Kenya: President Kenyatta launches locally assembled school desks project

Africa/Kenya/20-09-2020/Author and Source:

President Uhuru Kenyatta has launched the Ksh1.9 billion school furniture project that will see Jua Kali artisans supply 650,000 locally assembled desks.

Besides equipping secondary and primary schools, the project which is part of the Government’s post-COVID-19 economic stimulus program that is aimed at boosting the Jua Kali sector.

Speaking during the launch at a furniture workshop in Umoja estate, Nairobi County, the President said the project is modelled on the ongoing Kazi Mtaani youth employment initiative.

“After Kazi Mtaani program, we have said instead of school desks being made by big companies, we give our youth the opportunity to exercise their skills.

“We believe in individuals earning from their sweat and hence we decided to give our skilled youth the opportunity to earn decent livelihoods,” the President said.

The Head of State reiterated his commitment to continue improving the lives of all Kenyans by creating an enabling environment for hard-working citizens to thrive.

“I don’t want to engage in empty politics of name-calling. Rather, I am working hard to ensure all Kenyans work and enjoy the fruits of their labour,” he said.

The President directed the Ministries of Education and Interior to ensure that the project benefits artisans across the country.

“We want to ensure all our youth with skills are engaged so as to benefit from their sweat. This program is not for Nairobi alone but for all Kenyans who are skilled and are working in the Jua Kali sector,” he said.

He challenged local artisans to ensure they assemble and supply desks that meet the highest quality standards and advised project beneficiaries to form saving societies to grow their earnings from the project.

“Once you start this work encourage all young people to form SACCO’s where they can be putting their savings. You should not utilise every coin, it is wise for you to save for the future,” the President said.

On his way from the launch, the President, who was accompanied by Cabinet Secretaries Fred Matiang’i (Interior) and Prof George Magoha (Education), made a brief stopover at the Nairobi Railway Station where he inspected ongoing modernisation works.

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Coronavirus lockdown: The Indian migrants dying to get home

Asia/India/24-05-2020/Author and Source:

Tens of thousands of daily-wage migrant workers suddenly found themselves without jobs or a source of income when India announced a lockdown on 24 March.

Overnight, the cities they had helped build and run seemed to have turned their backs on them, the trains and buses which should have carried them home suspended.

So with the looming fear of hunger, men, women and children were forced to begin arduous journeys back to their villages – cycling or hitching rides on tuk-tuks, lorries, water tankers and milk vans.

For many, walking was the only option. Some travelled for a few hundred kilometres, while others covered more than a thousand to go home.

They weren’t always alone – some had young children and others had pregnant wives, and the life they had built for themselves packed into their ragtag bags.

Many never made it. Here, the BBC tells the story of just a handful of the hundreds who have lost their lives on the road home.

Sanju Yadav and her daughter Nandini

Rajan Yadav and his family's file photo
Image captionRajan Yadav, his wife Sanju and their two children wanted to make it big in Mumbai

Sanju Yadav and her husband, Rajan, and their two children – Nitin and Nandini – arrived in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, a decade ago with their meagre belongings and dreams of a brighter future.

Her children, she hoped, would thrive growing up in the city.

«It was not like she didn’t like the village life,» Rajan explained. «She just knew that Mumbai offered better opportunities for all of us.»

Indeed, it was Sanju that encouraged Rajan to push himself.

«I used to do an eight-hour shift in a factory. Sanju motivated me do something more, so we bought a food cart and started selling snacks from 16:00 to 22:00.

«She pushed me to think big, she used to say that having our business was way better than a job. Job had a fixed salary, but business allowed us to grow.»

Two years ago, all the hard work seemed to be paying off. Rajan used his savings and a bank loan to buy a tuk-tuk. The vehicle-for-hire brought more money for Sanju and her family.

But then came coronavirus.

Image captionThousands of people have left the cities

The couple first heard Prime Minister Narendra Modi talk about the virus on TV on 19 March. A full, three-week lockdown was announced less than a week later.

They used up most of their savings to pay rent, repay the loan and buy groceries in March and April. They were hoping that the city would reopen in May, but then the lockdown was extended again.

Out of money and options, they decided to go back to their village in Jaunpur district in Uttar Pradesh state. They applied for tickets on the special trains that were being run for migrants, but had no luck for a week.

Desperate and exhausted, they decided to undertake the 1,500-km long journey in their tuk-tuk. The family-of-four left Mumbai on 9 May.

