A New Feature at the End of My Blog Posts

When I started this blog, it was with the goal of educating people on injustices we may be blind to and/or blindly commit. However, in recent months especially, I’ve been thinking about whether education all by itself is really enough.

Now don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t considering abandoning my blog after all the work I’ve done over the years. Nor do I think that education is unimportant—it is important that people are educated on issues of injustice so that we can address the issues within ourselves (If I didn’t believe that to be the case, this blog wouldn’t exist!). Yet, at the same time, that education is only of limited use if we only keep the impacts of said education to ourselves. Simply put, education of oneself without doing anything else doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t change anything or anyone other than possibly ourselves, and it certainly doesn’t lead to the sort of large-scale changes that are needed to address large-scale issues. For all that one might feel virtuous for being more educated on matters of racism, sexism, ageism, or any other number of things, it takes more than one virtuous person to see the changes one may desire to come to fruition.

I therefore found myself thinking much more about how to turn education into action and how to further amplify the voices of those who are working tirelessly on various issues of injustice. Of course, that action can take multiple forms. Sometimes the action is in donating to an organization that would use the funds to work on systemic changes. Sometimes the action is in giving volunteer hours to an organization looking to achieve systemic change. Sometimes the action is in being a volunteer to knock on doors, attend protests, or call elected leaders to hold them accountable for something. The sort of help that is needed in advancing a cause varies from organization to organization and from movement to movement, but one thing I can assure you of is that there are many ways to turn education into action. I just needed to find a way to share with others where we can turn education into action.

It was through this thinking that I came up with a new idea for my blog: with blog posts where it is clear that one or more organizations are looking to address a particular injustice/injustices I am discussing, I list those organizations at the bottom of the blog post.

The new practice is intended to serve people who may be passionate about a particular injustice or set of injustices after reading one of my posts (or reading something not on my website) but are really unsure of where to go next. By having this new practice going forward, I hope to provide a place for my readers to go beyond the “like” button for my blog post or the comment section (though I certainly welcome “likes” and comments).

My hope in having this is that what I will do from now on can be a resource for people who want to turn education into some form of action. While yes, this blog is and will continue to focus on educating people about injustices, I also want to be sure that my readers have the ability to act after getting educated. After all, education only reaches its maximum usefulness if you use it to educate others and/or take action yourself.

On Child Sex Trafficking in the United States

There has been a lot of misinformation with regard to child sex trafficking in the United States, as well as how it plays out. As such, I thought it was important to dedicate a blog post solely to the facts on child sex trafficking, how it plays out, and where one can go to learn more about and properly advocate for child sex trafficking victims as well as help put an end to it.

I should start by noting that child sex trafficking isa serious issue, yet the data is a little shaky on what the true extent of it is. I am not saying this to sound paranoid, but instead to point out that it has been difficult to get good estimates on exactly how many children are victims of child sex trafficking each year. Several years ago, it was estimated that somewhere in the neighborhood 10,000 children a year are victims of sexual exploitation in the United States, but that number could be as low as 4,500 or as high as 21,000.[1] However, even if the number of children experiencing sex trafficking each year is closer to 4,500, it is 4,500 too many. It is a serious problem.

Not only is this a serious problem, but it may surprise some people as to who is trafficked and how child sex trafficking plays out. For example:

  • Even though it may be tempting to believe that the majority of child trafficking victims in the U.S. comes from foreign countries, most domestic trafficking victims are American citizens.[2]
  • Even though a common stereotype of trafficked victims is that they are kidnapped, fewer than 10% of child sex trafficking cases involve kidnapping. However, causes of child sex trafficking are varied and complicated.[3]
  • Traffickers often prey on economically and socially vulnerable children—for example, children who have experienced physical or sexual abuse, children in poverty, and children on the streets.[4]
  • Statistically, children who are Native Americans or LGBTQ+ are among the youth most vulnerable to child sex trafficking.[5]

As to where one should turn for information and advocacy on this issue, I strongly urge people to turn to organizations with a long record on human trafficking issues. Organizations such as the Polaris Project and Anti-Slavery International[6] are dedicated to educating people properly on child sex trafficking, and human trafficking issues in general, so that they can be empowered to tackle this issue in whatever ways they are able. Additionally, such organizations are focused on anti-human trafficking issues worldwide—important since human trafficking is really a global issue, even if this blog post focuses on how one aspect of human trafficking (child sex trafficking) plays out in the United States.

