Tyree Scott Freedom School Purpose
There is great need for Freedom School programs. Alternative, community-based education is essential because the mainstream school system continues to fail to meet the needs of students and families of color and does not teach young people about the issues most relevant to their lives. The mission of The Freedom School is to be a community-driven school where powerful and transformative popular education and learning are the norm and not the exception; where the whole person (body, heart, mind and soul) and the whole community are supported and challenged; where undoing racism, social justice, experiencing new worldviews, nonviolence and environmental sustainability are the curricular focus; and where diversity among individuals and communities and the unique developmental journey of each person is honored and celebrated.
Most Tyree Scott Freedom School students are enrolled in the Seattle Public School District, which is the largest public school system in Washington State, having 45,572 students enrolled for the 2008–2009 school year. Of those students 43.0% are White and 57.0% are non-white. 35.8% of students do not live with both parents, 39.2% are eligible for free or reduced-lunch, 23.7% of students are Limited English and Equal English, and 14% of all students received special education services. These numbers are based on enrollment in 12 regular high schools, 10 middle schools, 9 K-8 schools, 58 elementary schools and 15 self-contained alternative schools including special education programs (Seattle Public Schools Homepage).
There is a direct correlation between the breakdown of the education system and the booming criminal justice system. Youth who are expelled from or drop out of school are much more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system. In prisons across this country African-Americans make up 85% of the prison population, and have a 50% high school drop-out rate. In 2004–2005 the dropout rate for African American high school students in Seattle was almost twice that of white students, 21.1% compared to 11.9%. Underfunded schools, lack of resources, lack of teachers of color, lack of guidance counselors, biased standardized testing, inequities in the tracking system, disparities in discipline, and cultural incompetency all contribute to this brutal reality.
Studies have shown that standardized testing is culturally biased. Factors such as race, class, school, learning environment, and the amount of resources available have great influence on students’ performance on these tests. In the Seattle School District, students take two major standardized assessment tests: the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) and SAT‘s (Scholastic Aptitude Test). The WASL is administered at the 3rd, 8th, and 10th grade levels, with 10th grade test scores determining eligibility for graduation. In 2006, 3/4 of the state’s African-American population who took the 10th grade WASL failed at least one of the subjects required to graduate. Two-thirds of the Native American population were not on track to earn a high-school diploma. Neither were more than half of Latinos. High-stakes standardized tests are not a solution the breakdown of the education system. They increase the barriers for low income students and students of color to succeed, encourage schools to alter curriculum to match standardized tests, and take resources away from other programs to pay for testing and test prep.
Cultural competence and cultural ways of learning are not highly valued in today’s classroom. Individual merit and competition are. White students and students of color will often have the same disruptive behaviors in class, however white students will be labeled as bored and gifted therefore seen to need advanced placement, while students of color are seen as disruptive, disrespectful and placed into Special Education. Many parents of color don’t have the time or resources to fight these decisions.
The Seattle Public school system tracks students into standardized categories at an early age, and once students are tracked into the lower levels it is difficult to get out of them. By the time they reach high school, all students are tracked into: advanced placement, honors, regular classes, or special education. African-Americans and American Indians are grossly overrepresented in special education programs. American-Indians represent 2.2% of the population however made-up 18.2% of special education students in 2006-2007. African-Americans and Asian-Americans are 22% of the population however in 2006-2007 African-Americans made-up twice that number in special education. Studies show that students of color and poor students who are tracked and marginalized into emotional and behavioral programs receive less instruction and are viewed as the most difficult. Students in special education are suspended and expelled at double the rate of peers.
Next, we will look at discipline as a foot of oppression on students of color. There are three different discipline actions in Seattle Public Schools: short-term less than 10 days, long-term lasts until the end of a semester, and expulsion. Across all ages levels African Americans have the highest rates of disciplinary actions of all types. Compared with white students, African Americans were nearly twice as likely to receive short-term suspensions, and more than twice as likely to receive long-term suspensions. During the 2006-2007 Latino/Chicano-Americans were right behind African Americans with similarly high rates of expulsions. The no-tolerance policy that many schools have adopted can easily lead to the criminalization of trivial classroom behavior. Students are labeled as problem children, and youth with multiple suspensions and/or expulsions, are much more likely to drop out of school, commit a crime, and enter the criminal justice system.
Societal conditioning teaches to focus on the individual and say that it’s the individual student’s fault or the family's fault that a child is failing, without examining any of the deeper systemic reasons that students of color are disproportionately dropping out of the school system. Tyree Scott Freedom School curriculum challenges young people to critically examine these systemic obstacles and work against institutional racism in the education system. Young people discuss disparities in school funding and resources, the lies that they are taught about United States history, the culture of the classrooms, the bias of standardized tests, and the effects of tracking.
Famous quotes containing the words purpose, school, scott and/or freedom:
“The purpose of population is not ultimately peopling earth. It is to fill heaven.”
—Graham D. Leonard (b. 1921)
“East, west, north, south, or like a school broke up,
Each hurries toward his home and sporting-place.”
—William Shakespeare (15641616)
“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald (18961940)
“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
—James Madison (17511836)