Many were travelling with small children
Image captionMany were travelling with small children

Rajan would drive from 05:00 to 11:00. He would then rest during the day, and at 18:00 the family would be back on the road until 23:00. «We ate whatever dry food we had packed and slept on pavements. The prospect of being in the safety of our village kept us going,» he says.

But in the early hours of 12 May – just 200km from their village – a truck rammed into the tuk-tuk from behind.

Sanju and Nandini died on the spot. Rajan and Nitin escaped with minor injuries.

«It all ended so quickly,» Rajan says. «We were so close to our village. We were so excited. But I have nothing left now – just a big void.»

He says he can’t help but keep thinking about the train tickets that never came. «I wish I had gotten the tickets. I wish I had never started the journey… I wish I was not poor.»

Lallu Ram Yadav

Lallu Ram
Image captionLallu Ram Yadav was excited to spend time with his family

Lallu Ram Yadav used to meet his cousin Ajay Kumar every Sunday to reminisce about the village he had left for Mumbai a decade earlier, in search of a better life for his wife and six children.

For 10 years, the 55-year-old had worked as a security guard, 12 hours a day, six days a week.

But his hard work amounted to little once the lockdown began, and the cousins both found their savings quickly ran out.

Lallu Ram called his family to say they were coming home – at least, he would now get to spend time with his children, he said.

And so Lallu Ram and Ajay Kumar joined the desperate scramble to find a way home to the village in Uttar Pradesh’s Allahabad district, some 1,400km away.

But the price demanded by lorry drivers proved too much. Instead, inspired by the migrants walking home they saw on the television, they packed small bags and began the journey on foot with four friends.

A group of migrants walking on a motorway
Image captionMany migrants say they don’t want to come back to cities

The covered around 400km in the first 48 hours – hitchhiking in lorries along the way. But the journey was more difficult than they had imagined.

«It was really hot and we would get tired quickly,» Ajay Kumar said. «The leather shoes we were wearing were extremely uncomfortable.»

They all had blisters on their feet after walking for a day, but giving up was not an option.

One evening, Lallu Ram started complaining about breathing difficulties. They had just entered Madhya Pradesh state – they still had a long way to go, but they decided to rest for a while before starting again.

Lallu Ram never woke up. When they took him to a nearby hospital, they were told he had died of a cardiac arrest, triggered by exhaustion and fatigue.

Many found it difficult to find food during their journeys
Image captionMany found it difficult to find food during their journeys

They didn’t know what to do with the body. An ambulance was going to take five to eight hours to reach them.

The group had around 15,000 rupees ($199; £163) between them – half the amount needed to hire a lorry. But one driver agreed to take the rest of the payment later. And that’s how they took the body back home.

Lallu Ram couldn’t fulfil the promise of spending more time with his children.

«The family’s only breadwinner is gone,» says Ajay Kumar. «Nobody helped us. My cousin didn’t have to die – but it was a choice between hunger and the long journey.

«We poor people often have to pick the best from several bad choices. It didn’t work out for my cousin this time. It seldom works out for poor people like him.»

Sagheer Ansari

A selfie of Sagheer Ansari
Image captionSagheer Ansari was an expert tailor but had lost his job recently

Sagheer and Sahib Ansari were good tailors. They never struggled to find work in Delhi’s booming garment factories – until the lockdown.

Within days, they lost their jobs. The brothers thought things would go back to normal in a few weeks and stayed put in their tiny one-room house.

When their money ran out, they asked family members in the village for help. When the lockdown was further extended in May, their patience ran out.

«We couldn’t have asked the family for more money. We were supposed to help them, not take money from them,» Sahib says.

They would wait in queues for food being distributed by the government. But, Sahib says, it was never enough and they always felt hungry.

So the brothers discussed the idea of going back to their village in Motihari district in Bihar state, some 1,200km from Delhi.

Sagheer Ansari's family in a file photo
Image captionSagheer has left behind his wife and three young children

They and their friends decided to buy used bicycles, but could only afford six for eight people. So they decided that they would all take turns to ride pillion.

They left Delhi in the early hours of 5 May. It was a hot day and the group felt tired after every 10km.

«Our knees would hurt, but we kept pedalling. We hardly got a proper meal and that made it more difficult to pedal,» Sahib says.

After riding for five days, the group reached Lucknow – the capital of Uttar Pradesh. It had been two days since they had had a proper meal and they were mostly surviving on puffed rice.

«All of us were very hungry. We sat on a road divider to eat because there was hardly any traffic,» he says.