I would also recommend supporting organizations that support the types of children who are most likely to be vulnerable to child sex trafficking and/or advocate for children most likely to be vulnerable. Organizations like Prevent Child Abuse America (dedicated to preventing child abuse in the United States), Covenant House (focused on providing housing and supportive services to youth facing homelessness), and True Colors United (which focuses on LGBTQ+ youth homelessness) all serve groups of people most likely to become victims of child sex trafficking. As such, support of the work of organizations such as these, and others I did not mention here, should be seen as part of a strategy of limiting child sex trafficking by limiting the number of vulnerable children in the first place.

I also urge people in the media to promote organizations that are doing crucial work on this issue. There needs to be coverage on the facts that: a) child sex trafficking is a serious issue in this country and b) there are organizations out there working hard to address this issue. For the sake of making sure the general public is informed on both the problem of child sex trafficking as well as solutions to it, news media needs to do this. The well-being of vulnerable children depends on it.

Last, but not least, I encourage all of us to make sure that we’re educated on how child sex trafficking plays out, so that we know how to talk with our friends and neighbors about how it exists and what legitimate efforts there are to combat it. Without that education, it is impossible for us to understand how the issue plays out, let alone how it can be addressed.


[1] Note that this is only an estimate, and there’s high potential for this number being much higher or lower than said here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/09/02/the-fishy-claim-that-100000-children-in-the-united-states-are-in-the-sex-trade/

[2] https://www.unicefusa.org/child-trafficking-us

[3] https://polarisproject.org/blog/2020/08/what-we-know-about-how-child-sex-trafficking-happens/

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/child-sex-trafficking-lgbtq-youth-among-most-vulnerable-n718301

[6] As a relevant aside, this organization dates back to 1839!

What Is…the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

What appears to be a photo of someone in a prison.

In a post I made a couple of months ago about policing and schools with majority-minority populations, one of the replies to my post reminded me of how there was a connection between what I talked about and something called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” And, it is indeed the case that there is a connection between the post I wrote about a couple of months ago and the school-to-prison pipeline.

But what it is the school-to-prison pipeline?

In short, it is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”[1] This trend, which some kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to (hence, this is an issue that often disproportionately affects kids of color and kids with mental health issues, to name two particular populations), involves isolating and punishing kids who cause trouble in school, in the process pushing them out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. In many such cases, various educational and counseling services might be most warranted, but instead students are often isolated and punished.

Some issues that lead to the school-to-prison pipeline include, but are not limited, to:

  • Zero-tolerance policies, which impose severe punishments upon students regardless of circumstances. Such policies are often punitive to the point that the punishment does not fit the crime. Such policies can push students out of the “school” part of the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Police officers at schools, who are often responsible for policing the hallways at schools—a role usually reserved for teachers and school administrators. This can lead to something called school-based arrests—an issue that happens with some frequency.[2] Worse yet, these arrests can happen on quite a few occasions for minor behaviors,[3] issues that might not have resulted in arrest were it not for police officers at schools.
  • A lack of resources for many schools, which means that the extra educational support or counseling support that a troubled student might need is not available. Because of that lack of availability to such vital services (and generally the lack of ability some schools have in providing vital services), students can be at an increased risk for dropping out and for future legal involvement.[4]

So how do we address this pipeline?

For one thing, I think we need to go back to a question I asked in my previous blog post on policing and schools with majority-minority populations: Should we really have police officers in schools? I know that “abolish the police” is a controversial idea, but if police in schools don’t protect the schools, don’t protect the students at the schools, and mostly serve as a major enabler in the school-to-prison pipeline, then I honestly think that law enforcement at schools is doing way more harm than good. One other thing I will add is that if there must be law enforcement in schools (and I’m not convinced personally that it is something we must have), I think it is a must that said law enforcement is competent in interacting with kids the age that they’re supposed to work with and protect.

