Pipeline to Prison from Pre-K
When we use harsh discipline to punish children’s bad behavior, we encourage feelings of failure and start children on a pipeline to prison from pre-K. Harsh punishments include in-school and out-of-school suspensions and hurtful corporal punishment, that is still allowable in 18 states.
Adults, including parents, caretakers and teachers of Pre-K children should view discipline in terms of positive reinforcement of “good” behavior. The atmosphere at home and in Pre-K classrooms should be upbeat and child friendly. As adults, we should be examples to our children of “good” behavior, both in how we conduct our lives and as parents and teachers.
Feelings of failure can begin in the cradle, be reinforced in preschool, take root in kindergarten and so direct a child into the pipeline from Pre-K to prison The seeds of healthy growth also begin in the cradle and can be reinforced in preschool and kindergarten setting the child on a path of healthy development.
To give an example of how a child enters the pipeline to prison from Pre-K, here is the story of Ndume Olatushani (formerly Erskine Johnson) who grew up in the Pruitt-Igoe Project in St. Louis MO where so much lawlessness occurred that the Federal Government destroyed it in the 1970’s. Ndume witnessed a murder at age 5 and became accustomed to seeing constant violent behavior around him. He needed some mental health counseling to adapt in school and avoid the pipeline to prison frrom Pre-K.
Ndume attended an integrated school where he experienced hostility and pessimism from his white teachers and classmates. One teacher asked what he would like to be when he grew up, and he responded “a Veterinarian” and she replied that he should consider doing something with his hands implying that his mind was deficient.
Ndume considered himself a failure in his integrated school, and he left in the 11th grade to engage in activities that landed him in prison on felony charges. At age 26, he was wrongly convicted of robbery and murder in Memphis TN, where he had never been. After 28 years, 20 of which were spent on death row, he was found to be innocent. In retrospect he felt red-lined for failure from the beginning in school. Ndume was a positive thinker, and in prison he taught himself to be a skilled artist. Now he mentors poor children, especially boys of color who live in Nashville housing projects, encouraging them to consider alternatives to the street through art.
Ndume is also working on the reform of the zero tolerance policies in pre–K and K-12 that may result in a child’s severe punishment by suspension from school and/or corporal punishment. Such punishments reinforce a feeling of failure in children living in poverty and dwelling in housing projects, and/or who are suffering from abuse and/or mental illness. Suspension is used to punish far more children of color than white children, and statistics show that there is a correlation between permanent suspension entering the pipeline to prison from Pre-K.