For Young Americans, the “American Dream” Resonates Differently

In September, the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics at American University released results of a survey of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34. The poll, which was conducted in partnership with Close Up, the Generation Lab, and the Millennial Action Project, explored “what the American Dream actually means for young Americans, who are trying to sort through the churning dynamics shaping their lives, including: spiraling technological innovation, major economic transitions, changing attitudes about social justice, and what constitutes a good, or ‘successful,’ life after a devastating global pandemic with profound impacts on their physical and mental health, the extent of which is still unknown.”

The report, based on interviews of 1,568 people between the ages of 18 and 34, offers important insights into young people’s understanding of the American Dream, the economy and workplace, major social and political issues, and community engagement. One key finding is that, while young people still believe in the idea of the American Dream, they view it differently than previous generations did. Marriage, owning a home, and having children are lower priorities than they were in the past. Being happy and fulfilled and having the freedom to make significant life decisions top the list of important elements of the American Dream of today’s young people.

A second finding is that, for young Americans, individual efforts and characteristics are the most important determining factors in their ability to achieve the American Dream. However, forces outside of their control, such as the economy and the decisions of elected officials, also play a significant role. For Black and Hispanic respondents, social conditions such as inequality, bias, and discrimination are viewed as vital factors. Respondents of color were also more likely to rate the decisions of policymakers as very important.

While young Americans view the policies and decisions of elected officials as important, they are skeptical of the capacity of politics and government to help them achieve the American Dream. Respondents were just as likely to say that social and economic policy has “done more to hold me back” than “to help me achieve the American Dream.” Additionally, respondents were almost twice as likely to say that “our political system, including the way we choose our elected officials,” has hindered their ability to achieve the American Dream than to say that it has helped.

In next week’s blog post, we will use results from this survey to take a closer look at young Americans’ views of politics, political engagement, and civic life.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe in the American Dream?
  2. What does the American Dream mean to you?
  3. How important are the factors shown in the first image to your American Dream?
  4. Are you optimistic about your future? How about the future of the nation?
  5. How do the factors shown in the second image impact the way you think about your opportunity to achieve the American Dream?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Biden image: Sine Institute of Policy & Politics, American University 


Should There Be an Age Limit on Public Officials?

Several recent incidents have caused the public, members of the media, and some elected officials to raise alarm bells about the advanced age of several government officials. President Joe Biden (age 80),1 Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.; age 81),2 and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.; age 90)3 have all had moments in which they appeared confused, stammered, or in some way appeared to be not in control of their faculties. Nineteen members of Congress are at least 80 years old and the median age in the Senate is 65.4 Additionally, both President Biden and former President Donald Trump—the current frontrunners to be their parties’ presidential nominee in 2024—would be the oldest president ever elected.5

WATCH: “Is It Time for Age Limits for Politicians?” from CNN

In early September, Representative John James (R-Mich.) introduced a resolution to amend the Constitution to place an age limit on the president, vice president, and members of Congress. If adopted, the amendment would bar people who would reach the age of 75 while in office from running for that office.6 According to a recent CBS News/YouGov poll, 76 percent of Americans either strongly support or somewhat support an age limit on elected officials.7 That number is up from 58 percent in a January 2022 poll.8

READ: Full Text of Representative James’ Resolution

According to an Axios breakdown of the polling data, many respondents felt that the rigors of the job of president are too demanding for someone over 75, and 80 percent of respondents feared that an elected official over the age of 80 would be out of touch with the times.9

While it is clear that public opinion is shifting on this issue, many also argue against using age as a factor. Nancy Jecker, a University of Washington bioethics and philosophy professor, argues, “Age is sometimes used as a marker for poor health. But it’s a really blunt instrument.” Instead, she argues, mental acuity tests would focus on specific job-related functions.10

Presidential hopeful and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley proposed that elected officials over the age of 75 be compelled to take mental competency tests.11 Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.; age 81) pushed back on the idea: “I think that’s absurd. … We are fighting racism, we’re fighting sexism, we’re fighting homophobia, I think we should also be fighting ageism.”12

While the amendment introduced by Representative James would have a long road to ratification, it is clear that political leaders and the public are more open to age limits than in previous years, and age may play a role in many voters’ decisions.

Discussion Questions

  1. What have you heard or seen about the age of political figures in recent months?
  2. Do you believe there should be an upper age limit on people who hold elected office? Why or why not?
  3. Do you agree with Senator Sanders and others who call age limits and cognitive tests ageist? Why or why not?

Potential Follow-Up Action

Because the amendment to impose an upper limit on the age of members of Congress, the president, and the vice president is very new, many members of Congress have not weighed in. This is a good time to make your voice heard on this issue. Read the full text of the amendment (H.J. Res. 87).

Once you have an opinion on the issue, reach out to your members of Congress to make your opinion known. If you don’t know your members of Congress, you can find their names and contact information here.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Biden image: Nhac Nguyen/AFP via Getty Images | McConnell image: Jacquelyn Martin / AP
[1] Newsweek:
[2] NPR:
[3] Ibid.
[4] Fox News:
[5] NBC News:
[7] YouGov:
[8] YouGov:
[9] Axios:
[11] The Hill:
[12] The Hill:


Climate Emergency: Wildfires

The summer of 2023 saw record-breaking temperatures across the United States and a global average temperature hotter than any time in the past 120,000 years.1 Along with the heat, regions across the globe—including 33 U.S. states—are experiencing drought conditions.2 The combination of severe heat and drought creates ideal conditions for wildfires.

