Trauma Teaching Trauma: How Dysfunction Facilitates the Preschool to Prison Pipeline

By Reggie Broddie, Concerned Black Men National

reggieThe Preschool to Prison Pipeline is real. I've been engaged with young people for over 35 years as the executive of a youth development nonprofit and a juvenile probation officer.  I've seen many youth caught in disciplinary systems that hamper their development. This disturbing trend is especially true in local school districts. The number of School Resource Officers (SROs) who provide law enforcement in U.S. schools increased dramatically with the advent of the Guns-Free-Schools-Act. Between 1997 and 2007 the number of SROs increased by 30 percent with students of color being policed at a disproportionate rate, 70 percent of in-school student arrests involve Black and Hispanic students.  I see our education system increasingly focused on policing and controlling instead of mentoring and supporting Black children when they are struggling.

We must start addressing trauma and mental health of everyone in the classroom, teachers as well as students, and pay attention to how trauma or biases among teachers and administrators affect students. A recent survey from the American Federation of Teachers highlighted that 78% of teachers express overwhelming levels of stress. While we pay close attention to criminal background checks for school staff, we pay very little attention to the mindset or mental health of our teachers, principals, and guidance counselors. In a recent article for Psychology Today, Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Isaiah Pickens identified teachers' mental health as an underemphasized but important contributor to our students' academic success. To support children, we must support teachers.

In addition, we must support young people who are struggling with trauma by offering supportive services not automatically turning to harsh discipline that excludes them from learning or medication that can tamp down their creativity. We have a desperate need for strong youth development partnerships in our public schools.  In-school mentoring initiatives should be a standard part of education.  Mentoring would be a dramatic shift in the way our young people are managed in academic environments-particularly young people of color. In-school mentoring provides consistent role models for every student and can extend to weekend activities and summer enrichment when mentorships lead to job opportunities or apprenticeships. Mentoring also helps young people to more readily appreciate adults and authority figures in their lives.  And yes, I mean that students would actually start liking adults. In many schools, there is an adversarial relationship with young people that hampers trust and mutual understanding. That has to change.  We can forge healthy relationships that don't compromise discipline, but rather gives students a chance to speak freely and also to listen freely. 

In sum, I am proposing two solutions:

  1. Address and treat stress and trauma among school leaders and teachers.
  2. Provide in-school mentoring and fellowships/apprenticeships that engage students and the community.

As the president and CEO of Concerned Black Men, I believe these steps will have a dramatic effect on immediate success of our young people.