07/24/11 Annette Fuentes

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Annette Fuentes, author "Lockdown High - When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse" + Pres Obama says "no" to ending the drug war

Audio file


Cultural Baggage / April 24, 2011


Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”


DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


DEAN BECKER: Alright, I appreciate you joining us here on Cultural Baggage. Here in just a moment we’re going to bring in our guest, Annette Fuentes. She’s author of a great new book, “Lockdown High – When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse.” I want to read just a bit of it before we bring her on. This is a quote,

“You’ve got people in your schools right now plotting a Columbine. Every town, every university now has a Cho and in every state we have Al Qaeda cells thinking of it. Every school is a possible target of attack. You’ve got to be a one-man fighting force. You’ve got to have enough guns and ammunition and body armor to stay alive. You should be walking around in schools every day in complete tactical equipment with semi-automatic weapons and five rounds of ammo. You can no longer afford to think of yourselves as peace officers. You must think of yourselves as soldiers in a war because we’re going to ask you to act like soldiers.”

And, with that, let’s bring in our guest, Annette Fuentes. How are you?

ANNETTE FUENTES: Hi Dean. I’m real good and happy to be with you today.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Annette, I finished your book today. It was a very powerful read - scathing indictment of this zero-tolerance madness that’s sweeping across America.

ANNETTE FUENTES: Well, I’m glad that you’re outraged. I’m glad that you read the book and I’m hoping that people will read it and be outraged and perhaps motivated (even better) to do something. To start asking questions about the way that schools are treating their kids and to think twice about the whole notion…I talk about the myth of Columbine…this notion that we have that’s so widely held among the public that schools are dangerous, our kids are dangerous, that schools are rampant with drugs and crime and it’s so far from reality in the vast majority of schools. Of course there are exceptions to any rule but what we’re doing in schools is a massive, really infusion of the criminal justice system and strategies into an education arena and we’ve lost our way. It’s really a scary thing that I discovered on my two year project to research, report and write this book.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you talk about the early days – the schools out on the prairies – and how occasional the students would, in essence, revolt against the teacher – either their policy, their tactics but somehow – but it was not an occasion to call out the police, right?

ANNETTE FUENTES: That’s right. I’m a journalist with a long career, 30 years, but I always loved history. So, when I first began working on this book – back in 2006 – I had been teaching at Colombia University’s Graduate Journalism program and I had access to their wonderful library and archives. I decided what I should do is really steep myself in the whole idea of school violence and go back and look at the roots. What are the roots of violence in schools. For that we had to go back to the beginning of public schools themselves which is in the early to mid-1800s. The public school, the common school that was set up to really start training kids in rural and urban areas – the cities and the country’s early history.

It was amazing to find these stories. They were, many of them, autobiographies, many of folks who had gone to these early schools where there was a tradition called “barring out the headmaster”. The kids would get together and lock the school up. It might be that one-room schoolhouse in the prairie and forcibly confront the teacher and keep him from coming in. There were other stories about young women who were teachers being confronted by farm boys who had a six-inch jackknife that they whip out if the teacher tried to pull out her hickory stick.

You know, schools have always been a place where young people challenge authority and where authority in the form of teachers and principals challenge kids. The limits of power and control get played out in schools and it always has been thusly.

DEAN BECKER: You know it’s not just since 911 it’s been since before that but it seems that in this modern era that fear is more tangible somehow. People seem to think that it’s more justified to create barriers to folks who might broach their security. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you reach back…you had this story about the Bath schoolhouse disaster and there were 44 people who died in that plot and yet they didn’t follow down this same path of hysteria that we’re undertaking now, right?

ANNETTE FUENTES: Right. The Bath school disaster was a couple hundred years ago…I’m forgetting the date now but in the 1800s. A man who had a grudge against the particular school, I think it had to do with his school taxes, he went to the school and basically created an explosion that killed many students, teachers. He also went home and killed his own wife so this was a really deranged human being.

There was no idea back then of installing some kind of security system. Of course, they didn’t exist back then but I think what has happened over the last few decades is that …several things. One is that the impetus of the drug war that Reagan launched in the 80s began to gather momentum and it became a war not only against drugs externally (other countries) but also in our cities and that crept into our schools. The drug war then begat kind of the hysteria around school violence, around safety.

Remember there was high crime in the 80s and early 90s. Our cities were active with the crack epidemic, great deal of violence. It is true that the homicides were soaring in cities around the country. It was really a time…I lived in New York City then so I remember it was a time when people had a lot of fears.

