This week Annette Fuentes, author of Lockdown High, continues her work in education justice over at Atlantic.com. Writing now to address truancy laws across the U.S., the author offers a thorough investigation of the discrepancy between states' intentions and outcomes when it comes to keeping kids in school. Who, she asks rightly, are truancy laws really helping?
Supporters say the truancy crackdown is critical to improving test scores and high school graduation rates, but there's a fiscal motivation, too. With school budgets cut to the bone, every dollar counts, and each absent child represents lost state funding. Some districts get a share of fines levied by the courts, providing an additional incentive for issuing tickets. While a recent study from the non-profit Get Schooled found that truancy cuts across all demographics, those most affected by harsh enforcement are low-income families whose financial struggles can contribute to attendance problems, and students like Marcus Derrick with health problems or learning disabilities, who may require costly educational interventions that school districts want to avoid by punting the problem off to the courts.
Last week on The Huffington Post, Annette Fuentes, author of Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse, weighed in on the recent case of a Santa Fe high school that has just introduced—to the surprise of both parents and several administrators alike—a controversial new drug testing program aimed not at teachers or staff, but at its students. The practice of random drug testing in schools is not only vehemently opposed by parents and civil liberties groups, but also, for example, by the American Academy of Pedicatrics whose extensive research on the issue clearly demonstrates the lack of evidence of any effective school-based drug testing. More alarming, perhaps, are the additional concerns that Fuentes's article draws attention to, which most notably address the new testing practices which proceed by sampling hair particles instead of through traditional urinalysis. Fuentes writes:
Paul Armentano of NORML, the marijuana law reform organization, told me the research indicates that hair testing for drugs may be more sensitive on the hair of people with darker pigmentation. "There have been allegations of an inherent bias in the test," he said.
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.
In an interview in the July 11 Hispanic Outlook, Annette Fuentes expands on the idea of the school-to-prison pipeline, which was featured prominently in her book Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse. While the concept of the school-to-prison pipeline has garnered increasing recognition in the education and criminal justice fields, Fuentes explains that the relationship is more than one-way:
“I would say there is a school-to-prison pipeline, but there is also a prison-to-school pipeline,” says Fuentes. The use of security hardware (cameras, metal detectors and retina detectors) and the practice of treating students as suspects are strategies of the criminal justice system, and they have been flowing into the schools. “It’s like a two-way street, a two-way system that mixes the educational and criminal justice systems. The end result is that we have schools in which the learning environment has been degraded and undermined because we are teaching kids to fear and feel that they are suspects at any particular time,” says Fuentes. “Educators talk about the teachable moments. Unfortunately, public fear of kids, public hysteria around another Columbine, has prevented people from remembering that the mission of public schools is to educate and help kids who have lost their way to find their way,” she says.