Thursday, February 09, 2023

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VI. Conclusion: Calling for a Different Kind of Surge as We Find a New Way Forward

Our country's multi-front attacks on our most vulnerable children must come to an end if we are to ever improve their life chances. While the preceding account paints an exceedingly grim picture, some recent developments may provide room for some hope and suggest the beginning of a new way forward. For instance, in February of 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan created an Educational Equity and Excellence Commission, for which he appointed twenty-eight leaders from across the country. These individuals, many of whom are youth advocates, are being asked to assist in the development of new federal policies to address disparities in educational opportunities across race and class lines nation-wide.

Perhaps more significant, however, are possible changes afoot for NCLB policies. In March of 2011, the Obama Administration released its blueprint for entirely overhauling the Act. The administration's recommendations call for a rigorous and fair accountability system in schools that will ensure students graduate ready for careers or college, not simply pushed out with a meaningless diploma. In part the plan seeks to displace the school-to-prison pipeline with a cradle through college and career continuum in high-poverty communities. For instance, the administration wants to provide extended educational and other programming in community-based schools that better engages families and provides wrap-around services to those in need. It also seeks to rethink policing and other punitive practices that drove the zero-tolerance orientation of prior safe schools and gun-free schools.

In June of 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court put some limits on school policing. In stark contrast to an otherwise limiting trend under Miranda v. Arizona, the Court announced greater protections for youth swept up in school-based interrogations. Noting that young people are more easily misled and pressured by government authorities than adults, the Court determined in J.D.B. v. North Carolina that courts must take age into account when determining whether a school child is in custody for Miranda purposes. This decision represents an important way in which the school-to-prison-pipeline has been policed.

Finally, with the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama announced that by 2014, he will accelerate the pullout from Afghanistan, with a view toward completely undoing the troop surge that he initiated in 2009. In doing so, the President pledged to end the war responsibly and turn back to the work of nation-building here at home. Instead of funding further wartime efforts, the President wants to invest in America's greatest resource: our people. The President's reduction of the need to recruit our nation's youth for battle provides further cause for relief.

We must hold the government to these initiatives and promises. What is more, we must demand more. Accountability is key as we address the growing fallout from our wars on poor, minority, and other marginalized youth. While drawing down our troops abroad, we must also fight the aggressive military recruiting practices that take advantage of the economic and other vulnerabilities of our most at-risk children and violate international norms. In finding a new way forward, we must see our nation's public schools as central to our national security by devoting to them the kind of time, energy, and financing that we have devoted to the War on Terror. If we are willing to spend over $500,000 per troop member to have them engage in our War on Terror, we can certainly spend at least some fraction of that on individual students as we stand down from our war against vulnerable youth. Our next surge should involve an infusion into our schools of tens of thousands of troops of adults who are committed to protecting and building the lives of such children.

For our young returning veterans, we must ensure that they have the support and services they need to transition from war to our communities. Federally funded targeted programming must take account of special needs, particularly because many poor and minority young people were at risk and without sufficient educational programming before they left for the front lines. Law school clinics and other youth advocacy organizations must add this population to the list of those whom they serve, regardless of our politics about the War on Terror.

Beyond holding our government accountable, we must hold ourselves accountable, too. We must all contribute to the cause by stepping outside of the Ivory Tower and into the trenches of struggling communities and schools. While writing essays and holding conferences is good, it is not enough. All of us--law students and faculty alike --should find time to stand with at least one at-risk child as he or she demands a better life and better life chances. As Time declared decades ago, it is, indeed, a question of survival.

[a1] . Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Civil Justice Clinic, Washington University School of Law.

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