Public schools should not be partners with the prisons

Just teach them…

The last thing any school ought to be involved in is sprucing up the path between the classroom and the jail cell. The purpose of school is to teach, and that includes the bad kids as well as the little angels. The struggle for any good teacher is learning how to reach the hard-to-reach kids, but when that does happen then success truly is its own reward.

And before anyone wants to suggest I don’t know how bad it can get, let me say that my mother was a teacher, my grandfather was a school principal, my wife is a retired teacher and so is my mother-in-law. So I’ve heard the stories, and not just from the fabled one-room red school house on the prairie either. My wife and mother -in-law taught middle school kids in Detroit. I think that should about settle that. One of my good friends shocked everyone he knew when he stepped out of  retirement at age 70 after spending nearly five decades as an educator in the public school system to return to teaching at one of the toughest schools in Detroit which also happened to be the school he attended when he was a kid. He’s a white guy, happens to be fearless, and is one hell of a teacher.

So when I read the story in Think Progress  about how Broward County, Florida used to send the highest number of kids to the  juvenile justice system – and how the larger percentage of those kids (surprise, surprise) were non-white, then I felt myself starting to overheat until I came to this part of the story:


Misbehaving kids were charged with battery for throwing spitballs and disorderly conduct for yelling in class. Black and disabled children were most likely to be arrested.

Now, working with law enforcement and the NAACP, the district has replaced its zero tolerance policy with a tiered plan to deal with misbehavior. Non-violent offenses like trespassing, harassment, petty theft, and possession of marijuana or alcohol will be directed to guidance counselors and mentors. Students will still be punished, perhaps by making restitution to people who were hurt by their actions, but suspensions, expulsions, and arrests will be treated as a last-resort option.

What they have come to realize in Broward County, is that sometimes it really does pay to do the right thing. The kids do better in school, the community benefits from better kids and better citizens, and less money is spent on incarceration. Why is it so hard to do right?

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