For another thing, zero-tolerance policies need to be reevaluated. Not all actions should receive the same punishment. Creating an environment of restorative justice (repairing the harm caused by the crime, as well as giving the offender the opportunity to do better in the future) as opposed to punitive justice (punishing the offender severely, regardless of the severity of the crime) gives an opportunity for people to learn from their mistakes, not to mention that it creates an environment likely to decrease the chances of seeing the school-to-prison pipeline come to fruition.

Last, but not least, in cases where local municipalities are unable to provide the resources needed for schools to be well-resourced, I think that states and the federal government need to step in and make sure said schools and school districts are properly resourced. A significant piece of school funding relies on local property taxes,[5] which means that if you live in an area where property values are depressed, then revenue from property taxes is depressed. This creates a ripple effect which leads to school funding in a district also being depressed. Depressed school funding, in turn, results in a lack of access to many resources for the students who need them the most.

The school-to-prison pipeline is shameful. Hopefully, in my lifetime, progress can be made to address this problem.


[1] https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline

[2] There were nearly 70,000 such arrests nationwide in the 2013-14 school year. I would like to see more current data, but this number gives us a sense of how much of a problem this was, as of a few years ago: https://www.edweek.org/which-students-are-arrested-most-in-school-u-s-data-by-school#/overview

[3] https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/metrocenter/ejroc/ending-student-criminalization-and-school-prison-pipeline

[4] https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline

[5] https://www.npr.org/2016/04/18/474256366/why-americas-schools-have-a-money-problem

On the Recent College Admissions Scandal

As many of my readers, especially in the United States, may know, there continues to be fallout from a college admissions scandal where wealthy parents of potential students paid gobs of money to a consultant who would do whatever it took for the parents’ kids to get into the colleges of their choice (inflating test scores, bribing college officials, etc.). It’s a disgusting situation that has exposed the extent to which some people can (and have) been able to get kids into college, even through illegal means. 

And yet, amidst people’s collective disgust over what the parents of these kids did, I’m afraid that we’re all missing a larger problem: the United States has an educational system, from childbirth to college admissions, that is stacked in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected having the best chance of getting in (at the expense of the poor and those who aren’t well-connected), whether through means that are legal or illegal.

It starts with childbirth because there are many things about the college admissions process that are determined by which family a child is from. If a child has family who went to the school that he/she/they eventually hope to go to one day, then the child is a legacy; this is a distinction that gives a child a significantly improved chance at getting into certain institutions.[1] If the child has a last name that indicates a connection to power or wealth, then the child has a significantly improved chance of getting into certain institutions. But if the child has neither going in his/her/their favor, then there’s some work cut out for them, to say the least.

As a child gets to kindergarten and goes through the K-12 system, another factor of wealth and connection comes into play: the school district a child is in. If a child is placed in a school district with few resources and bad teachers, that child could easily fall behind and never catch up again. If a child is placed in a district with plentiful resources, that child is often in much better shape. Of course, some families have enough wealth that they can avoid the public school system altogether.[2]

Throughout the K-12 experience, there are numerous things that wealthier families can afford that other families can’t: paying for tutors, getting kids involved in sports or hobbies that cost lots of money but make a résumé look good, being around to help their kids with homework, taking trips to all different parts of the world for educational purposes, and more. Those families who don’t have the resources for all or any of these things often find themselves at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers.

However, the issue of money and the chances of quality higher education arguably reaches a fever pitch with the college admissions process. Schools want prospective students to come visit, except visiting costs money. Schools want prospective students to do well on their standardized tests (especially SATs and ACTs), except the test prep needed to ace those exams sometimes runs into the thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars. Schools want prospective students to challenge themselves with Advanced Placement courses, except the Advanced Placement exams connected with these courses cost money as well. Some schools even want kids to take SAT2 tests, which cost even more money. College application fees can quickly add up, too. All told, it probably costs even a family with moderate resources thousands of dollars these days in order to get their kids into the colleges of their choice. For a family with resources, getting a kid into college may be a five-, six-, or even seven-figure endeavor, whether it be through legal (expensive test prep, going to an exclusive private school, having parents who give large donations to the child’s prospective school, etc.) or illegal (bribing, like with the current scandal) means.

