Lockdown High author Annette Fuentes appeared on the Cultural Baggage Radio Show for a lengthy discussion on the impact of zero-tolerance policing in US schools and the myth that schools are havens for violent young offenders. Drawing on a wealth of historical sources cited in her book, Fuentes spoke about the history of schools as sites of active rebellion and resistance by students:
It was amazing to find these stories. They were, many of them, autobiographies, many of folks who had gone to these early schools where there was a tradition called "barring out the headmaster". The kids would get together and lock the school up. It might be that one-room schoolhouse in the prairie and forcibly confront the teacher and keep him from coming in. There were other stories about young women who were teachers being confronted by farm boys who had a six-inch jackknife that they whip out if the teacher tried to pull out her hickory stick. You know, schools have always been a place where young people challenge authority and where authority in the form of teachers and principals challenge kids. The limits of power and control get played out in schools and it always has been thusly.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Annette Fuentes, author of the myth busting Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse, insists that high-tech security and harsh disciplinary policies in schools have been used as ineffective political instruments—with the US security industry expanding their bottom-line inside the classroom. "There is just a huge disconnect between the public's perception of public schools and kids as dangerous and the reality," she tells the AP. "Kids today are no more violent than any other generation." Children today are paradoxically considered both victims of increasingly violent schoolyard behaviour and menacing perpetrators of great violence and mayhem themselves. In her book, Fuentes criticizes this mindset and the increasing militarization of education for creating a "school-to-prison pipeline," in which:
Students who are suspended in the lower grades are more likely to be suspended as they get older and by 9th grade, they are at risk of dropping out and into criminal activity. Failing schools create a pipeline into prison, in other words. Add to that a heavier police presence in many schools that means more students arrested for misbehaviors - pushing in the hallways becomes "assault" or "disorderly conduct" - and you have schools as feeders for the prison system.
New America Media has posted an interview with Annette Fuentes, author of Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse, and former NAM managing editor.
We've witnessed a trend over the last 20 years or so, of schools embracing security and punishment as a means to control student behavior. Would it be safe to assume, then, that our schools are not as safe as they used to be?
It would be very inaccurate [to say that]. Schools today are among the safest places for children to be, and that includes their homes and their neighborhoods. We know, the experts know, that the level of violence in our public schools is among the lowest level it's been in in about 20 years. School violence peaked in the early ‘90s. Data from the National Center on School Violence ... show clearly that incidents of violence in schools have been going down. And this parallels crime in general, in the wider society. So schools are in almost all cases the safest places for kids to be. That doesn't mean that there are not incidents of school violence, but they have been so blown out of proportion that most people walk around thinking that another Columbine is just around the corner.