An overcrowded lorry
Image captionMany migrants have had to travel in overcrowded lorries

But then a car came out of nowhere, hitting the barrier and striking Sagheer. He died in a hospital a few hours later.

«My world came crashing down,» Sahib says. «I had no idea what I was going to tell his two children and his wife.

«He used to love home-cooked food and was looking forward to it. He died without having a proper meal for days.»

Sahib eventually reached home with his brother’s body, brought by an ambulance. But he couldn’t mourn with his family for long, as he was put into a quarantine centre right after the burial.

«I don’t know who to blame for his death – coronavirus, hunger or poverty. I have understood one thing: I will never leave my village. I will make less money but at least I will stay alive.»

Balram and his friend, Naresh Singh

Naresh Singh's family photo
Image captionNaresh Singh with his wife (standing to his right) and children

Jaikrishna Kumar, 17, regrets encouraging his father Balram to come home after the lockdown started.

Balram was from a village in Bihar’s Khagadia district, but was working in Gujarat – one of the states worst-hit by the coronavirus – when much of India closed down in March.

He and his friend Naresh Singh, a maintenance worker for mobile phone towers, were both working hard so their sons back in Bihar could have better futures. Balram wanted Jaikrishna to go to college, Nikram wanted his sons to become government officers.

They started their journey on foot, but about 400km into it, policemen helped them and others to hitch a ride in a lorry.

The «ride» involved them all being precariously perched on top of cargo – a common sight on Indian highways.

Two migrants hanging on the back of a truck
Image captionPeople have taken extreme risks to get home

But this time, the driver lost control in Dausa town in Rajasthan state, ramming the lorry into a tree.

Both Naresh and Balram died in the accident.

Now Jaikrishna Kumar says he will probably have to quit studying and find a job to support the family.

«The accident took away my father and my dreams of getting an education. I wish there was another way. I don’t like the idea of going to a city to work, but what other option do I have?

«My father wanted me to break the cycle of poverty. I don’t know how to do it without him.»

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Slavoj Zizek: Can Covid-19 remind us that SEX is an important channel for sprituality?

By: Slavoj Zizek

The Covid-19 epidemic will certainly give a boost to digital sexual games, but hopefully it will also lead to a new appreciation of physical intimacy and we will remember that sex between two people is a medium for spirituality.

The Irish Health Service Executive has issued guidelines about practicing sex in the time of coronavirus, and the two key recommendations are:

Taking a break from physical and face-to face interactions is worth considering, especially if you usually meet your sex partners online or make a living by having sex. Consider using video dates, sexting or chat rooms. Make sure to disinfect keyboards and touch screens that you share with others.

“Masturbation will not spread coronavirus, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after.”

Reasonable common sense advice for a time of epidemics spread by bodily contact – but one should note that these recommendations just conclude the process which was already going on with the progressive digitalization of our lives: statistics show that today’s adolescents spend much less time exploring their sexuality than surfing the web.

Even if they engage in sex, is doing it in a virtual space (with hardcore pornography) not much easier and more instantly gratifying?

For this reason, the new American TV series Euphoria (described by HBO as “following a group of high school students as they navigate drugs, sex, identity, trauma, social media, love and friendship”) with its portrayal of the dissolute life of today’s high school population is almost the opposite of present-day reality. It is out of touch with today’s youth and, for this reason, weirdly anachronistic – more an exercise in middle-age nostalgia for how depraved the young generations once were.

But we should go even a step further here: what if there never was an entirely “real” sex void of any virtual or fantasized supplement? The usual definition of masturbation is “doing it to yourself while imagining partners,” but what if real sex is always – up to a point – masturbation with a real partner? What do I mean by this? In a comment for the Guardian, Eva Wiseman refers to a moment in ‘The Butterfly Effect’, Jon Ronson’s podcast series about the aftershocks of internet porn. “On the set of a porn film an actor lost his erection mid-scene – to coax it back, he turned away from the woman, naked below him, grabbed his phone and searched Pornhub. Which struck me as vaguely apocalyptic.” She concludes: “Something is rotten in the state of sex.”

I agree, but I would add this lesson of psychoanalysis: something is constitutively rotten in the state of sex, human sexuality is in itself perverted, exposed to sadomasochist reversals and, specifically, to the mixture of reality and fantasy. Even when I am alone with my partner, my sexual interaction with him/her is inextricably intertwined with my fantasies, i.e., every sexual interaction is potentially structured like “masturbation with a real partner” – I use the flesh and body of my partner as a prop to realize/enact my fantasies.