In June and July, nearly 70 million people across 32 states were impacted by smoke from Canadian wildfires.3 For many people, particularly those living on the East Coast, this marked the first time they had ever experienced the smoke, smog, and hazardous air quality associated with wildfires. Meanwhile, states like California experience recurring wildfires each year. Historically, “wildfire season” tended to last from July until October, but perennial drought conditions have placed these states at risk year-round.4

Most recently, Hawaii suffered a devastating wildfire on the island of Maui. Centered in the town of Lahaina, the fire broke out on August 8 and has seen the destruction of 80 percent of the town and the death of at least 115 people with hundreds still missing.5 Some climate scientists had warned of a strong potential for wildfire on Maui. They also suggest that over half of all addresses in the United States are at risk for wildfire.6

The harrowing climate conditions of the summer have led some Americans to ask how the government will respond now and, with a presidential election a little over a year away, how it will aim to address these issues going forward.

READ: “July 2023 is Hottest Month Ever Recorded on Earth,” from Scientific American

The Biden Administration’s Response and Policy 

The immediate response to the Maui crisis saw thousands of federal aid workers deployed to the island to provide medical, food, and housing relief to those impacted by the fire. However, with wildfires becoming a recurring threat for large swathes of the country, President Joe Biden’s administration has attempted to address the issue since its earliest days.7 Through directives to executive agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Energy, as well as congressional legislation, much of the administration’s strategy has focused on the recruitment and training of firefighters and efforts to make forests more “resilient and fire adaptive.”8 These measures include weakening future fires by cutting down trees, removing underbrush, and holding controlled burns which are intended to clear away extremely dense forests before uncontrolled fires can start.

Republican Candidates Weigh In

Republican officials immediately criticized President Biden for what they judged to be a lack of urgency in visiting the site of the Maui fire.9 In terms of addressing wildfires and climate change more broadly, the most significant measure put forward by Republican leadership in Congress has been to join a global effort to plant one trillion trees to capture carbon from the atmosphere and to pass the Lower Energy Costs Act.10 The latter would aim to make U.S.-based fossil fuels cheaper to use. Although these sources still add to global emissions, Republicans leaders have argued that the act would reduce overall emissions because foreign energy producers use less efficient methods, thus producing more greenhouse gases.11

As for the Republican candidates currently vying for the 2024 presidential nomination, the approach to climate policy is mixed. The current frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, reversed many climate-oriented policies during his administration and dismisses the threat of climate change. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis takes an adaptive approach, aiming to strengthen infrastructure against natural disasters but denies the threat of climate change itself. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley both acknowledge the existence of climate change but do not prioritize it as an imminent threat to the extent that many Democrats do.12 Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy denies climate science as a “climate cult” and has committed to expanding the United States’ use of fossil fuels.13

What Do Climate Scientists Say?

In general, climate scientists find the approaches of both the Biden administration and Republican candidates to be insufficient. Carbon recapture through reforestation, like the plan put forward by Republican leadership, has thus far had little impact on carbon emissions and will likely do little to prevent the heat waves and droughts which can either cause or worsen natural disasters like wildfires, famines, and disease.14 These scientists continue to emphasize that the Biden administration and any potential Republican administration must put their greatest efforts toward reducing carbon emissions, particularly in the industrial and power-producing sectors.15 While the Biden administration did include emission-reducing provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, these policies would reduce emissions by 40 percent in the next decade. Climate scientists say this goal falls short of the 50 percent reduction needed in the same time frame, and far short of a total elimination of carbon emissions by 2050.16

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you feel that addressing wildfires and climate change should be a top priority of the U.S. government?
  2. What are the main obstacles you feel exist to addressing climate change? Are they mostly political or do you think there are other challenges?
  3. How do you think the United States can best strike a balance between meeting its energy and economic needs and combating climate change?

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Erin Hawk /Reuters
[13] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.


Reversing the “School-to-Prison Pipeline”? Part 3: Examining the Impact of Prison Education

In Part 1 of this series, we saw that more severe approaches to school discipline—including “zero-tolerance” policies—have been statistically linked to higher rates of incarceration, especially among Black boys. This is seen as a key contributor to mass incarceration, which Part 2 showed has grown substantially since the final decades of the 20th century. In Part 3, we will look at the arguments for and against funding prison education programs as a way to help reintegrate incarcerated people back into society safely, with the lowest possible recidivism rate—that is, the rate of reentering jail or prison.

The Promise of Prison Education

If the goal is to reduce incarceration levels without increasing the risk of recidivism, the RAND Corporation argues that prison education programs are the best answer: “Prisoners who participate in education programs have a 43% lower chance of being reincarcerated than those who do not, and for every dollar spent on prison education, the government saves four to five dollars on the costs of reincarceration.” Dr. Stanley Andrisse, assistant professor of endocrinology at Howard University and executive director of Prison to Professionals (P2P), an organization that mentors incarcerated people through prison education programs and after returning from imprisonment, breaks down recidivism rates even more:

“Three-fourths of people that step out of prison end up going back to prison between 1 [and] 5 years. Just stepping foot on college campus drops the recidivism rate—or chances of going back to prison—into the teens. If someone gets a bachelor’s degree, it drops it down to 5%. A master’s degree or higher, less than 1%. So … education is the most powerful tool to help people stay out of prison. … [P2P is] using it as a vehicle to help people see they can do something that brings purpose to their lives and value to the world.”1

P2P is active in 34 states and enrolls around 100 people per year. It has a “90% success rate of connecting people to colleges and employment,” attributing the extraordinary success rate to the “family and network of support” provided by P2P, the kind of support some currently and formerly incarcerated people rarely if ever experienced in their lives before entering prison. P2P aims, among other things, to provide the sense of hope and self-worth that the “school-to-prison pipeline” damages.

