This young man isn’t being cynical or melodramatic; he’s articulating a terrifying reality for many of the children and youth sitting in our classrooms—a reality that is often invisible or misunderstood. Some have seen the growing numbers of security guards and police in our schools as unfortunate but necessary responses to the behavior of children from poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods. But what if something more ominous is happening? What if many of our students—particularly our African American, Latina/o, Native American, and Southeast Asian children—are being channeled toward prison and a lifetime of second-class status?
We believe that this is the case, and there is ample evidence to support that claim. What has come to be called the “school-to-prison pipeline” is turning too many schools into pathways to incarceration rather than opportunity. This trend has extraordinary implications for teachers and education activists. It affects everything from what we teach to how we build community in our classrooms, how we deal with conflicts with and among our students, how we build coalitions, and what demands we see as central to the fight for social justice education.