My friend sent this photo to me. He was walking by the school and was struck by how much it looks like a prison. There are so many things that are so common in school that they are part of our social vernacular, but they are unique to the school system and prison system and nowhere else:
1. Timed, massively catered eating with food people don’t like.
2. Scheduled time for outdoors but never enough.
3. A carrot and stick system because no one wants to be there.
4. Special buildings to keep people off the streets.
5. The system corrupts to the point where people are likely to make worse decisions when they get out. I know you know this is true for prison, but check out this research about how kids are better decision makers before they go to school.
As a whole, the similarity between school and prison has been documented as the school-to-prison pipeline. This is not some fringe idea cultivated by lunatic activists. School is such a huge on-ramp to the prison system that the ACLU has argued that the police who patrol public schools are not trained to deal with young kids whose only infraction is being tardy too many days in a row.
The trend today is to criminalize more and more behaviors that are typical of school-aged kids who have relatively little adult supervision. New Jersey, for example, has made bullying a crime. The New York Times argues that this does not make schools safer, but rather speeds up the process of moving kids out of school and into the criminal justice system, where they will likely spend most of their lives.
Schools are operating on shaky ground. Constitutionally, since a wide range of research shows that schools are suspending minority kids for nonviolent infractions at a much higher rate than white kids.
Lots of school reformers have ideas to fix this problem, but the core issue is that schools need tons of rules and a police force in order to control kids who do not want to learn what they are being told to learn. As technology infiltrates the lives of kids, they get more and more comfortable with independent learning. And the biggest result of this comfort is that school seems proposterous. All the answers are online.
Sometimes I imagine that the only thing that is going to get parents to stop sending their kids to school is when the kids riot – just like prisoners – to get their freedom back.