WATCH: “Dr. Stanley Andrisse Discusses Journey From Prison Cell to PhD,” from Black News Tonight

Dr. Andrisse, the author of From Prison Cells to PhD: It’s Never Too Late to Do Good, speaks from deep personal experience.2 He himself was incarcerated for drug crimes as a young adult and saw for himself both the dehumanizing effects of life inside prison and the empowerment offered by education. Challenging himself intellectually gave him a means of remaining positive and a form of mental freedom while incarcerated, and he credits this—along with “pro-social connections” to the outside, “such as prison visits, phone calls, and letters with positive people”—with keeping his “mind out of prison.”3 But accessing educational materials was extremely challenging for Dr. Andrisse while he was incarcerated, despite his relentless effort to continue his education inside of prison. And while he had support from those on the outside, who helped him through the complicated process of applying to multiple colleges, there was no mentorship and no prison education program available inside.

The Rise of Mass Incarceration and the Defunding of Prison Education Programs

Criminal justice scholars largely point to the War on Drugs as the origin of mass incarceration.4 But many also point to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, signed by President Bill Clinton, as a major flashpoint in the rise of incarceration rates.5 In addition to harsher sentencing and other contributors to mass incarceration, the 1994 crime bill “stripped incarcerated students of Pell Grant eligibility, making a college education practically unattainable. In the following years, the number of prison education programs quickly shrank, from 772 programs in the early 1990s to only eight in 1997.”6 At the same time that criminal justice policies increased the number of people being incarcerated, the lack of prison education funding meant that those who were incarcerated lacked access to one of the most promising paths to get out—and stay out—of prison.

But there are some who feel it is unfair to give free college tuition to people who have been convicted of a crime, when so many others are unable to access a college education without going into significant debt. Some students who want to go to college get rejected because their grades aren’t good enough. Others don’t have the money to pay for classes, and they don’t want to have substantial student debt to manage afterward. Allowing someone who broke the law to get a benefit that those who kept to the rules do not receive sends the wrong message to some people about society’s priorities.7

Others, however, point to the cost-saving investment of using tax dollars to pay for prison education programs, due to their potential to dramatically reduce recidivism rates. The Brookings Institution reports that “for every $1 spent on correctional education, $4 to $5 are saved on reincarceration costs.”8

Rebuilding the Prison-to-School Pipeline

Funding for prison education programs is beginning to return, prompted in part by moving narratives showing the transformative impact of prison education programs, such as the Emmy-nominated documentary series College Behind Bars, and by recent findings showing a correlation between prison education and dramatically reduced recidivism rates, such as those collected in Dr. Andrisse’s recent book. Under President Barack Obama’s 2015 Second Chance program, 12,000 Pell Grants were made available to students in prison.9 A bipartisan bill—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Simplification Act—signed by President Donald Trump in 2020 permanently reinstated the availability of Pell Grants to confined or incarcerated people.10 This will ”make approximately 463,000 people in prison eligible for free college courses.”11

With renewed Pell Grant funding, programs such as the Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP)—started in 2012 without federal funds and supported initially by private philanthropy only—will likely be able to serve even more incarcerated students. Half of these students are men at the Maryland Correctional Institute at Jessup, the other half are women at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women. GPEP was one of 67 schools to receive limited funding through the Second Chance pilot program, but it still got only 20-25 percent support from Pell Grants, relying on philanthropy, private grants, and in-kind support from Goucher (office space, phone lines) for the other 75-80 percent. More than 300 students have taken at least two semesters of courses through GPEP, with up to 130 students enrolled currently.12

LISTEN: Eliza Cornejo interviewed by Harriet Hendel for Pursuing Justice

If we want to reduce incarceration rates, and do so in a way that is both sustainable and safe, there is a growing number of people who advocate reversing the school to-prison pipeline and creating a “prison-to-school pipeline.”

Renewed Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated people goes into effect July 1, 2023.

Discussion Questions

  1. Should the federal government invest more in prison education programs? Why or why not?
  2. Is it fair or unfair for incarcerated people to get free college courses? Should free college options be available to everyone, regardless of one’s background?
  3. This three-part series is about reversing the school-to-prison pipeline, but can you think of a way to preventing incarceration in the first place? How do we keep young people from entering the criminal-legal system at all?

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Getty Images
[1] Andrisse, Stanley. Interview Conducted by Kristi Piehl for Flip Your Script Podcast. “Dr. Stanley Andrisse: From Prison Cells to PhD: It’s Never Too Late to Do Good.”
[2] Andrisse, Stanley. From Prison Cells to PhD: It is Never Too Late to Do Good. Pilot Hill Press. 2021.
[3] Andrisse, Stanley. From Prison Cells to PhD: It’s Never Too Late to Do Good. Post Hill Press, 2021.
[4] Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press. 2010.
[5] “The Federal Crime Bill Did Not Trigger Mass Incarceration, but It Certainly Encouraged Mass Incarceration to Grow Even Further.” Ofer, Udi. “How the 1994 Crime Bill Fed the Mass Incarceration Crisis.“ 4 Jun. 2019.
[6] Martinez-Hill, Juan, and Ruth Delaney. “Incarcerated Students Will Have Access to Pell Grants Again. What Happens Now?” Vera Institute of Justice. 4 Mar. 2021.,to%20only%20eight%20in%201997.
[9] USA Today:
[12] Cornejo, Eliza. Interview by Harriet Hendel for Pursuing Justice.–Politics-Podcasts/PURSUING-JUSTICE-p1413425/?topicId=219619526


Reversing the “School-to-Prison Pipeline”? Part 2: The Debate Over Mass Incarceration

Should We Decarcerate?