We cannot reduce this gap between the bodily reality of a partner and the universe of fantasies to a distortion opened up by patriarchy and social domination or exploitation – the gap is here from the very beginning. So I quite understand the actor who, in order to regain his erection, searched Pornhub – he was looking for a fantasmatic support of his performance. It is for this same reason that, as part of sexual intercourse, one partner asks the other to go on talking, usually narrating something “dirty” – even when you hold in your hands the “thing itself” (the beloved partner’s naked body), this presence has to be supplemented by verbal fantasizing…

This worked for the actor because he was obviously not in a personal love relationship with the actress – her body was more a living sexbot for him. If he were to be passionately in love with his partner, her body would have mattered to him since every gesture of touching her would disturb the core of her subjectivity. When one makes love with someone one truly loves, touching the partner’s body is crucial. One should therefore turn around the common wisdom according to which sexual lust is bodily while love is spiritual: sexual love is more bodily than sex without love.

Will, then, the ongoing epidemics limit sexuality and promulgate love, a distant admiration of the beloved who remains out of touch? The epidemics will definitely give a boost to digital sexual games without bodily contact. Hopefully, however, a new appreciation of sexual intimacy will arise out of the epidemics, and we will learn again the lesson of Andrei Tarkovsky for whom earth, its inert, humid stuff, is not opposed to spirituality but its very medium. In Tarkovsky’s masterpiece Mirror, his father Arseny Tarkovsky recites his own lines: “A soul is sinful without a body, like a body without clothes.” Masturbation in front of hard-core porn images is sinful while bodily contact is a path to spirituality.

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England: Greta Thunberg to join school strike in Bristol

Europe/England/23-02-2020/Author (a) and Source:

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg is to join a school strike in Bristol.

She tweeted she was «heading for the UK» and was «looking forward» to joining strikers on College Green in the city centre on Friday morning.

Bristol Youth Strike for Climate (BYS4C) said it was «honoured to be welcoming» the 17-year-old.

Ms Thunberg, who is expected to travel by train, is due to make a speech before joining a samba band-accompanied march.

Izzy Smitheson, from BYS4C, said Ms Thunberg had contacted the group because she «wanted to strike with us».

School strike in BristolImage copyrightARCHIE RICHARDS
Image captionThe first school strike in Bristol took place in February last year

Ms Smitheson, 17, said: «We didn’t have a strike planned, so it’s a lot of last-minute organisation.

«The whole Bristol community has come together to make it happen. We think Greta’s presence will make it very big and bring a lot of energy to the strike.»

Greta Thunberg mural
Image captionArtist Jody Thomas painted a mural of Ms Thunberg in Bristol last year

Two years ago, Ms Thunberg started missing lessons most Fridays to protest outside the Swedish parliament building, in what turned out to be the beginning of a huge environmental movement.

She has become a leading voice for action on climate change, inspiring millions of students to join protests around the world.

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China promotes public scientific literacy

Asia/China/20-10-2019/Author (a) and Source:

The young generation has been inspired to explore the world of science by activities from science and technology competitions to science camps.

The proportion of scientifically literate citizens in China has increased from 0.2 percent in 1992 to 8.47 percent in 2018, Huai Jinpeng, vice chairman of the China Association for Science and Technology, said at the 2019 World Conference on Science Literacy concluded Thursday in Beijing.

China has released a series of regulations and plans to popularize science and technology and boost scientific literacy among the public by expanding platform channels, promoting infrastructure construction and encouraging social vitality, according to Huai.

Children participate in BASF Kids’ Lab at Shanghai Science and Technology Museum in east China’s Shanghai, July 3, 2019. (Xinhua/Ding Ting)

Scientific education outside the classroom has been widely practiced in China, which has become a good supplement to the nine-year compulsory education.

The young generation has been inspired to explore the world of science by activities from science and technology competitions to science camps.

Both the urban and rural population enjoy science museums in different ways. A total of 1,500 «science buses» have provided mobile laboratories for students in remote regions for 18 years.

The annual National Science Day has been held for 16 consecutive years to showcase new technologies, with almost 300 million people participating online and offline across the country each year.

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UNESCO: One in every five children, adolescents and youth is out of school worldwide

UNESCO/March 06, 2018/Source:

New figures on the number of children out of school worldwide reveal that despite decades of efforts to get every child into the classroom, progress has come to a standstill. According to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), about 263 million children, adolescents and youth worldwide – one in every five – are out school, a figure that has barely changed over the past five years.