But I think that the authorities, our politicians played on people’s fears to create a sense of exaggerated danger and risk, in general. This kind of hysteria around crime was used to justify building a mammoth prison system, the “prison industrial complex” as Angela Davis calls it. When 2001 came along and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – this just added more fuel to the idea that kids are…

The thing I also want to point out, and I say it in the book, is that kids are both seen as dangerous and we have to be protected from them but there also seen as vulnerable and we have to protect them from the terrorist or whatever. So, it’s kind of like kids are getting it from both sides.

911 gave voices to this hysteria and really amped up the kinds of strategies that are being used in schools. Kids can be suspended for making terroristic threats. School districts around the country adopted this disciplinary code that actually say, “Kids can be suspended if they make a terroristic threat.” And, that kind of threat could be something as simple as a schoolyard bully telling someone, “I’m going to get you. You better watch it because I’m going to come and get you.” And that gets reported.

Now, the thing that we want to talk about and that I hope the book prompts people to start talking about it is, “What should we do?” I never suggested that schools are free of any kind of violence or disruptions or any problems. The question is how do we deal with this.

In schools where there are misbehaviors, in schools where there is trouble, there can be violence – how do we want to respond as a society to these problems. What is the arena? The arena is that it’s an education institution. So that should suggest how we begin to deal with these problems.

We’ve lost our way by using a criminal justice approach. We’re treating the kids like suspects. We’re treating the schools like house of detention, juvenile detention and we’re forgetting that they’re kids. Kids make mistakes and schools are places to teach them how to behave. And, if there are problems, there are way to deal with it that don’t involve policing, drug-sniffing dogs…the whole array of “lockdown high” strategies that I talk about in the book.

DEAN BECKER: Alright friends, once again, we’re speaking with Annette Fuentes. She’s author of “Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse.” Annette, I’m going to paraphrase a bit from your book.

Regan launched the war on drugs heralded with the Drug-Free Act of 1986, set in place the zero-tolerance. You talk about the fact that given the federal drum beat and frightening statistics it’s not surprising that the national preoccupation became violent crime, especially drug-related violent crime.

Here’s a measure of how dramatically crime became to dominate the public psyche. In 1982, 3% of adults surveyed in a national poll named crime and violence as the country’s main problems - by 1994 more than 50% did. It is perception that runs this, right?

ANNETTE FUENTES: That’s right. It’s just staggering. It’s like we’re stuck in the groove of a record – course we don’t have vinyl anymore – but, for those of us who remember vinyl…we’re stuck in the groove of high crime rates and the fear of “the other”.

I want to talk about for a second the fact that a lot of the fear of crime and the super-predators that criminologists started talking about in the late 80s and 90s were these super-predators from the urban areas. We know that a lot of that was racial coding and ethnic coding for black and Latino males. They were seen as this breed apart and incredible things were written about these super-predators. They would come to dominate – they forecast a cloud of crime coming in the next generation. Of course this never materialized.

One of the best people who writes on this and somebody who’s work I really learned from and I cite him a great deal is Mike Males who is a sociologist. He’s written incredible work piercing the myths of violent kids and youth crime. One of the best books, and one should go out and read it, is the “Scapegoat Generation.” Mike Males in that book talks about the myths of violent done by young people and really looks at the numbers and talks about some of the things that I elaborate on in the academic environment.

But it is this hysteria about crime that is just not backed up by reality. Part of that is fear of black and Latino kids who may or may not have been involved in drug crime in the 80s and 90s. This perception that cities are sewers and full of crime and these kids are just dangerous predators.

The irony is…Mike Males writes about this and I point other examples…of all the most shocking, headline grabbing incidences of school violence like Columbine, like a similar shooting in Oregon and Paducah Kentucky…It was single, young male shooters who caused these terrible incidences - killed other classmates. They had access to guns, usually semi-automatic guns and they did horrible things with these guns but they were acting primarily as individuals. In Columbine there were two young men involved. But, it is young, white, alienated youth and they’re typically in suburban/rural areas. So, the myth of these young black or Latino kids causing all this violence in schools…what really has been the case is there have been a handful of incidents, high profile crimes like Columbine, like Paducah, Kentucky that got people in a state of hysteria.

I read lots of articles that were contemporaneous with those incidents, what people were saying then. A lot of it was, “Oh, I can’t believe that something like this could happen in our community.” Like Littleton, Colorado which is where Columbine is. That was one of the chief refrains. Well, Littleton is a great place, how could this happen here?!

The unstated part was that we expect that kind of thing to happen in New York City or Los Angeles where horrible crime happens but not here. That’s why we live here – to escape that kind of violence. But, of course, violent crime can happen anywhere.