Since the start of the War on Drugs, the United States has adopted and enforced policies that have led to mass incarceration, with nearly half of all incarcerations due to drug crimes.1 According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the rate of incarceration in the United States outpaces every other nation on earth, and it comes at a high cost: “With nearly two million people behind bars at any given time, the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. We spend about $182 billion every year—not to mention the significant social cost—to lock up nearly 1% of our adult population.”2 

The question is whether these costs are worth it.  

Some scholars say no, pointing to dehumanizing effects and power imbalances created by mass incarceration. Kelly Lytle Hernández, a professor of history, African American studies, and urban planning at the University of California Los Angeles, argues that the racial disparity in mass incarceration is intended to control specific communities: “Incarceration operates as a means of purging, removing, caging, containing, erasing, disappearing, and eliminating targeted populations from land, life, and society in the United States.”3

But while there are a growing number of calls to end mass incarceration, there are those who believe the high rate of incarceration is a good and necessary thing. Barry Latzer, a retired criminal justice professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY, argues that mass incarceration was a rational and—all things considered—beneficial response to the “crime wave” between the 1970s and 1990s, when crime rates were far higher than they are today.4 

Rafael Mangual, head of research at the Manhattan Institute, argues that the push to reduce incarceration levels will lead to the release of people who are likely to reoffend in the communities already most vulnerable to crime, unintentionally causing harm to the very communities prison reform advocates intend to help.5 

WATCH: The Heritage Foundation’s Charles “Cully” Stimson Interviews Barry Latzer and Rafael Mangual

Others, like political scientist Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, are even more blunt: “We figured out what to do with criminals. Innovations in policing helped, but the key insight was an old one: Lock ’em up.”6 Retired UCLA Professor James Q. Wilson concludes, “Putting people in prison is the single most important thing we’ve done [to decrease crime].”7 

The rise of mass incarceration did, after all, parallel the reduction in crime rates.  

This belief in the beneficial impact of mass incarceration has been challenged in recent years. Don Stemen, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at Loyola University Chicago, summarizes the conclusions of the Prison Paradox project:It may seem intuitive that increasing incarceration would further reduce crime: incarceration not only prevents future crimes by taking people who commit crime ‘out of circulation’ (incapacitation), but it also may dissuade people from committing future crimes out of fear of punishment (deterrence). In reality, however, increasing incarceration rates has a minimal impact on reducing crime and entails significant costs.”8 

Numerous studies have concluded that incapacitation and deterrence have led to only marginal (6-12 percent) reductions in property crime and are responsible for as little as zero percent of the reduction in violent crime over the past two decades. These studies attribute the reduction in crime since the 1990s to other social and economic factors, including “increased wages, increased employment, increased graduation rates, increased consumer confidence, increased law enforcement personnel, and changes in policing strategies.“ Some scholars have even connected the decrease in crime since the 1990s with the transition from leaded to unleaded gasoline between 1992 and 2002.9 

Regardless of one’s position on the effectiveness of incarceration on crime rates, what is not in dispute is that the United States locks up a higher number of its own citizens than any other country in the world, and that there is an unmistakable, decades-long correlation between low graduation rates and mass incarceration.10 Those who warn against the threats of decarceration do so on the belief that when those who have been convicted of crimes are released, they are very likely to commit more crimes in the future and end up back in jail or prison. The national rate of return to the criminal-legal system after incarceration—called “recidivism”—is 76.6 percent.11 

There are others, however, who point to a way to reduce recidivism dramatically: education and mentorship programs, both inside prison and working with those who have returned from incarceration. In Part 3 of this series, we will examine the impact of prison education programs which attempt to reverse the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  

Discussion Questions 

  1. Do you think incarceration should primarily be a tool for punishment or rehabilitation? 
  2. What does rehabilitation mean? What should be the standard for returning from incarceration? 
  3. Do you think the level of incarceration in the United States is a problem? If not, why not? If so, how high a priority is this issue for you? 

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Adam Zyglis
[1] Federal Bureau of Prisons:
[2] Prison Policy Initiative:,1%25%20of%20our%20adult%20population.
[3] Lytle Hernandez, Kelly. “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965.” 2017.
[4] Heritage Foundation:
[5] Ibid.
[6] The Sentencing Project:
[7] Ibid.
[8] Vera Institute of Justice:
[9] Vera Institute of Justice:
[10] Bureau of Justice Statistics:
[11] Harvard Political Review:


Reversing the “School-to-Prison Pipeline”? Part 1: Defining the School-to-Prison Pipeline

What Do People Mean When They Talk About the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

For decades, many researchers who study the public education system have discussed the impact of the “school-to-prison pipeline”: escalating punishments, primarily in “high-poverty, high-minority schools,” intended to deter unwanted student behaviors leading to missed class time, a lost sense of belonging within the school, and often a failure to complete a high school diploma.1 These punishments include in- and out-of-school suspension, expulsion, and in some cases corporal (physical) punishment and even arrest.