The new numbers are published as delegates gather in Paris for the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-Education 2030 Steering Committee meeting. The Committee is a unique body providing strategic guidance on the advancement of the Education 2030 Agenda. SDG4 includes a concrete commitment to ensure that every girl and boy is completing a good quality primary and secondary education by 2030.

The rate of progress, or the lack of it, varies by age group, according to a UIS paper released today. At primary level, the out-of-school rate has barely moved at all over the past decade, with 9% of children of primary age (about 6 to 11 years), or 63 million, out of school.

In addition, 61 million adolescents of lower secondary age (about 12 to 14 years) and 139 million youth of upper secondary age –one in every three – are not enrolled in school. These youth, between the ages of about 15 to 17 years, are four times more likely to be out of school than children of primary age, and more than twice as likely to be out of school as those of lower secondary age.

“These new figures show starkly the size of the gap that needs to be closed to ensure universal access to education,” says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “We need much more comprehensive and targeted approaches together with more resources to reach those children and youth who are denied the right to education, with a special emphasis on girls and on improving the quality of education for all. This is the greatest urgency for unlocking progress towards SDG4.”

The UIS figures confirm that across sub-Saharan Africa one in every three children, adolescents and youth are out of school – with girls more likely to be excluded than boys. For every 100 boys of primary age out of school, there are 123 girls denied the right to education.

The new data also highlight a gulf between out-of-school rates in the world’s poorest and richest countries, with an upper-secondary out-of-school rate of 59% across the world’s low-income countries, compared to just 6% in high-income countries.

According to Silvia Montoya, Director of the UIS, “Access to education is only part of the picture. We also have a learning crisis, with one in six children and adolescents not reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading or mathematics; the majority of them are in school. Education has to deliver for every child, which requires effective monitoring to ensure that all children are in school, and that they are learning what they need to know. That is why the UIS, which is the official data source for SDG 4, is developing new indicators on equitable education and learning outcomes.”

The new figures reinforce calls for far greater global investment in education at all levels to ensure progress towards SDG 4, including more resources for data gathering and analysis to monitor the pace and equity of that progress.

These issues will be on the agenda of the fourth SDG-Education 2030 Steering Committee, the main global consultation and coordination mechanism for education in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Committee meets once or twice a year to provide strategic advice on policies, financing, monitoring and reporting and advocacy. It is composed of 38 members representing a majority from Member States, together with eight UN agencies, the Global Partnership for Education, the OECD, regional organizations, teacher organizations, civil society networks, in addition to representatives from the private sector, foundations, youth and student organizations.


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The United States’ War on Youth: From Schools to Debtors’ Prisons

By: Henry A. Giroux

If one important measure of a democracy is how a society treats its children, especially poor youth of color, there can be little doubt that American society is failing. As the United States increasingly models its schools after prisons and subjects children to a criminal legal system marked by severe class and racial inequities, it becomes clear that such children are no longer viewed as a social investment but as suspects. Under a neoliberal regime in which some children are treated as criminals and increasingly deprived of decent health care, education, food and  housing, it has become clear that the United States has both failed its children and democracy itself.

Not only is the United States the only nation in the world that sentences children to life in prison without parole, the criminal legal system often functions so as to make it more difficult for young people to escape the reach of a punishing and racist legal system. For instance, according to a recent report published by the Juvenile Law Center, there are close to a million children who appear in juvenile court each year subject to a legal system rife with racial disparities and injustices. This is made clear by Jessica Feierman, associate director of the Juvenile Law Center in her report «Debtors’ Prison for Kids? The High Cost of Fines and Fees in the Juvenile Justice System.» In an interview with the Arkansas Times, Feierman said:

Racial disparities pervade our juvenile justice system. Our research suggests that we can reduce those disparities through legislative action aimed at costs, fines, fees, and restitution … In every state, youth and families can be required to pay juvenile court costs, fees, fines, or restitution. The costs for court related services, including probation, a «free appointed attorney,» mental health evaluations, the costs of incarceration, treatment, or restitution payments, can push poor children deeper into the system and families deeper into debt. Youth who can’t afford to pay for their freedom often face serious consequences, including incarceration, extended probation, or denial of treatment — they are unfairly penalized for being poor. Many families either go into debt trying to pay these costs or forego basic necessities like groceries to keep up with payments.

