Academic journal article Faulkner Law Review

Faulkner Law-Fred Gray Civil Rights Symposium-February 15, 2013

Academic journal article Faulkner Law Review

Faulkner Law-Fred Gray Civil Rights Symposium-February 15, 2013

Article excerpt


The Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline: What must be done to create a pipeline to success? Learning from our past to improve the future for all of our children.

We are here today to honor Fred Gray and his life's work fighting social injustices. Mr. Gray's work during the civil rights era to ensure that people in this country have equal opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives is of great importance, particularly in the "Deep South."

We are also here to discuss a pressing civil rights issue of today--"school-to-prison" or "cradle-to-prison" pipeline. This national trend, where a set of policies and practices push our children out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, is a civil and human rights crisis. Today, this pattern of injustice is particularly dangerous in the South, and it is imperative to dismantle the policies and practices within the "pipeline" that interrupt the education of the children who most need it. From the formative and highly important early childhood years that many young children miss out on, to our public kindergarden-12 schools that are increasingly re-segregated and under-funded--we are disenfranchising our low-income students and students of color.

The American South is the first region of the country with a majority of both students of color and low-income public school students. (1) Students that attend high poverty schools with large populations of students of color are most likely to have fewer resources and fewer highly qualified teachers. (2) These students are also more likely to drop out of school and attain lower levels of education. (3) The increasing use of suspensions, expulsions, and school-based referrals to law enforcement--the "school-to-prison pipeline"--compound these issues by pushing these same students out of school and into juvenile justice systems. We are experiencing a national crisis, and we must rely on and honor lessons learned from Mr. Gray and others who have committed their lives to giving a voice to those who have none. Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, almost 60 years ago, still rings true today:

"In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." (4)

As Americans, we are constantly exposed to the ideal of the "American Dream." This ideal teaches us that we are not bound by the circumstances of our birth, but that we live in a country where one can have control of his or her destiny with hard work and perseverance. We have made this ideal a fallacy when a student born into poverty faces overwhelming obstacles in achieving a decent education, and, therefore, never stands a chance at bettering his or her life. In order to solve the "cradle to prison" problem we must take a holistic approach to ensuring all students have equal opportunities to achieve the American Dream.

A New Diverse Majority in the South

In examining the context of education in the South today, it is important to remember the history of the promise of education in this region. Following the Civil War, the Southern states adopted constitutions that guaranteed education for all citizens; however, few public funds were spent on segregated black schools in the region. During this period, black children attended school for fewer days than white children, (5) and their teachers were paid much less. (6) In fact, the 1880 census showed seventy percent of blacks were illiterate. (7) As time progressed, public school conditions worsened. (8) The desegregation of public schools following the decision in Brown v. Bd. of Educ. led to "white flight"--where white students in the South fled to private "segregationist academies. …

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