Studies have shown that harsh and unforgiving school punishments—like “zero-tolerance” policies for subjective behaviors such as “willful defiance”—directly link to reduced likelihood of graduation, which correlates significantly with a higher likelihood of incarceration.2 A comprehensive survey of these studies ”tied exclusionary practices to a host of negative outcomes including lower levels of attendance, self-esteem, academic performance, and graduation as well as higher levels of anxiety, dropout, delinquency, victimization, and arrest.”3

This link between exclusionary discipline—disciplinary practices that isolate a student or remove them from school entirely—and incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color, especially Black men:

“Many studies show if a student is suspended at a younger grade, they are more likely to not finish school … they’re pushed out of school, and they’re more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. If you are a Black man in this country without a high school degree, your chances of ending up in prison at some point in your life are two-thirds. So, two-thirds of all Black men without a high school degree will be in prison at some point in their lives, one-third at any one time.”4

LISTEN: “The Movement to Dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” from “Have You Heard?”

For nearly half a century, historians of the criminal-legal system have noted that prisons and schools share troublingly similar disciplinary practices.5 These similarities were clearly evident to rapper Meek Mill, who reports getting disciplined in school for subjective behaviors like “acting up,” which eventually led to his dropping out. But he noticed another unsettling similarity between the education and incarceration systems when he walked into prison for the first time:

“I was put in disciplinary schools. It was like a jail. You get strip-searched before you go in, fingerprinted every day. … In other words, it was early conditioning for what everybody assumed your future was going to be. When I finally went to jail, I already knew everybody. Everybody I went to school with was in the jail.”6

For researchers and policymakers who focus on the school-to-prison pipeline, Mill’s experience is an example of how it “forms a key part of a larger system of criminalization and mass incarceration”—a young person experiences harsh penalties for minor infractions, alienating them from the school community and reinforcing an expectation of future incarceration; leaves school without graduating, in part due to the disciplinary approach and low self-worth; and ends up incarcerated after getting involved in crime.7

READ: “Exploring the School-to-Prison Pipeline: How School Suspensions Influence Incarceration During Young Adulthood,” from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

Many schools themselves have some of the markings of prisons, with armed police officers stationed on campus. Morgan Craven, who serves as national director of policy, advocacy, and community engagement at the Intercultural Development Research Association, points out, “Millions of children who attend public schools in this country attend schools where there are police officers in their schools but there’s not a single full-time counselor or social worker.”8

This trend of funding in-school police officers but not counselors or social workers also has a racial component: Warren reports that a “quarter-million [students] are referred to police officers in schools every year; over 60,000 are arrested every year; Black students are three times as likely as white students to be arrested in school.”9 The Advancement Project’s extensive review of the research on student behaviors concludes that this racial disparity is not due to more disruptive behaviors by students of color:

“Although students of color do not misbehave more than white students, they are disproportionately policed in schools: nationally, Black and Latinx youth made up over 58% of school-based arrests while representing only 40% of public school enrollment, and Black and Brown students were more likely to attend schools that employed school resource officers (SROs), but not school counselors.”10

The connection between lower educational attainment and higher likelihood to enter the criminal-legal system has been long established, and it is a significant contributor to the rise in incarceration in the United States over the past several decades.11 In Part 2 of this series, we will look at the debates around mass incarceration and the question of whether decarceration—intentionally reducing the prison population—should be a priority, and if so, whether it can be done without creating more crime.

Discussion Questions

  1. What, if anything, have you heard or learned about the “school-to-prison pipeline” in the past?
  2. How, if at all, does this issue show up in your community?
  3. Do you think that exclusionary discipline practices like suspension and expulsion should be discontinued? Why or why not?
  4. Who should decide how best to discipline students? Elected lawmakers, youth psychology and development experts, teachers and school administrators, parents, or others?
  5. What are other approaches to maintaining order in schools that don’t include harsh punishments like “zero-tolerance” policies?
  6. How high a priority is the school-prison-pipeline issue for you?

How to Get Involved

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Anastasya Eliseeva
[1] Wald, Johanna, and Daniel J. Losen. “Defining and Redirecting a School-to-Prison Pipeline.” New Directions for Youth Development. No. 99. Fall 2003.
[2] Warren, Mark. Willful Defiance: The Movement to Dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Oxford University Press. 2022.
[3] Hemez, Paul, John J. Brent, and Thomas J. Mowen. “Exploring the School-to-Prison Pipeline: How School Suspensions Influence Incarceration During Young Adulthood.” Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice. Vol. 18, Issue 3. 2019.
[4] Warren, Mark. Interview Conducted by Jennifer Berkshire. “Have You Heard?”]
[5] Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1975 (Gallimard, in French). 1977 (Pantheon Books, in English).
[6] Mill, Meek. Interview Conducted by Nikole Hannah-Jones for New York Times Magazine. “The 25 Songs that Matter Right Now.” 2019.
[7] Warren, Mark. Willful Defiance.
[8] Craven, Morgan. Interview Conducted by Dr. Terrance L Green for “Racially Just Schools.” 2022.
[9] Warren, Mark. “Have You Heard?”
[10] Advancement Project Alliance for Educational Justice, Dignity in Schools Campaign, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. “Police in Schools Are Not the Answer to School Shootings.” Originally Released Jan. 2013. Rereleased Mar. 2018.
[11] Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Correctional Populations Report Lower Educational Attainment than Those in the General Population. An Estimated 40% of State Prison Inmates, 27% of Federal Inmates, 47% of Inmates in Local Jails, and 31% of Those Serving Probation Sentences Had Not Completed High School or its Equivalent While about 18% of the General Population Failed to Attain High School Graduation.” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report: “Education and Correctional Populations.” 2003.


Insights from a Freedom Rider

During this #CloseUpConversations webinar, Close Up Foundation sits down with Freedom Rider, Joan Mulholland. Joan has been featured in several books and award-winning documentaries about the Civil Rights Movement, including PBS’ Freedom Riders, Standing on my Sister’s Shoulders, and Eyes on the Prize. Joan has also spoken to Close Up students from Utah for the last several years!






