Comments 10

  1. Great article, Dave. Good thoughts to keep in mind as we prepare for another year ahead! Who doesn’t want to be the fun middle school teacher? 🙂

  2. Not only does the inside of a school often function as a prison, but the outside often looks like one as well. Most schools feature the usual institutional colors on both the inside and outside walls. How can we make schools look less institutional in terms of color and furniture while still on a budget; this is a question I wrestle with in my own school. Right now I can choose one or the other: make changes OR stay within the budget.

  3. Thanks, Dave, for this post. I love the quote by Kohn, that responsibility needs to be given to students before we would expect them to take responsibility. That quote reminded me of a very significant difference between schools and prisons (and I know you are trying to stir the pot, that you do not see schools as prisons). If I am in prison, it means I broke a law which had a serious consequence. If I am in school, it means that I simply exercised my right to be educated. That, in my opinion, is where we should begin this conversation. When free education began in the US, after the Revolutionary War, the purpose for education was contextual. From Thomas Jefferson’s proposal of the two-track system of the learned and the laborers to the Puritans in Massachusetts who provided schools for children to learn to read the Bible and receive information about their Calvinist religion. And then, in 1851, the state of Massachusetts passes the first compulsory education law. Education became a right for citizens, funded by tax-payers. I think the time has come in our country where education should be a privilege, something that you have to continually earn and appreciate. If education was really seen by our country as a privilege, I don’t think we would hear comments like the one your middle school student shared with you. Like many rights, it is one that we have taken for granted in our culture of entitlement.

  4. Thanks, Dave. When I taught third and fourth grades, I had 9 rules in my classroom. Number 9 was “have fun.” My students were skeptical but I think that most of them enjoyed at least parts of school. We know that it’s popular for middle school and high school students especially to “hate school.” And there is evidence that the longer students are in school, the less they enjoy it. But are those feelings REAL or are they just part of the culture? Do they hear those feelings and see them affirmed by each other often enough that they then think that’s what they feel?

    1. I would say they are real. I hated school from the beginning, until I could finally leave and then I never looked back. I only stuck out the last two years because I wanted the grades to get into the University of my choice. Noone likes to be forced to attend a place where they have no freedom and teachers control the most basic things such as when they can speak or use the bathroom, forced to take part in activities against their wishes, often shouted at and humiliated for no particular reason by teachers on a power-trip, and crammed into a room with 29 other young people they don’t necessarily like for hours every day. It is no wonder that many become resentful and disinterested in education. It is only the need for exam results, or the threat of their parents being punished if they don’t attend that keeps most young people there. You get the occasional good, inspiring and likeable teacher but the institution of school really needs to change.

      1. dude i’m in high school right now man everything you just said is true see they give us stuff to work on and we don’t than we get in trouble if we do we get more work we do need school true but the way we learn needs to change. I should not be scared to go to class because a teacher is in a bad mood and wants to take it out on me and make fun of me. we need to change.

        1. At my school we have lunch detention if your grade is lower than a c. If you don’t show up within 5 minutes you get 4 hours of in school suspension, or if you talk you at all during lunch detention you get 4 hours ISS. I feel this is almost the same as a prison, we are in a very small school and over 100 student have Lunch detention in just the 8th grade, this is absurd. I feel if the teachers and principal just listened to our feedback and requests and maybe even read this article, I think it would be a better place. All this depression of students needs to end, stop making school a place to suffer and make it a place to learn. Learning does not have to be miserable. It can be fun and enjoyable.

  5. When your students start asking why school is like a prison, it’s time to introduce them to alternative theories of pedagogy, with selections from educators like Francisco Ferrer and Maria Montessori. When kids start to develop a critique of the day-to-day absurdities that are forced on them, it is the teacher’s rightful duty to provide access to writing by thinkers who sought to address their grievances. And after you’ve shown them a glimpse of other ways that a school can be structured, readings on why school is exactly the way that it is should follow. While Foucault (who the title of this piece immediately made me think of) is probably way too advanced for 7th graders, a guided introduction to his ideas about this subject is definitely warranted. After that, you’ll need to get into theorists who focused on the general project getting things to change from the bottom up. Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King Jr, and Vladimir Ilych Lenin come immediately to mind.

    Though of course, no school system that feels like a prison will ever approve such a course of study. Because a prison wouldn’t either. That teachers’ unions do not generally include such necessary additions to the curriculum (much less actual reforms to the school’s carceral regime) in contract negotiations also shows how teachers’ unions are like prison guards’ unions.

  6. You are incorrect in saying that “no one ever said that school has to be like prison”. Peter Gray, a prominent psychologist who has the Psychology Today blog “Freedom to Learn” wrote in 2013 that “School is Prison”. It is prison because not only is it mandated by law that students will attend, but there must be a top-down structure with an authoritarian milieu in order to guarantee that students don’t ever lose sight of the fact for a second that they are at the bottom of a Totem Pole and that teachers will be aware that they are just one step up from the bottom, as well. You can try to sugar-coat this hard fact and you, being an exceptional individual willing and able to circumvent the bureaucracy and rigidity to some degree can make it feel less oppressive and demoralizing, however the trappings will always be in place and the restrictions on freedom, free thought, and autonomy will remain despite your best efforts. The law is the problem and ironically, the law is what defeats the entire purpose of schooling – which by definition cannot be education.

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