Ultimately, while many of us who aren’t wealthy lament how the deck is “stacked against us” in the college admissions process in light of the recent admissions scandal, the fact is that the deck is stacked against the “little person” regardless of the scandal. The entire process of getting a child into an elite school, from childbirth to the admissions process, is stacked in favor of those who are wealthy and connected. And that is not an attack on those who are wealthy and connected—it’s just the fact.


[1] On a side note, during my own college admissions process many moons ago, my family was looking to use to my advantage my legacy status at a place to which I was applying. So I know this from experience.

[2] From 5th grade on, I was able to go to a Catholic school, so I know what I mean here. And, as much of an advantage as these schools gave me, even that advantage is dwarfed by the name recognition, as well as personal, educational, and professional connections and other advantages provided by expensive, elite private schools.

Institutional Racism Series: How it Affected Where I Went to School

I went to a great elementary school from 5th to 8th grade, a high school I loved, and a great college. While I sometimes had small complaints, such as having too much homework or dealing with the stress of end-of-year exams, I was extremely lucky to get the education I received.

However, for several months in 2004, the educational system in New York viewed my family as a family of color (even though we’re white), and the results for a time cast uncertainty over where my younger brother would go to kindergarten.

This uncertainty was the result of institutional racism, or racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions.

The beginning of this story was during the 2003-04 school year, when my family was trying to get my younger brother into the kindergarten program at the public magnet school I went to at the time (which drew students from districts throughout New York City’s borough of Queens). What happened was that the school changed its “sibling policy”—the school previously had automatically admitted siblings of students already attending the school, but the policy changed so that siblings of students were limited to being somewhere between 10% to 20% of new student admissions.

The justification for this policy was to diversify the school—administrators viewed the school as drawing “too many” students from certain districts throughout Queens and “too few” students from other districts; the “too many” were usually from districts that predominantly had students of color, while the “too few” were usually from districts that predominantly had white students. In order to diversify the school, the sibling policy was changed so that the school didn’t get many more kids from districts drawing “too many” kids (mostly districts of color, as I said earlier). Indeed, as someone at the New York City Department of Education told my parents, administrators wanted more kids from places like Bayside and Douglaston (neighborhoods in Queens that were extremely white). In other words, they wanted more white kids at the school and fewer people of color.

At this point, you’re probably reading this and saying the following: “Now, wait a minute, Brendan…you’re white! You’re not a person of color! So what do you or your family have to do with all this commotion?”

Where we came into the commotion was that the school system viewed my entire family, including my brother, as people of color. Since I lived in a Queens neighborhood dominated by people of color, the system viewed my brother as a person of color and therefore as a person who would not achieve the goal of giving my school a more “diverse” student body (more white people). Basically, the educational institution in New York viewed my family as people of color for several months in 2004, and as a result my brother couldn’t get into the kindergarten program we wanted to get him into. My parents said nothing to argue with this misperception because they didn’t want to use our race to give my brother an advantage on the sole basis of the color of his skin.

Then things changed.… Once the educational powers that be saw me mark myself as “white” on a standardized test, they realized that my brother was probably also white and they suddenly offered him a seat at the school. It was too late, though, because my brother started kindergarten at a Catholic school he loved, and I transferred to that school.

The story ended on a positive note for my entire family because we had the money to pay for Catholic elementary school for my brother and me and avoid the public school system entirely after transferring.

However, as I’ve shared this particular story in talks with friends, I have found out about people who had similar issues in their own school systems, but were not so lucky because they were people of color who came from families without many economic resources. Indeed, institutional racism in education prevents some great kids from having the educational opportunities they deserve.


Note: If you missed my previous two posts in my series on institutional racism, please refer to my introductory post for the series and the post on how institutional racism affected where I (and others) live.