the block. Not content with disrupting civil societies in countries around the world where the U.S. self-appointed role of global cop generally results in global mayhem, the national security state has brought its warring ethos home. Where better to strut its stuff than in U.S. public schools with a captive audience of students. As it intrudes into the daily life of citizens, putting up road blocks to demonstrations, protest marches, and sit-ins, the national security wannabees in the education bureaucracy have adopted a similar stance pitting security against education. Not surprisingly security almost always trumps education. In most U.S. public schools, police outnumber social workers. Examples abound of schools where police not teachers or administrators administer discipline. The result: referrals to law enforcement agencies and arrests spike and non-criminal infractions fall under the zero-tolerance rubric—unruly students are labeled perpetrators and are subject to harsh punishment (often suspension or expulsion or even arrest).
Where is the rule of law in this stifling atmosphere? Gone, replaced by state-sanctioned pre-emptive policing. More often than not, racial bias plays a huge role in the victimization of children. In a DOE (Department of Education) report in 2014, 18% of African American boys received one or more suspensions in the 2013-2014 school year — three times the national average of 6% for all students. To underscore the racial bias that permeates education policy-making, African American seventh and eighth graders lose four times as many school days to suspension as their white peers. The damage that unfair and unjust punishment has on students is pervasive and can last a lifetime. In a 2012 study, Johns Hopkins University researchers found that a single suspension in ninth grade doubles a student’s risk of dropping out of high school and proceeding along the continuum to eventual incarceration.
We all have skin in this game. When education becomes an excuse for disempowering a certain class of children, the cost in lost tax revenues, health care, and criminal justice expenses has a billion-dollar price tag. We all know who will have to pick up the tab (the middle class) and who will be able to dodge the bullet (our elected officials’ campaign donors).
For everyone who fancies that the U.S. solved its problem of race-based determinism in the public schools in 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education ruling school desegregation unconstitutional), more than six decades later racial bias in schools all over the U.S. is still determining the future prospects of children as young as 3. All that has changed since 1954 are the methods. As recently as 2016, Black preschoolers were almost two-and-one-half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white children. Boys were in the bulls-eye and suffered 82 percent of suspensions and expulsions, even though they represent 51 percent of the population of preschool children.
Teacher bias is the elephant in the room when it comes to school suspensions for minor offenses like rambunctious behavior. Over ten years ago, a professor of education at Yale, pointed to the three predictors of young children being suspended or expelled. He called it the 3 Bs —Black, big, boy. To unpack that definition —African American boys who are physically bigger than their peers can often be labeled “troublemakers” for the most minor offenses. Once labeled these children are targeted throughout elementary, middle and high school. They face a future of harsh punishments sometimes ending in incarceration.
The data from numerous studies also suggest that “preschool teachers tend to more closely observe African American children than white children when they are expecting challenging behavior.” (Yale University study). What seems clear no matter how you slice it is that the exceptional nation has found another rich source of helpless targets to zoom in on, subdue, and ultimately criminalize. America’s preschoolers find themselves in the crosshairs of domestic law enforcement. Using zero tolerance as their excuse, commonplace disruptive preschool behavior now provokes retaliation on a grand scale — suspensions and expulsions. What is the fallout? A DOE study sounds the alarm — young children suspended or expelled from preschool or elementary school are up to ten times more likely to wind up in jail as young offenders.
To make matters worse, the national security state, unable or unwilling to change course in the face of damning evidence to the contrary, moves to ramp up the damage it is inflicting on its student population. Unbelievable as it may sound, in the 2013-3014 school year, nearly three million students of all ages were suspended. Doubling down on failure (as the U.S did in Iraq —15 years of war and in Afghanistan, 17 years) has become the golden rule of the education bureaucracy. U.S. public schools have suspended twice as many students in 2013-2014 as in the 1970s and ten percent more than in 2000. Figures, doesn’t it? A government afraid of its own people relying on zero tolerance policing.
Is there any doubt that the widening economic chasm separating rich and powerful Americans from poor and vulnerable ones finds expression in the way we educate our children? Race-based policies of intimidation have become the norm in public education. As law enforcement makes its presence known in places expressly designed for “young children to…test boundaries and act out [where] it’s perfectly normal for a preschoolers’ frustration to manifest as physical conflict,” the effect on preschoolers is incalculable. We have come to an impasse when the education bureaucracy intentionally mislabels normal expressions of children’s social development as criminal and inflicts over-the-top punishments with perfect impunity. In the end, we all feel the weight of this toxic and blighted wasteland the state calls early childhood education.
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