According to the report, sometimes when a family can’t pay court fees and fines, the child is put in a juvenile detention facility. Such punitive measures are invoked without a degree of conscience or informed judgment as when children are fined for being truant from school. In her article in Common Dreams, Nika Knight pointed to one case in which a child was fined $500 for being truant and because he could not pay the fine, «spent three months in a locked facility at age 13.» In many states, the parents are incarcerated if they cannot pay for their child’s court fees. For many parents, such fines represent a crushing financial burden, which they cannot meet, and consequently their children are subjected to the harsh confines of juvenile detention centers. Erik Eckholm has written in The New York Times about the story of Dequan Jackson, which merges the horrid violence suffered by the poor in a Dickens novel with the mindless brutality and authoritarianism at the heart of one of Kafka’s tales. Eckholm is worth quoting at length:

When Dequan Jackson had his only brush with the law, at 13, he tried to do everything right. Charged with battery for banging into a teacher while horsing around in a hallway, he pleaded guilty with the promise that after one year of successful probation, the conviction would be reduced to a misdemeanor. He worked 40 hours in a food bank. He met with an anger management counselor. He kept to an 8 p.m. curfew except when returning from football practice or church. And he kept out of trouble. But Dequan and his mother, who is struggling to raise two sons here on wisps of income, were unable to meet one final condition: payment of $200 in court and public defender fees. For that reason alone, his probation was extended for what turned out to be 14 more months, until they pulled together the money at a time when they had trouble finding quarters for the laundromat.

Not only do such fines create a two-tier system of justice that serves the wealthy and punishes the poor, they also subject young people to a prison system fraught with incidents of violent assault, rape and suicide. Moreover, many young people have health needs and mental health problems that are not met in these detention centers, and incarceration also fuels mental health problems.

Suicide rates behind bars «are more than four times higher than for adolescents overall,» according to the Child Trends Data Bank. Moreover, «between 50 and 75 percent of adolescents who have spent time in juvenile detention centers are incarcerated later in life.» Finally, as the «Debtors’ Prison for Kids Report» makes clear, kids are being sent to jail at increasing rates while youth crime is decreasing. The criminal legal system is mired in a form of casino capitalism that not only produces wide inequalities in wealth, income and power, but it also corrupts municipal court systems that are underfunded and turn to unethical and corrupt practices in order to raise money, while creating new paths to prison, especially for children.

Debtors’ prisons for young people exemplify how a warfare culture can affect the most vulnerable populations in a society, exhibiting a degree of punitiveness and cruelty that indicts the most fundamental political, economic and social structures of a society. Debtors’ prisons for young people have become the dumping grounds for those youth considered disposable, and they are also a shameful source of profit for municipalities across the United States. They operate as legalized extortion rackets, underscoring how our society has come to place profits above the welfare of children. They also indicate how a society has turned its back on young people, the most vulnerable group of people in our society.

There is nothing new about the severity of the American government’s attack on poor people, especially those on welfare, and both political parties have shared in this ignoble attack. What is often overlooked, however, is the degree to which children are impacted by scorched-earth policies that extend from cutting social provisions to the ongoing criminalization of a vast range of behaviors. It appears that particularly when it comes to young people, especially poor youth and youth of color, society’s obligations to justice and social responsibility disappear.

Modeling Schools After Prisons

We live at a time in which institutions that were meant to limit human suffering and misfortune and protect young people from the excesses of the police state and the market have been either weakened or abolished. The consequences can be seen clearly in the ongoing and ruthless assault on public education, poor students and students of color. Schools have become, in many cases, punishment factories that increasingly subject students to pedagogies of control, discipline and surveillance. Pedagogy has been emptied of critical content and now imposes on students mind-numbing teaching practices organized around teaching for the test. The latter constitutes both a war on the imagination and a disciplinary practice meant to criminalize the behavior of children who do not accept a pedagogy of conformity and overbearing control.

No longer considered democratic public spheres intended to create critically informed and engaged citizens, many schools now function as punishing factories, work stations that mediate between warehousing poor students of color and creating a path that will lead them into the hands of the criminal legal system and eventually, prison. Under such circumstances, it becomes more difficult to reclaim a notion of public schooling in which the culture of punishment and militarization is not the culture of education. Hope in this instance has to begin with a critical discourse among teachers, students, parents and administrators unwilling to model the schools after a prison culture.

Many schools are now modeled after prisons and organized around the enactment of zero tolerance policies which, as John W. Whitehead has pointed out, put «youth in the bullseye of police violence.» Whitehead argues rightfully that:

The nation’s public schools — extensions of the world beyond the schoolhouse gates, a world that is increasingly hostile to freedom — have become microcosms of the American police state, containing almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the «outside.»

