How This School's Punishment Of Black Students Reinforces The Prison System

children sitting down in school
Zain Murdock
September 4, 2023

In 1994, bell hooks described a past school experience as “more like a prison, a place of punishment and confinement rather than a place of promise and possibility.” 

And in 2023, a Florida elementary school blatantly displayed what hooks described.

On a Friday at Bunnell Elementary School, select students were pulled out of class for an assembly. All were Black. The presentation shown was even titled “AA Presentation” for African Americans. 

Students were shamed about low standardized test scores and bribed with gift cards. Their parents weren’t notified.

Frightened students said they were told they’d end up dead or in jail if they did poorly on their upcoming tests. 

So, how does this all tie into hooks’ message?

Prison culture is more than the threat of literal incarceration. Cataloging and dehumanizing people as statistics, using shame to control their behavior, and implementing harmful punishment is a part of the system, too.

Statistically, Black students receive harsher punishment, which can lead to even lower academic performance.

Instead of punishing Black youth, why not question whether their learning environment is the problem? And the education system’s definition of “intelligence” itself? 

Bunnell’s students shouldn’t have their intelligence linked to incarceration and death. They’re worth much more.

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