None of the Above is a 3-year interdisciplinary, multimedia collaboration examining the intersection of race, poverty, education, and incarceration known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” This community-based project investigates the school-to-prison pipeline from the multiple viewpoints of those caught in its pathway: students, teachers, administrators, school police officers, attorneys, juvenile justice officials, inmates and others.
How do current policies influence who succeeds in school? How do students, parents, and teachers measure or define success? What do these partners see as the purpose of public education? What effect does increased police presence have on learning? On attitudes toward our justice system? What role do public schools play in addressing and redressing social inequities? How do we support not only master teachers but master learners?
From poverty to racial bias to zero tolerance policies to high-stakes testing, the factors contributing to this pipeline are interconnected. For instance, statewide, there are 216 suspensions for every 1,000 students enrolled. In some North Carolina counties, the suspension rate is as high as 600 per 1,000 students. During 2005, more than 3,300 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students were suspended. Why is the suspension rate in North Carolina 56% higher than the national average? In exploring the effects of suspensions on children, their families, and our community, one effect is certain: it increases our prison population. A high school dropout is almost 9 times more likely than a high school graduate to end up in jail or prison. North Carolina is also the only state that requires all children 16 and older be charged as adults, no matter the infraction and including school-related offenses.
Current public discourse contains little collective conversation from those affected by this pipeline. How can we create space for this conversation to take center stage so our policy actions align with our stated purpose? What changes can we make to avoid creating the worst-possible scenario for the very children who are not supposed to be “left behind”? None of the Above creates a safe forum where these diverse communities can examine complex issues and share the personal experiences that give rise to these difficult statistics. The project also offers a platform from which to communicate broadly the perspectives of those most affected by current policies and to use those perspectives to inform innovative solutions.
Hidden Voice’s overarching goal is to create stronger, more connected and engaged communities. The foundation step for creating change in communities is changing minds. Because of inaccurate perceptions, there can be resistance in the broader community to examining and questioning both the causes and the results of dropout and pushout, including long-term suspensions and “zero-tolerance” policies. Our goal is to provide a variety of North Carolinians involved in our school and justice systems the space and tools for reflection; effective strategies and means for communication; and an economically and socially diverse audience to listen, consider, and act appropriately.
Hundreds of pages of interviews and workshop recordings provide groundwork for the script, which continues to be developed through collaboration with representative onstage participants: teachers, students, former inmates, administrators, attorneys and others. The performances also incorporate various media developed in workshops, including video, animations, portraits, and projected maps.
The interactive, touring exhibit includes a classroom installation, portraits, and mapping.
Classroom Installation: Desks, iconic classroom experiments, maps, and an interactive blackboard comprise the classroom installation. During workshops, students and teachers write, carve, and decorate these desks, experiments, and maps with their thoughts, hidden objects, desires, frustrations, and demands.
Portraits: Students imitate their worst teachers and teachers imitate their worst students in portraits that comprise several wall-sized collages that include statistics and quotations. The portraits surprise, engage, and realign our perception of power and position. Portraits appear onstage as well as in the accompanying gallery installation.
Mapping: In collaboration with the Counter Cartographer Collective and the Duke University ISIS program, Hidden Voices uses mapping strategies to incorporate different perspectives, statistics, questions, and fieldwork onto a mapped environment. Maps are projected onstage across the bodies of the performers and serve as interactive media in the gallery installation.
An enhanced-reality platform in development will allow a broad public audience to find and experience stories from this overlooked population in both virtual and physical spaces, significantly expanding the reach of this project.
Audio postcards showcasing student portraits underscored by audio of their spoken words and music will debut beginning August 2013.