Hope and Outrage: Lawmakers Would Rather Invest in Prisons Than Schools But Our Kids Are Fighting for Their Education

Apr 19, 2018 12:00:00 AM

by Tanesha Peeples

Outrage: These Politicians Bullshitting Third-Graders

We all know politicians are full of it. But kids keep it real. So when third-graders ask why you’re putting more money into prisons than school, you’d better just tell them the truth. But these elected officials in Jackson, Tennessee, had the nerve to stand up in front of a classroom at Alexander Elementary School and tell these kids, “Oh, I agree with you.” Really, you agree? Then maybe you should explain to these kids why you’re putting $30 million into prisons and only $10 million into schools. These kids get it: “If you put more money in the schools then more people would get educated and there wouldn’t be a lot of people in jail.” They have common sense. [pullquote]Either these politicians are lacking that same common sense or they just have more interest in continuing to perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline.[/pullquote] Because they clearly don’t seem to think there’s a problem: “People who have opportunities don’t make bad choices, and that what’s people in jail do is make bad choices.” Really? What if y’all don’t give people access to those opportunities? I don’t need to see data to know that the school-to-prison pipeline is real and affects students of color every day, all across the country. (But if you want to see some data, there is plenty.) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that kids who have been forced out by harsh discipline policies, underinvestment, ignorant social stigmas and self-doubt have a strong likelihood of ending up in the penal system. And when you’re putting into schools only a quarter of what you’re putting into your prisons, many of these kids will end up just where lawmakers want them—in jail. They’d rather invest in the business of prison than in our kids’ futures.

Hope: 7-Year-Old Lillian

And 1,000 miles away is another fearless first-grader, Lillian Mullen. Her mother, Barbara, told me that Lilly attends a public school in Providence, Rhode Island, that does not have the resources to support her learning needs as a GT student. So 7-year-old Lilly spoke to the state’s Senate Education Committee to advocate for an adequate education—because apparently their constitution doesn’t guarantee one. In fact, the situation is so bad that this past Christmas my friend Erika Sanzi, who also lives in Rhode Island, wrote a letter to Santa asking for a constitutional right to education. Something about this of course pisses me off, because honestly [pullquote]I didn’t think any state’s constitution would fail to protect a child’s right to an education.[/pullquote] Maybe I’m naive and give this country more credit than it deserves. But I’m uplifted by Barbara, who has instilled in her 7-year-old daughter the importance of voice and advocacy. And what’s most inspiring is Lilly’s courage and willingness to tell her story. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain hope in a world full of darkness but with parents like Barbara and youth like Lillian, it helps me to breathe a little easier and know that our work is not in vain. We should all take a page from their book.

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.

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