History and Civics Scores Drop in The Nation’s Report Card

Glasshouse/Getty Images

At Close Up, building civic proficiency and comprehension is at the heart of everything we do. Learn more about how we support students, teachers, and civic literacy through our programs, professional development, curriculum, and classroom resources.

On May 3, the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released its civics and U.S. history data from the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Often referred to as The Nation’s Report Card, the NAEP is given to a representative sample of eighth-grade students across the country every four years and covers a variety of school subjects. Data from the 2022 tests found that scores in both civics and U.S. history have significantly declined since 2018.1

Civics scores dropped three points on average for both boys and girls, from 153 to 150 on a 300-point scale.2 Only 22 percent of students were found to be at or above a “proficient” level for civics comprehension; of the whole, 69 percent of students were at or above a “basic” level of understanding, and 31 percent were below basic.3 These scores are nearly the same as those from the civics assessment in 1998, the first year it was given.4

Scores for U.S. history, which began declining in 2014, continued to fall across the four thematic areas measured by the NAEP: American democracy, culture, technology, and world role.5 The average score dropped five points, from 263 to 258, out of a possible 500 points.6 Two out of every five students were below a basic level of understanding, meaning it is unlikely that they could “identify simple historical concepts in primary or secondary sources.”7

Lower-performing students were generally worse off in both subjects when compared to their peers.8 And higher-performing students were twice as confident in their ability to explain political processes, knowledge of current events, and belief in themselves about their ability to make a difference in their community.9

In response to the NAEP data, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona pointed to the “profound impact the pandemic had on student learning in subjects beyond math and reading.”10 Online instruction and prolonged absences from the classroom disrupted learning for millions of students, resulting in a lack of support for struggling students, a rise in disruptive behavior, and ongoing mental health struggles.11 Students who fell behind still struggle to make up what they have lost. This problem is compound by teacher shortages, limited school funding, and a lack of resources and technology.

The results of the Nation’s Report Card come as young people are coming of age and forming their identities in a polarized political climate. A New York Times survey of 604 teenagers from April 2021 found that although many feel disillusioned amid growing partisanship and inaction, they are still motivated to involve themselves in politics and government.12 Students are eager to learn about U.S. history, engage in political discussions, stay current with the news, and take action themselves.

However, some observers point to data collected by the literary society PEN America, which has documented 306 bills introduced in 45 states since January 2021 that aim to restrict what students can be taught in schools.13 In general, these bills target discussion of such topics as slavery, systemic racism, gender, and sexuality. Twenty-six have become law.14

A 2022 Florida law led the state to heavily scrutinize textbooks and courses for alleged biases.15 Earlier this year, the state rejected a newly created Advanced Placement course on African American studies, saying the course as it stood was “not historically accurate” and lacked “educational value.”16 In Texas, meanwhile, a 2022 law bars courses from having students directly engage with their elected officials and governments.17 Class assignments in which students apply their civics lessons to the real world in a culminating project—like creating a petition, lobbying for an issue, contacting elected officials, or speaking on behalf of a city council—are no longer allowed to use school time or resources.

Secretary Cardona referenced this trend in his statement on the low NAEP scores, stressing that now is not “the time to limit what students learn in U.S. history and civics classes.” He underscored the importance of students having opportunities to learn about their country and government, adding, “Banning history books and censoring educators from teaching these important subjects does our students a disservice and will move America in the wrong direction.”18

Discussion Questions

  1. Nearly half of participating eighth-graders said they took a class that focused mainly on civics and government.19 Another 68 percent reported taking a class mainly focused on U.S. history.20 Have you taken a civics class in school? A U.S. history class? If so, what topics did they cover?
  2. One in four students who took the NAEP said their school had shifted to remote learning during the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19.21 Did your school require remote learning or introduce a hybrid model during the pandemic? If so, how long did it last?
  3. Have you seen anything in the news about bans or reviews of school books, lessons, or curriculum subjects?
  4. What are some factors you think contribute to declining civics and U.S. history scores?
  5. What are some consequences that have or could come as a result of this trend?
  6. What level of government (local/state/national) do you think is best suited to help students succeed? How can it help improve students’ knowledge and skills?

Other Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Glasshouse/Getty Images
[1] National Center for Education Statistics:
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] National Center for Education Statistics:
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] National Center for Education Statistics:
[9] National Center for Education Statistics:
[10] U.S. Department of Education:
[11] U.S. Government Accountability Office:
[12] New York Times:
[13] PEN America:
[14] Ibid.
[15] New York Times:
[16] New York Times:
[17] The Guardian:
[18] U.S. Department of Education:
[19] National Center for Education Statistics:
[20] National Center for Education Statistics:
[21] National Center for Education Statistics:


What Is Happening in Sudan?

