The West Wing and Why School Discipline Needs Monumental Changes
15 Aug in
By Kristin Schwam, Dignity in Schools Campaign
During the past couple of weeks I have started to prepare myself for my 4 month “off-campus study” in DC the most obvious way I know—by watching The West Wing. In the fictional show, Aaron Sorkin creates a White House staff whom almost always takes the moral high ground, and who truly exist to serve the American people. While I do not believe that my experience in the capital will resemble the drama in any way, a remark by one of the characters has stuck with me.
In the eighteenth episode of the first season, Sam Seaborne, the deputy communications director exclaims, “Education is everything. We don't need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That's my position. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.”
In spite of being a fictional show, I think Sorkin hit the nail on the head.
The current state of the United States public school system is certainly not fictional. This past week an extremely troubling report came out that found that in the 2009-2010 school year, nearly one in six African-American students was suspended. Furthermore, one in four African-American students with disabilities was suspended. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg as more and more stories emerge about students getting suspended for extremely minor infractions, such as throwing a paper airplane, or saying the word “culo” in class.
In light of the report, as well as well-documented statements by parents, students, and advocates about discipline policies around the country, it comes as no surprise that a recent Gallup poll found that the American peoples’ confidence in public schools has hit an all-time low.
Studies have shown that there is indeed a correlation between students who have been suspended, and the likelihood of incarceration. “Suspensions matter because they are among the leading indicators of whether a child will drop out of school and because out-of-school suspension increases a child’s risk for future incarceration,” the authors of the recent study write.
It is time to change the school discipline culture in this country, for good. It is not acceptable to disregard the sheer numbers of students that our current education system is “pushing out.” It is adamant that we have an educated populace, and the U.S. cannot afford to keep suspending and expelling students at such an alarming rate. An uneducated population is the greatest threat to our country’s liberty and freedom.
It is imperative that schools change their discipline policies, adapt restorative practices, and keep students in school. In order to keep all students in school, the United States must look to long-run solutions. Currently, cases against school discipline occur on a district by district, or state by state basis. But in order to ensure that the U.S.’s public education system is serving 100% of its students, a reform of the discipline system needs to occur on the national level. The U.S. education system needs “gigantic, monumental changes” when it comes to discipline. It is the only way our country can stop suspending a disproportionate amount of African-American, Latino, and disabled students.
The massive number of suspensions for minority students is not helping to reduce the number of future incarcerated persons in the United States. And for all of the interested tax-payers, state by state numbers show that it is far more expensive to incarcerate one inmate than it is to educate one student. A CNN article found that incarceration can cost anywhere from $31,000 to $60,000 per inmate, depending on what state the inmate is incarcerated in. In California, the cost of educating one student is $8,818 per year, a much lower number than the cost of incarcerating one youth per year, a shocking $179,400. The likelihood that the total cost of incarceration in the United States will decrease if school suspensions decrease is great. There is a greater chance that students who are not pushed out of school and obtain a high school diploma will not end up incarcerated in their lifetimes.
The United States has historically been the land of opportunities. Let us keep that tradition by giving all of our students the opportunity to succeed, and the opportunity to get a better education.
It is time we hold our schools and government accountable for the development of our nation’s youth. Schools should be palaces, and they should be places where students are encouraged to learn and grow, not be suspended for talking back, or be intimidated by police roaming the hallways. Education is not a privilege; education is a right.