Not only has there been an increase in the number of police in the schools, but the behavior of kids is being criminalized in ways that legitimate what many call the school-to-prison pipeline. School discipline has been transformed into a criminal matter now handled mostly by the police rather than by teachers and school administrators, especially in regard to the treatment of poor Black and Brown kids. But cops are doing more than arresting young people for trivial infractions, they are also handcuffing them, using tasers on children, applying physical violence on youth, and playing a crucial role in getting kids suspended or expelled from schools every year.

The Civil Rights Project rightly argues that public schools are becoming «gateways to prisons.» One estimate suggests that a growing number of young people will have been arrested for minor misbehaviors by the time they finish high school. This is not surprising in schools that already look like quasi-prisons with their drug-sniffing dogs, surveillance systems, metal detectors, police patrolling school corridors, and in some cases, police systems that resemble SWAT teams.

While there has been a great deal of publicity nationwide over police officers killing Black people, there has been too little scrutiny regarding the use of force by police in the schools. As Jaeah Lee observed in Mother Jones, the «use of force by cops in schools … has drawn far less attention [in spite of the fact that] over the past five years at least 28 students have been seriously injured, and in one case shot to death, by so-called school resource officers — sworn, uniformed police assigned to provide security on k-12 campuses.»

According to Democracy Now, there are over 17,000 school resource officers in more than half of the public schools in the United States, while only a small percentage have been trained to work in schools. In spite of the fact that violence in schools has dropped precipitously, school resource officers are the fastest growing segment of law enforcement and their presence has resulted in more kids being ticketed, fined, arrested, suspended and pushed into the criminal legal system.

In 2014 over 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests. In the last few years, videos have been aired showing a police officer inside Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina throwing a teenage girl to the ground and dragging her out of her classroom. In Mississippi schools, a student was handcuffed for not wearing a belt, a black female student was choked by the police, and one cop threatened to shoot students on a bus.

Neoliberalism is not only obsessed with accumulating capital, it has also lowered the threshold for extreme violence to such a degree that it puts into place a law-and-order educational regime that criminalizes children who doodle on desks, bump into teachers in school corridors, throw peanuts at a bus, or fall asleep in class. Fear, insecurity, humiliation, and the threat of imprisonment are the new structuring principles in schools that house our most vulnerable populations. The school has become a microcosm of the warfare state, designed to provide a profit for the security industries, while imposing a pedagogy of repression on young people.

According to the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, a disproportionate number of students subject to arrests are Black. It states: «While black students represent 16% of student enrollment, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest.»

Too many children in the Unites States confront violence in almost every space in which they find themselves — in the streets, public schools, parks, and wider culture. In schools, according to Whitehead, «more than 3 million students are suspended or expelled every year.» Violence has become central to America’s identity both with regards to its foreign policy and increasingly in its domestic policies.  How else to explain what Lisa Armstrong revealed in The Intercept: «The United States is the only country in the world that routinely sentences children to life in prison without parole, and, according to estimates from nonprofits and advocacy groups, there are between 2,300 and 2,500 people serving life without parole for crimes committed when they were minors.»

The predatory financial system targets poor, Black and Brown children instead of crooked bankers, hedge fund managers, and big corporations who engage in massive corruption and fraud while pushing untold numbers of people into bankruptcy, poverty and even homelessness. For example, according to Forbes, the international banking giant HSBC exposed the US financial system to «a wide array of money laundering, drug trafficking, and terrorist financing … and channeled $7 billion into the U.S. between 2007 and 2008 which possibly included proceeds from illegal drug sales in the United States.» Yet, no major CEO went to jail. Even more astounding is that «the profligate and dishonest behavior of Wall Street bankers, traders, and executives in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis … went virtually unpunished.»

Resisting Criminalization of School Discipline and Everyday Behavior

Violence against children in various sites is generally addressed through specific reforms, such as substituting community service for detention centers, eliminating zero tolerance policies in schools, and replacing the police with social workers, while creating supportive environments for young people. The latter might include an immediate stoppage to suspending, expelling and arresting students for minor misbehaviors. Legal scholar Kerrin C. Wolf has proposed a promising three-tier system of reform that includes the following:

The first tier of the system provides supports for the entire student body. Such supports include clearly defining and teaching expected behaviors, rewarding positive behavior, and applying a continuum of consequences for problem behavior. The second tier targets at-risk students — students who exhibit behavior problems despite the supports provided in the first tier — with enhanced interventions and supports, often in group settings. These may include sessions that teach social skills and informal meetings during which the students «check in» to discuss how they have been behaving. The third tier provided individualized and specialized interventions and supports for high-risk students — students who do not respond to the first and second tier supports and interventions. The interventions and supports are based on a functional behavior assessment and involve a community of teachers and other school staff working with the student to change his or her behavior patterns.

