Detroit Public Schools – Kicked Out Of School For Learning?

Emery Petchauer chides Detroit public schools for suspending students who took action against underfunding. 

What has become of public education when schools punish students for demonstrating deep care for their own education? Over the past month, students in Detroit public schools have walked out and protested underfunding, insufficient and outdated materials, understaffing, ineffective teachers, and school closings that will jeopardize their safety. Most powerfully, the recent walkout at Western International High School was done as a symbolic act of solidarity with students at Southwestern High School. During an era in which young people are seen as lazy, individualistic, and disengaged with their community, this is a powerful act of citizenship that should be applauded. Administrators’ response? Suspend the students.

Administrators at Southwestern High School suspended roughly 150 students last week for caring enough about their education to take action. In response to the suspension, the students have done precisely what students who care about their education would do. They’ve started their own school. The Southwest Detroit Freedom School at Clark Park will meet during the during the 5-day suspension period. A list of what topics will be covered there as well as the students’ overall list of demands from of the district can be found here.

The sad irony in this situation is that the values motivating students’ actions are precisely the kinds of values that good teachers and effective administrators hope students develop. Teachers want students to care about their education. Teachers want students to take action based upon that care. Teachers want students to make sacrifices for their education. Yet, the administrators in power have decided to punish the exact values that schooling is supposed to develop in young people. The zenith of this irony and hypocrisy is that in 2009, almost 60 students at Detroit’s McFarlane Elementary School were sent home because there weren’t enough teachers to teach them.

The school sent students home!

I’ve taught high school before, so I understand that a school cannot let students come and go as they please. But, this is not a case of ditching school. It is a case of young people desiring a better education, and this desire is the only logical starting point for any education. The proper response from teachers and administrators is to affirm this desire in students and to engage constructively with students, not kick them out.


Emery Petchauer (@EmeryPetchauer) is assistant professor of teacher education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Hip-Hop Culture in College Students’ Lives: Elements, Embodiment, and Higher Edutainment(Routledge).


About Emery Petchauer

Dr. Emery Petchauer is assistant professor of teacher development and educational studies at Oakland University. He is the author of Hip-Hop Culture in College Students’ Lives: Elements, Embodiment and Higher Edutainment”. (Routledge)


  1. Mike L says:

    Last I checked, if you walked off of most jobs you will be fired. This is a reality that also needs to be taught: your actions have consequences regardless of your intention. And the jobs where you won’t get fired also have the pensions that caused the financial problems in the first place.

    Why did the protest need to be a walk out? And is a protest worthwhile if it’s not going to change anything? Leaving your classroom isn’t going to make the city of Detroit suddenly discover millions of dollars it didn’t previously have.

    Are any of those students honestly better off for having missed a day of learning in favor of a day of futility?

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Doesn’t it say something important about these kids that they were willing to take that risk in order to help fellow students?

      Even more to the point, that they formed their own school to keep learning during their “time off”?

      Hopefully universities will see these qualities – which are the qualities of leaders – and reward them for the act.

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