Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Yes we are the school-to-prison pipeline

By now, everyone has heard the story of the pipeline that affects minority populations and disfavored social groups.

The story starts with school failure, ends with mass criminalization, and is managed by a cast of villains. Indifferent managers and workers in systems deliver failure through policy or through incompetence, motivated by racism, ignorance, laziness or greed. In this story, the pipeline is a metal tube. We stand outside it, and see a solid piece of poison plumbing that scars our landscape like an exposed sewer. The moral of this story is “Look at what those people do to them.”

This story is frequently repeated, but it is not the right story.

The right story is about a pipeline that is not just school-to-prison, but as big as our society, and everybody lives inside it. The pipeline is flexible, and responds to what we do. It is organic, like our blood vessels. It travels everywhere throughout our corner of the world. The pipe has many intake points, many junctions, and many end points. It is a living, complex, dynamic system that responds to what people do. Everyone has a role in the story. As we act, we affect the velocity and direction of the flow of people’s lives. Every success, every failure is, to a certain extent, self-inflicted, as well as, to a certain extent, the failure of others in the pipeline with us. The moral of this story is “Look at what we are doing to ourselves.”

We have been telling the wrong story for two reasons. 

One is that it is hard to visualize the larger systems we live in. How long did it take for humanity to recognize that the earth is round, or is part of the solar system, or that life evolves?

The second reason is that it’s even harder to take responsibility for conditions we cannot completely control. Think of how difficult it is to accept responsibility for our own health. We know at a very deep level how difficult it is to act with responsibility, to take action to change our lives, or to protect others. We call this virtuous, sometimes even heroic, for a reason.

So, with respect to our social pipeline system, we have some issues to explore.
  • How do we create and reinforce the velocity and direction of the flows within the social pipeline?
  • What are some actions and choices we might make?
  • What rules should guide our choices?
  • How do we know we are choosing the positive path?
No one stands outside the social pipeline waiting to rescue us. It is time to figure this out.

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