Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Where Do (Some) Dropouts Go?

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Where Do (Some) Dropouts Go?

Article excerpt

Their faces haunt teachers even if we've forgotten their names. They're the faces of the kids who stopped listening around 4th grade and disappeared from our radar long before graduation. My colleagues and I can tell you what happens to too many of them: They end up in prison.

I teach in a prison. Every day, I go into a secure facility where 1,000 men live, eat, work, and sleep and where several hundred of them go to school. About 59,000 people are in prisons in New York state and about 40,000 of them are enrolled in prison school programs. New York's prison schools employ about 400 academic teachers. Hundreds more teach in county jails and youth facilities throughout the state.

The New York Department of Correctional Services requires school attendance for any prisoner who has neither a high school diploma nor a GED. Research tells us that achievement of educational goals is a primary factor in lowering recidivism.

Most of the men I meet are fathers. School is something they remember from long ago on another planet called childhood. Many have past gang affiliations. They are used to resolving things with violence. My students usually have reading and math scores below 9th grade, some far below.

My school provides excellent materials that I am free to supplement. It's much too late to provide my students with the broad blend of public school curriculum and character education that they missed, but I try. I teach Shakespeare for language and for identifying preventable violence. I insist that my students read the poetry of Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. We read selections from Geoffrey Canada's autobiography, Fist Stick Knife Gun, and the qualitative study, Random Family by Adrian LeBlanc. Two other books that circulate widely, and sometimes disappear and need to be replaced, are: The Man Who Out Outgrew His Prison Cell by Joe Loya and Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

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