On April 15, fighting broke out in Sudan between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), the country’s national army, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group. The RSF is the largest paramilitary group in Africa, created in 2013 out of the Janjaweed militias that have been accused of war crimes and genocide in Darfur, a region in western Sudan, in the early 2000s.1 The conflict has displaced almost 1.1 million people, both inside Sudan and into neighboring countries. It is estimated that between 700 and 1,000 people have been killed and at least 5,287 have been injured.2 Experts say that over half of the population is in need of humanitarian aid after widespread power outages left civilians without access to water and food.3

Background of the Sudan Conflict

Sudan is the third largest country in Africa, located directly south of Egypt. It was a British colony until 1956 and has a population of 49 million people. Sudan is strategically situated on the Red Sea, contains vast mineral resources, and is a major agricultural exporter to Africa and the Middle East.4 There are over 500 ethnic groups in Sudan, but approximately 70 percent of people identify as Sudanese Arab.5 The country has a long history of political unrest, military takeovers, and violence. The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for former President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of crimes against humanity and genocide.6

The Main Actors in the Sudan Conflict

At the center of the conflict in Sudan are two men: General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan, leader of the SAF, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the RSF and frequently goes by the name Hemedti. Prior to this conflict, the two men took advantage of unrest caused by pro-democracy protests in 2019 to overthrow President Bashir, whom they had previously supported and worked under. A civilian-military coalition was created to help move Sudan towards democracy, but two years later, Burhan and Hemedti worked together again to lead a military coup to take control of the country. They claimed the takeover was to maintain stability from infighting in the civilian-led government. International observers say that since 2021, corruption has soared and the Sudanese economy is struggling.7

The Reasons for the Violence in Sudan

Burhan has been the de facto leader of Sudan since the coup in 2021, and Hemedti’s RSF forces, with anywhere from 70,000 to 150,000 members, were supporting—but are still separate from—the army. As Hemedti’s influence increased and he attempted to recruit more members to the RSF, tensions between the two men began to rise.8

Weeks before fighting broke out, the pro-democracy movement and military leaders were scheduled to sign an agreement to create a civilian-run, democratic government. It was postponed twice before the fighting broke out because of disagreement between the two generals over how the RSF would be incorporated into the Sudanese military. The agreement would have been an important step in creating a democratic government chosen by the Sudanese people.9

Conditions on the Ground in Sudan

It is not clear who shot first, but experts agree both sides were prepared for fighting. The conflict has largely centered on the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and Darfur. Residential areas, including schools, hospitals, markets, and the airport, have been targeted, bombed, and emptied by soldiers for use as temporary bases. There are reports of intimidation, looting, and sexual violence against women and girls.10 Volker Perthes, the United Nations’ special representative to Sudan, has stated that the fighting could split the country along ethnic lines, which would expand the conflict further.11

The U.S. Response to the Sudan Conflict

The United States has used a number of diplomatic actions to try to end the conflict in Sudan.

  • President Joe Biden issued an executive order allowing the U.S. government to impose sanctions “on individuals responsible for threatening the peace, security, and stability of Sudan; undermining Sudan’s democratic transition; using violence against civilians; or committing serious human rights abuses.”12 Some experts in the region are pessimistic such sanctions will convince the two generals to end the conflict; Sudan was under similar sanctions from 1989 to 2017.13
  • The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to coordinate humanitarian aid in the region.14
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been involved in negotiations for a ceasefire.15

The International Response to the Sudan Conflict

The United Nations Human Rights Council had an emergency meeting on May 11 and passed a resolution calling for an end to hostilities, a transition to a civilian-led government, and human rights monitoring.16 The Arab Union, the African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa (IGAD) have also called on both sides to cease fighting.17

There are competing interests in the region: stability or democracy. Neither Burhan nor Hemedti want a democratic Sudan, and many governments support a transfer of power to one general or the other to maintain stability and gain access to Sudan’s resources, rather than prioritizing democracy.18

What About a Ceasefire?

A ceasefire, brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia and agreed to by the SAF and RSF, began the evening of May 22. The aim was to stop fighting so humanitarian aid could reach civilians trapped by the violence. The negotiations did not include civilian leaders and the ceasefire does not address future governance.19 Six previous ceasefires have failed, but Secretary Blinken says this is the first with a “monitoring mechanism,” without elaborating what that was. Reports were mixed this week as to whether the ceasefire has been successful.20

Discussion Questions

  1. What responsibility does the international community have to protect civilians in Sudan?
  2. What do you think the U.S. role should be in the crisis in Sudan?