DEAN BECKER: Annette, I’m told by the engineer that we want you to speak up. You’re coming through OK but a little more umph would be good. Again reading from your book talking about the hysteria :

“Teenagers are being interrogated, suspended, reprimanded and even arrested not for committing actual crimes but for what they say in class, write on tests, post on the internet or even email to a friend as well as what they wear and even how they do their hair. Taken together civil liberties advocates say these policies amount to what is the biggest crackdown on teen rights in recent history.”

And I know that’s true.

ANNETTE FUENTES: Right. What we’ve done is have gone so far to the other extreme of clamping down on kids and defining mischievous behavior as crime and as violations of student code. We’re putting so many…millions of kids, really, at risk of falling out of school and what people are calling the school-to-prison pipeline.

Now, I know your show is based in Houston and unfortunately Texas is really leading the way, in a bad way, on zero-tolerance. Indeed, a study just came out and the timing couldn’t be better for those of us who are talking about zero-tolerance and the harms that it does, a study that was done jointly and sponsored by Atlantic Philantropies is looking at the impacts of high suspension rates in Texas. And it found that Texas has an astronomical rate of suspension, of putting kids out of class and sometimes for long periods of times for behaviors that in another time would just be considered bad behavior where you get sent to the principal’s office. But, worse, it finds that when these kids are suspended for these behaviors, a pattern develops, they continue to be suspended as they go through their academic careers and the likelihood of them dropping out of school by the time they reach 10th/ 11th grade is very high.

So, suspension equals likelihood of dropping out and not graduating from high school. So, in Texas what’s happening the public schools is really a terrible abdication of the responsibility to teach all kids and to create a system of discipline that works. Clearly something is broken in Texas if 1.6 million suspensions are affected in a year and that was the number for the last year for which the data was available. I think that’s the 2009/2010 school year. 1.6 million suspensions and that’s not necessarily kids - that could be the same kid being suspended multiple times.

So the study that was just done and is getting a fair amount of media attention. It says those kids who are suspended for multiple times are at great risk of dropping out and falling into the juvenile detention system. So, this is what is going on in states around the country – it’s not just Texas. Texas just does things in a big way – we know that.

Florida…I’m here in California – we have nothing to brag about here either. California saw nearly 800,000 suspensions for the last school year. That means kids losing class time. More and more class time lost, kids lose their way, they get off track for their education – there are going to drop out.

So when people scratch their heads and wonder, “Why do we have such a high drop-out rate,” Well, there are a lot of good reasons. So, the behaviors that really make the headlines – sometime of that absurdity. You know, one of the things that got me going on this book is that I kept reading these little, weird news items about kids being suspends or even arrested for minor behaviors…Michigan, a couple of high school boys who gave a classmate a wedgie…you know they yanked his underwear up and gave him a wedgie…this became assault and they were actually arrested by police for giving another classmate a wedgie.

Now that’s not to say I condone wedgies or that kids should be doing that bullying but giving police that role of enforcing student codes of behavior is the wrong way to go. School principals and teachers really need the authority and the training on how to handle these kinds of misbehaviors and we need to ratchet down the punishment to a level that’s appropriate for the fact that these are kids, they’re learning, they make mistakes and it’s our job to teach them.

DEAN BECKER: Reading again from your book. This is a quote from Russell Skiba, Indiana University for Safe and Responsive Schools, and he says :

“But even if we say these are bad kids, the data we’re talking about says zero-tolerance doesn’t make a difference. It’s not teaching kids what they need to succeed and it is putting them in jeopardy. What if we’re creating the conditions for placing higher proportions of students at risk for jail?!”

ANNETTE FUENTES: Right. Russ Skiba is one of the experts and he’s been studying zero-tolerance policies and their impacts for more than 20 years. So he’s got a lot of data that I cite in the book. He’s done lots of great studies that really are pointing the way to how bad zero-tolerance is.

And it is such a simple question : Well, if zero-tolerance suspensions are such a good practice – why aren’t they working? Why do the numbers of suspensions just keep going higher and higher? You would think that if zero-tolerance was an effective policy for teaching kids how to behave that the numbers would be going down. But, that’s not the case.