Regarding the larger culture of violence, there have also been public demands that police wear body cameras and come under the jurisdiction of community. In addition, there has been a strong but largely failed attempt on the part of gun reform advocates to establish policies and laws that would control the manufacture, sale, acquisition, circulation, use, transfer, modification or use of firearms by private citizens. At the same time, there is a growing effort to also pass legislation that would not allow such restrictions to be used as a further tool to incarcerate youth of color. In short, this means not allowing the war on gun violence to become another war on poor people of color similar to what happened under the racially biased war on drugs. And while such reforms are crucial in the most immediate sense to protect young people and lessen the violence to which they are subjected, they do not go far enough. Violence has reached epidemic proportions in the United States and bears down egregiously on children, especially poor youth and youth of color. If such violence is to be stopped, a wholesale restructuring of the warfare state must be addressed. The underlying structure of state and everyday violence must be made visible, challenged and dismantled.

The violence waged against children must become a flashpoint politically to point to the struggles that must be waged against the gun industry, the military-industrial-academic complex, and an entertainment culture that fuels what Dr. Phil Wolfson describes in Tikkun Magazine as «fictive identifications» associated with «murderous combat illusions and delusions.» Violence must be viewed as endemic to a regime of neoliberalism that breeds racism, class warfare, bigotry and a culture of cruelty. Capitalism produces the warfare state, and any reasonable struggle for a real democracy must address both the institutions organized for the production of violence and the political, social, educational and economic tools and strategies necessary for getting rid of it.

Americans live at a time in which the destruction and violence pursued under the regime of neoliberalism is waged unapologetically and without pause. One consequence is that it has become more difficult to defend a system that punishes its children, destroys the lives of workers, derides public servants, plunders the planet and destroys public goods.  Americans live in an age of disposability in which the endless throwing away of goods is matched by a system that views an increasing number of people — poor Black and Brown youth, immigrants, Muslims, unemployed workers and those unable to participate in the formal economy — as excess and subject to zones of social and economic abandonment. As Gayatri Spivak rightly observes, «When human beings are valued as less than human, violence begins to emerge as the only response.» At issue here is not just the crushing of the human spirit, mind and body, but the abandonment of democratic politics itself. Violence wages war against hope, obliterates the imagination, and undermines any sense of critical agency and collective struggle.

Sites of Resistance

Yet, resistance cannot be obliterated, and we are seeing hopeful signs of it all over the world. In the US, Black youth are challenging police and state violence, calling for widespread alliances among diverse groups of young people, such as the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), worker-controlled labor movements,  the movement around climate change, movements against austerity and movements that call for the abolition of the prison system among others. All of these are connecting single issues to a broader comprehensive politics, one that is generating radical policy proposals that reach deep into demands for power, freedom and justice. Such proposals extend from reforming the criminal legal system to ending the exploitative privatization of natural resources. What is being produced by these young people is less a blueprint for short-term reform than a vision of the power of the radical imagination in addressing long term, transformative organizing and a call for a radical restructuring of society.

What we are seeing is the birth of a radical vision and a corresponding mode of politics that calls for the end of violence in all of its crude and militant death-dealing manifestations.  Such movements are not only calling for the death of the two-party system and the distribution of wealth, power and income, but also for a politics of civic memory and courage, one capable of analyzing the ideology, structures and mechanisms of capitalism and other forms of oppression. For the first time since the 1960s, political unity is no longer a pejorative term, new visions matter and coalitions arguing for a broad-based social movement appear possible again.

A new politics of insurrection is in the air, one that is challenging the values, policies, structure and relations of power rooted in a warfare society and war culture that propagate intolerable violence. State violence in both its hidden and visible forms is no longer a cause for despair but for informed and collective resistance. Zygmunt Bauman is right in insisting that the bleakness and dystopian politics of our times necessitates the ability to dream otherwise, to imagine a society «which thinks it is not just enough, which questions the sufficiency of any achieved level of justice and considers justice always to be a step or more ahead. Above all, it is a society that reacts angrily to any case of injustice and promptly sets about correcting it.»

It is precisely such a collective spirit informing a resurgent politics within the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements — a politics that is being rewritten in the discourse of critique and hope, emancipation and transformation. Once again, the left has a future and the future has a left.


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