How to Get Involved

Other Resources

Timeline of the Sudan Crisis

Colonial Origins of the Conflict in Sudan

Map of Sudan

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: UNICEF/Agence France-Presse
[1] Clooney, George, and John Prendergast. “How the International Community Failed Sudan.” Time. 28 Apr. 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[2] Reuters. “Sudan’s Army and Paramilitary RSF Sign Seven-Day Ceasefire.” 20 May 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[3] United Nations. “Sudan Crisis: UN Launches Record Country Appeal for 18 Million in Need.” Web. 22 May 2023.
[4] International Trade Administration. “Country Commercial Guide: Sudan.” United States Department of Commerce. 30 Jul. 2022. Web. 22 May 2023.
[5] Central Intelligence Agency. “Country Summary: Sudan.” The World Fact Book. 22 Feb. 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[6] BBC News. “Sudan Profile—Timeline.” 10 Sep. 2019. Web. 23 May 2023.
[7] Gavin, Michelle. “Sudan’s Coup, One Year Later.” Council on Foreign Relations. 24 Oct. 2022. Web. 19 May 2023.
[8] New York Times. “Chaos in Sudan: Who Is Battling for Power, and Why It Hasn’t Stopped.” 11 May 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[9] Jeffery, Jack, and Samy Magdy. “Deal to Restore Democratic Transition in Sudan Delayed Again.” Associated Press. 7 Apr. 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[10] Lederer, Edith. “UN Urges Sudan’s Warring Parties to Honor 7-Day Ceasefire That Began Monday Night.” Washington Post. 22 May 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[11] Abdel-Razek, Omar, and Aiden Lewis. “UN Envoy to Sudan Warns of ‘Ethnicisation’ of Conflict, Impact on Region.” Reuters. 22 May 2023. Web. 23 May 2023.
[12] The White House. “Statement from President Joe Biden on the Conflict in Sudan.” Press Release. 4 May 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[13] De Waal, Alex. “Sudan Crisis: Mediators Over a Barrel In Mission to End Fighting.” BBC News. 8 May 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[14] Power, Samantha. “USAID to Deploy Disaster Assistance Response Team for Sudan, Continued Calls for Ceasefire and Humanitarian Access.” Press Release. United States Agency for International Development. 23 Apr. 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[15] Reuters. “U.S.’s Blinken Speaks With Burhan About Talks to Reach Ceasefire in Sudan.” 20 May 2023. Web. 23 May 2023.
[16] United Nations Human Rights Council. “Sudan Violations in Spotlight at UN Human Rights Council.” 11 May 2023. Web. 19 May 2023.
[17] Caslin, Oliver, and Mathieu Olivier. “Sudan: From Djibouti to Kenya, Last Chance at Diplomacy.” The Africa Report. 21 Apr. 2023. Web. 22 May 2023.
[18] Mackintosh, Eliza, and Jennifer Hansler. “How the West Enabled Sudan’s Warring Generals.” CNN. 26 Apr. 2023. Web. 22 May 2023. Schewe, Eric. “In Sudan’s Civil Conflict, the Arab Cold War Widens.” JSTOR Daily. 22 May 2023. Web. 23 May 2023.
[19] Schewe, Eric. “In Sudan’s Civil Conflict, the Arab Cold War Widens.” JSTOR Daily. 22 May 2023. Web. 23 May 2023.
[20] Nureldin, Mohamed, and Khalid Abdelaziz. “Sudan Ceasefire in Danger As Residents Report Fighting, Warplanes.” Reuters. 23 May 2023. Web. 23 May 2023.


The Debt Ceiling Fight

Recently, the Republican-led House of Representatives has been at odds with the Democrat-led Senate and President Joe Biden over raising the national debt ceiling. This issue touches on one of the fundamental powers of Congress—setting the budget for the federal government. Disagreements over spending have led to the current divide between the Republican and Democratic Parties on the issue. If the debt ceiling is not raised, the government may be unable to pay its debts as early as June 1, which could have serious consequences for the economy.

What Is the National Debt Ceiling?

Most years, the amount spent by the federal government is greater than the amount of money it collects in taxes. This is called a deficit. The last time the federal government experienced a surplus (meaning it collected more money than it spent) was 2001.1 Federal spending accounts for a wide range of sectors and services, including Social Security, Medicare, and national defense. When there is a deficit, the government must borrow money in order to pay for such priorities and this adds to the national debt.

The debt ceiling is the maximum amount of total debt that the federal government is allowed to have, as determined by Congress. The debt ceiling is also a limit on the total debt that can be incurred to pay for the current budget and does not authorize any new spending beyond that.2

Currently, the total national debt of the United States (which includes all debt from previous years in addition to this year) is $31.46 trillion—that’s $31,460,000,000,000.3 To put that into context, at the time of this publication, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is estimated to be worth $134 billion.4 The current debt held by the federal government is equivalent to over 234 times that.

Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen has informed Congress that in order for the United States to continue to pay for its spending beyond June 1, it will have to raise the debt limit higher than the current $31.46 trillion.5

What Happens If the Debt Ceiling Is Not Raised?

The federal government is expected to pay its debts just as any individual person would be. Much like any borrower, if interest on debt is not paid then that debt goes into default. When an individual goes into default, it has a negative effect on their credit and makes it harder for them to borrow money in the future because they are no longer considered a reliable borrower.

What happens when a country with an economy as large as the United States’ goes into default? The most direct answer is that no one can be sure because it has never happened before. But most economists believe it would cause enormous problems for the economy and could even trigger a global financial crisis.6 A default could see the U.S. economy shrink, Social Security benefits and government salaries go unpaid, stock prices drop, the loss of millions of jobs, even an economic recession. It could also result in foreign investors taking money out of the U.S. economy and make investors less likely to invest in the United States in the future.7

Why Hasn’t the Debt Ceiling Been Raised?

Historically, the debt ceiling has been raised 78 times since 1960.8 However, raising the debt ceiling requires a vote by both chambers of Congress. President Biden and the Democrat-controlled Senate are in favor of raising the debt ceiling to avoid a default. The Republican-controlled House is also interested in avoiding a default but so far has only been willing to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for future spending cuts. These cuts would include lowering future budget increases to a maximum of one percent per year, imposing stricter work requirements to receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits, reducing funding for the Internal Revenue Service, reclaiming any unspent COVID-19 relief funds, preventing President Biden’s proposed $10,000 student loan relief, repealing climate change provisions, and increasing oil and gas production.9 Thus far, President Biden has been unwilling to support any spending cuts.10

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you feel that the debt ceiling should be raised with or without spending cuts?
  2. Consider the sectors and services that account for federal government spending. Are there areas you feel that spending should be reduced? Are there areas you feel it should be increased?
  3. The national debt has grown at an increasing rate since the 1980s and that increase has accelerated significantly ever since 2001. Do you think it is important that the government reduce its overall spending or reduce deficits and the debt? What should be the government’s priorities in spending decisions?
  4. The debt ceiling has only existed since 1917 and some economists, including Secretary Yellen, have proposed eliminating it to avoid the risk of default. Do you think there should be limits on how much the government can spend? How might the federal government avoid these kinds of spending crises in the future?

Related Posts

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Jeb Hensarling/Wall Street Journal
[6] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.