It’s a sad reality and I learned this doing the reporting that some schools (and I say some and some teachers – that’s not everyone) but under the pressure of the federal “No Child Left Behind” law that many of your listeners may have heard of – “No Child Left Behind” is like a pressure cooker for teachers and students and schools to increase test scores. And, I was told on a number of occasions by educators that the pressure to achieve and to raise those test scores in math and English means that sometimes the kids who are the lowest achievers, the lowest performers on those tests – they can be vulnerable to being suspended. If they misbehave the teacher might say, “Well, if I get rid of this student maybe my test score average will go up because he or she is really such a trouble maker and doesn’t do well on the test. So, I can get rid of this problem child and it raises the test scores.”

Under “No Child Left Behind” teachers really are faced with terrible pressure and we know that there have been budget cuts left and right so what resources do they have to deal with kids who may need extra attention, they need extra help and they may be difficult to handle. We see overcrowding coming into classes and teachers do not have the resources or the professional development that they need to handle these challenging situations.

So, unfortunately, the high stakes testing mantra has also contributed to the zero-tolerance suspensions. It’s really a viscous cycle. The good news is that there are ways out of this. There are alternatives and strategies that schools do use and that educators can adopt as an alternative. It was not always like this. When you and I went to school there were kids who were trouble makers but there was not the kind of crack down on kids that we see today.

DEAN BECKER: Well I think the lightening is interfering with our call a bit. We got about one minute. I want to just throw this in. When I went to school you could carry a knife in a sheath on your belt but it had to be less than 4 inches long. So the world has changed, has it not?!

ANNETTE FUENTES: It sure has. It’s just unfathomable that in 2011 that there was a time when a kid could carry a knife to school. It’s just not in anyone’s experience today. Things have changed so dramatically. I just want to throw out that schools are and have been one of the safest places for kids to be. Schools are a safe haven for kids - much safer than their own homes often and own neighborhoods. Most of the violence that takes place to kids happens outside of school. So, I think we all have to take a deep breath and think about things differently. Think about schools as a place where we can teach kids, where they can learn in a safe and supportive environment because that’s what we really owe them as a society.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I tell you what, we’re going to have to wrap it up there. Once again we’ve been speaking with Annette Fuentes. Her great book, “Lockdown High : When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse.” Do you want to share a website or anything right quick?

ANNETTE FUENTES: Yeah, please go to verso. My publisher is Verso Books. They have a page on “Lockdown High”. I’ve been getting terrific reviews and people are really picking up on the message here. Please visit http://verso.com and check out “Lockdown High” and see all the articles written about it. I hope people will read it and take the message home with them.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, thank you very much Annette Fuentes.



(Game show music)

DEAN BECKER: It’s time to play: Name That Drug by Its Side Effects.

Swelling of the tongue, decreased bone marrow, fever, chills and infection, nervous system degeneration, confusion and loss of consciousness, fatigue, memory loss, muscle weakness, numbness, seizures, speech disturbance, cancer and…


Time’s up!

The answer, Lavasa, a dog dewormer that has become America’s number one cutting agent for cocaine.


DEAN BECKER: At a recent town hall event in Maryland President Obama took some questions from the audience:


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Much sacrifice is being asked of our generation so when are our economic perspectives going to addressed? For example, When is the war on drugs and society going to be abandoned and replaced by a more sophisticated and cost-effective program of rehabilitation such as the one in Portugal?


PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have stated repeatedly and it’s actually reflected in our most recent statement by our office of drug policy that we need to have an approach that emphasized prevention, treatment, a public health model for reducing drug use in our country. We’ve got to put more resources into that – we can’t simply focus on interdiction. Because, frankly, no matter how good of a job we’re doing, when it comes to an interdiction approach, if there is high demand in this country for drugs we’re going to continue to see not only drug use but also the violence associated with the drug trade.

This has obviously become extremely severe for Mexico. And we are working now with the Mexican government in part to help with them deal with these transnational drug dealers…but one of the things I’ve said to President Calderon is we understand that we have an obligation here in this country to reduce demand. The only way that you reduce demand is through treatment and prevention. There are a lot of communities around the country where if you have a serious drug problem and you decide, “I’m going to kick the habit,” and you seek out drug treatment – assuming you’re not wealthy because it may not be covered even if you have health insurance but particularly if you’re poor – you may have a 90 day wait before you can even get into a program. Well, obviously if you’re trying to kick a habit – waiting 90 days to get help is a problem.

Now, am I, you know, just to make sure that I’m answering your question, am I willing to pursue a decriminalization strategy as an approach – No. But I am willing to make sure that we’re putting more resources on the treatment and prevention side. OK?

(less enthusiastic applause)


DEAN BECKER: Alright, please tune into this week’s Century of Lies show. Our guest will be Mike Hyde, father of perhaps the world’s youngest medical marijuana user. And, as always, because of prohibition – you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.

DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.