by Kaeley J. McEvoy
|Worshiping during the United Black Convocation at Faith Church|
|The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Samuel addresses th UBS Convocation in July|
HARTFORD (09/19/2012) -- On July 26th the United Black Christians, with the support of the Connecticut Conference and Hartford Seminary, welcomed Jan Resseger, UCC Minister for Public Education and Witness, and the Rev. Sala Nolan, UCC Minister for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, to present an informational panel on the School to Prison Pipeline. The two explained the heartbreaking trend of "funneling troublesome students from the classroom to the juvenile detention center" by examining the shortcomings in federal support for public education and the extremely high increase in incarceration of youth.
Resseger named five main reasons for the increase in the School to Prison pipeline that relate to the public education system. First, Resseger explained how standardized testing has created a downward spiral for public schools. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act leaves students who are born in impoverished areas further and further behind, by continually draining support from schools plagued with unsuccessful test scores.
Another reason, Resseger claimed, is the increase in Zero Tolerance Discipline within public schools. Zero Tolerance Discipline leaves children suspended and forced to spend weeks or even months without the supervision of an educational environment. According to the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) more than 3.25 million K-12 students are suspended at least once during their education. The NEPC also reported that nationally 28% of African American and 16% of Hispanic male middle school students are suspended each year, compared to 10% of White students.
Another factor influencing the increase in achievement gaps is the high rate of child poverty in the United States: the highest in any industrialized nation. Resseger finally asserted that segregation by economic class and a severe budget crisis are reasons for students falling away from the schoolhouse and walking towards the bars of a jailhouse.
All of these factors contribute to the alarming trend that leaves more children left behind in education and directed toward incarceration.
As more youth are directed to the prison population straight from so-called failing school districts, the correlation between incarceration and race is one that cannot be overlooked. Nolan reported that in 2003, African American youth made up a disproportionate amount of juvenile criminal cases compared to whites. Though the ACLU has not found sufficient evidence backing the claim that students of color misbehave to greater degree than white students, this distinct gap in incarnation rates continues to climb.
The message left by Resseger and Nolan was, however, a hopeful one. Both endorsed actions that can be done at a personal level to "clog up the pipeline." By working as an advocate for local public schools in order to give children a role in their own learning, Resseger hoped to inspire increased funding in education and more support for extracurricular activities. Nolan ended her presentation with a challenge to answer the ancient Masai greeting, "How are all the children?" by inspiring all people to work with advocates in order to truthfully respond "The children are well."
For more information on Public Education Reform, the American Justice System, and the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse pipeline, please see http://www.ucc.org/justice/issues.html
Kaeley J. McEvoy is a member of First Congregational Church of Woodbury and served this summer as a Youth and Young Adult Intern for the Connecticut Conference UCC.