Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School-to-Prison Pipeline
reviewed by Ericka Fisher - July 20, 2015
Title: Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Author(s): Crystal T. Laura
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807755966, Pages: 144, Year: 2014
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In Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School-to Prison Pipeline, Crystal T. Laura seeks to unpack the school-to-prison pipeline while simultaneously gaining clarity as to how her brother became part of this system. As a reader, traveling the school-to-prison pipeline alongside Laura's brother, Chris, while being unable to intervene is both an enlightening and painful journey. Laura provides readers a looking glass through which to view how her brother went from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse. She effectively walks a fine line in her storytelling, whereas she refuses to paint Chris as a bad kid or as an innocent in this retrospective piece.
Chapter One brings the reader straight into the stark reality of a jail visit. It is in this chapter that we first see Chris. A wannabe rapper and a tattooed, recovering addict, Chris faces many criminal charges, one of which seems almost ridiculous: stealing a pair of his roommates jeans. Chris appears to be a living, breathing stereotype. This portrait, however disturbing, allows Laura the opportunity to submerge the reader below the surface appearances and takes us past the is state to the why and how of Chris circumstances in future chapters of this book.
Chapters Two and Three paint a more complex portrait of Chris. His journey began in a family system with love and support, which makes his story even more jarring. Society would like to place the blame squarely on family and micro-level factors as the root of the school-to-prison pipeline as it would lull us into a comfortable state of peace wherein our educational system is neutral. Laura does not allow for this illusion; rather she carefully and methodically traces her brothers steps in the school-to-prison pipeline, documenting pivotal points along the way. Laura points to how children are treated within academic contexts from labeling to punishment, articulating the direct consequences on student engagement.
Utilizing the works of scholars like Ayers, Harry & Klinger, and Noguera, Laura describes the entrenched policies of zero-tolerance and special education diagnoses within schools and furthers the description by extending it to correctional education. In doing so, she not only effectively grounds her brothers story in the literature, but also gives the reader an understanding as to how living in these toxic environments can cause irreparable harm.
The final chapters examine the role of teacher activist, which Laura describes as teachers who . . .seriously doubt the overarching narrative of schooling and education for a more democratic society. Teacher activists support the ideal but recognize the current reality (p. 81). She believes in love, justice, and joy as the cornerstones to education.
The portrait she paints is one that suggests teaching in a system that is void of these three tenants is problematic. While altering how we view the educational partnership between students and educators is a daunting task given the constraints of various educational policies that are constantly in flux, Lauras final chapters offer the reader hope that the system can change when perspective and priorities are altered.
Laura, steps into a role in Being Bad that most researchers shy away from, that of an author sharing a personal narrative. As she notes, it requires a level of intimacy that many scholars have been formally trained to avoid. However, as Laura so eloquently states in her final chapter, this is exactly what educators should be doing.
getting intimate requires every adult who works with young folks in our education systems to love and respect children, to wake up each day to struggle and strive toward social justice, and to find joy and pleasure in it all, or to go do something else. (p. 89)
Lauras book brings the discussion beyond the statistics to a case that resonates with the reader. One can feel her struggle as a sister/scholar as they read her writing. As such, it is a feelingthat while not groundbreakingwill resonate with many social justice educators. This easy-to-read personal narrative provides a connection to the larger body of literature regarding the school-to-prison pipeline, and the myriad factors contributing to this phenomenon that would be well-received by undergraduate education students, as well as community members, families, and teachers.