Last month, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo said there should "be a death penalty for failing schools." Cuomo's analogy was both reckless and insensitive and he should reconsider his position.
While speaking about the death penalty, former President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference the Reverend Joseph E. Lowery said, "By reserving the penalty of death for black defendants, or for the poor...we perpetrate the ugly legacy of slavery...teaching our children that some lives are inherently less precious than others." Much like its criminal counterpart, the "death penalty" for schools disproportionally effects low-income minorities. Thus sending the message that schools populated predominately with low-income minority students are less vibrant, less important, less "precious" than those populated with wealthier and/or whiter students. Killing beloved institutions in poor minority communities, rather than rehabilitating them, signals a fundamental disrespect.
The administration of capital punishment assumes that it will be done with fairness and justice. School executions are unfair and unjust since there are no agreed upon measurements of school success. Current measurements, such as test scores or graduation rates, do not take into account population disparities and inequitable funding. Justice Thurgood Marshall called the unjust administration of the death penalty "...a cruel and empty mockery. If not remedied, the scandalous state of our present system of capital punishment will cause a pall of shame over our society for years to come." Marshall's prediction has come to pass: our present system of capital punishment for American public schools is society's public shame.
Even if the the death penalty could be administered fairly, the Governor should rethink his desire to be seen as the "executioner" of public schools. According to a book by Joel Harrington, "The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century," throughout history the job of executioner has not been well-respected. In fact, society has generally scorned executioners as outcasts. They have been "universally reviled as cold-blooded killers for hire and accordingly excluded from respectable society at every turn."
So a word to the wise, Governor Cuomo: If your swift sword falls upon the head of a public school, mine will fall upon a lever other than yours in the voting booth. Use your executive clemency power instead and I'll consider using mine on your behalf.