Last night in our training clinic, I watched one of our grad students conduct an intake interview with a 17 year old who was recently expelled from school. The idea of expelling kids from school makes me ill to start with, so I watched with a grumpy face. As the session unfolded, I only felt more angry and irritated. This 17 year old kid told the grad student that he was being expelled over, “a lot of little stuff” like tardies, disrespecting teachers, not doing work, etc. I’m not naive enough anymore to buy that story without checking it out with the school, but it was still disturbing. It could be true.
To complicate matters another step, this particular kid is Black, big for his age (athletic big, not fat big) and wore his hair shoulder-length and braided. He spoke very quietly, even after his great-grandmother, who is his guardian left to return to the waiting area. I could easily imagine this guy could scare the crap out of a teacher without really trying, just by being so tall and muscular. But being scared of a kid because he looks like he could tackle you with one arm doesn’t make it ok to throw him out of mainstream society.
[Didn’t you know that’s what expulsion is? Read more here: http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/expansive-survey-americas-public-schools-reveals-troubling-racial-disparities]
I know the U.S. government in general, and the states in particular don’t quite comprehend the problem, but it’s really pretty simple. Here’s the deal, in a simple geometry-ish proof:
1. There is a strong relationship between school failure and life failure (e.g., going to prison).
2. Some kids are at much higher risk than other kids for school failure. We know who they are. We’ve known this for decades (poor, black or brown boys, little to no adult support at home, bad neighborhoods, toxic stress, abused, neglected, and generally stressed out kids).
3. We know that when kids in #2 are given certain types of early and frequent intervention, they are much less likely to fail at school.
4. If they don’t fail at school, they have a hell of a lot better chance at staying out of prison.
5. If they don’t go to prison, they can get jobs. If they work, they pay taxes.
6. If we spend a little money now on those interventions in #3, we will have greater tax revenues in the future.
7. Investing in appropriate educational interventions for stressed out kids literally pays off.
QED, asshats in office. We need intervention for stressed out kids. We need it early. We need it often. We can not wait.
Back to the kid in my opening paragraph. I really hope he comes back. He said he would, but in my experience, it’s about 50/50 with adolescents in trouble who live with folks who aren’t their parents. Great granny looks like she’s about 80. I don’t know that she has the energy to make him get his act together. The kid seemed interested in doing things differently, but also seemed very doubtful about being able to make it happen. I fear we’ve lost this one, mostly due to this dubious expulsion. It’s way past time to stop expulsion.