Is School Like Jail?
The people in my community love their public schools. So too it is in most of the country. If only they knew the costs, and I don’t mean just the financial costs, which are two and three times those of private schools. I also mean the opportunity costs: If only people knew what they were missing!
Imagine education wholly managed by the market economy. The variety! The choice! The innovation! All the features we’ve come to expect in so many areas of life — groceries, software, clothing, music — would also pertain to education. But as it is, the market for education is hobbled, truncated, frozen and regimented, and tragically, we’ve all gotten used to it.
The longer people live with educational socialism, the more they adapt to its inefficiencies, deprivations and even indignities. So it is with American public schools. Many people love them, but it’s like the “Stockholm Syndrome”: We’ve come to have a special appreciation for our captors and masters because we see no way out.
There is a way out. But first we have to see the problem for what it is. I know of no better means than exploring an absolutely prophetic book first published in 1974, edited by William Rickenbacker. It is called The Twelve-Year Sentence.
This is not only one of the great titles in the history of publishing; it is a rare book that dared to say what no one wanted to hear. True, the essays are all scholarly and precise (the book came out of an academic conference), but a fire for liberty burns hot below the footnoted surface. Especially notable: This book came out long before the home-schooling movement, long before a remnant of the population began to see what was happening and started bailing out.
The core truth that this book tells: The government has centrally planned your child’s life and has forced both you and your child into the system. But, say the writers, the system is a racket and a cheat. It doesn’t prepare them for a life of liberty and productivity. It prepares them to be debt slaves, dependents, bureaucrats and wartime fodder.
I’m thinking of this book as I look at millions of unemployed young people in the US and Europe. This is what the system has produced. This is the mob that once gathered in “homeroom,” assembled for school lunches, sat for endless hours in their assigned desks and was tested ten thousand times to make sure they had properly absorbed what the government wanted them to know. Now they are out and they want their lives to amount to something, but they don’t know what.
And it’s just the beginning. There are tens of millions of victims of this system. They were quiet so long as the jobs were there and the economy was growing. But when the fortunes fell, many became members of marauding mobs seeking a father figure to lead them into the light.
Think of the phrase “twelve-year sentence.” They government took them in at the age of 6. It sat them down in desks, 30 or so per room. It paid teachers to lecture them and otherwise keep them busy while their parents worked to cough up 40% of their paychecks to the government to fund the system (among other things) that raises their kids.
So on it goes for 12 years, until the age of 18, when the government decides that it is time for them to move on to college, where they sit for another four years, also at mom and dad’s expense.
What have they learned? They have learned how to sit at a desk and zone out for hours and hours, five days per week. They might have learned how to repeat back things said by their warden — I mean teacher. They’ve learned how to sneak around the system a bit and have something resembling a life on the sly.
They have learned to live for the weekend and say “TGIF!” Perhaps they have taken a few other skills with them: sports, music, theater or whatever. But they have no idea how to turn their limited knowledge or abilities into something remunerative in a market system that depends most fundamentally on individual initiative, alertness, choice and exchange.
They are deeply ignorant about the stuff that makes the world work and builds civilization, by which I mostly mean commerce. They’ve never worked a day in the private sector. They’ve never taken an order, never faced the bracing truth of the balance sheet, never taken a risk, never even managed money. They’ve only been consumers, not producers, and their consumption has been funded by others, either by force (taxes) or by leveraged parents on a guilt trip.
So it stands to reason: They have no sympathy for or understanding of what life is like for the producers of this world. Down with the productive classes! Or as they said in the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution: “Expropriate the expropriators” Or under Stalin: “Kill the Kulaks.” Or under Mao: “Eradicate the Four Olds” (old customs, culture, habits, and ideas). So too did the Nazi youth rage against the merchant classes who were said to lack “blood and honor.”
The amazing thing is not that this state system produces mindless drones. The miracle is that some make it out and have normal lives. They educate themselves. They get jobs. They become responsible. Some go on to do great things. There are ways to overcome the twelve-year sentence, but the existence of the educational penitentiary still remains a lost opportunity, coercively imposed.
Americans are taught to love the sentence because it is “free.” Imagine attaching this word to the public school system! It is anything but free. It is compulsory at its very core. If you try to escape, you are “truant.” If you refuse to cough up to support it, you are guilty of evasion. If you put your kids in private school, you pay twice. If you school at home, the social workers watch every move you make.
There is no end to the reform. But no one talks about abolition. Still, can you imagine that in the 18th and most of 19th centuries, as this book points out, this system didn’t even exist? Americans were the most-educated people in the world, approaching near-universal literacy, and without a government-run central plan, without a twelve-year sentence. Compulsory education was unthinkable. That came only much later, brought to us by the same crowd who gave us World War I, the Fed and the income tax.
Escaping is very hard, but even high-security prisons are not impenetrable. So millions have left. Tens of millions more remain. This whole generation of young people are victims of the system. That makes them no less dangerous precisely because they don’t even know it. It’s called the Stockholm Syndrome: Many of these kids fell in love with their captors and jailers. They want them to have even more power.
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Essay Writing Tips For Middle School Students: Are Prisons Effective?
An essay topic like “Are Prisons Effective?” is challenging for middle school students considering their exposure and understanding of recollection and criminal issues. The main challenge is likely to be the source of materials to support their argument. However, this can be overcome by seeking resources from the following sources.
The school library contains numerous titles on prison life, recollection facilities as well as life after prison. These books are written from firsthand accounts by former prisoners or parties working with prisoners. Narratives by counselors, prison wardens, chaplains and other support staff provide vital information on prison life that can guide middle school students in the writing process. They provide valuable insights into the subject which will help the student in constructing the essay.
Listen To Experts
Middle school students might not understand the full intentions of recollection facilities to construct a plausible essay. Listening to experts in forums either on radio or television will provide the much needed information on prison life. There are seminars and presentations uploaded online on such themes for public debate. These are incredible resources for middle school students in their essay writing endeavor. If you know a pastor or warden who interacts with prisoners and prison authorities, you may consider paying him a visit.
Watch News Items
News items present unadulterated account of prison life. There are prison breaks, prison fights and former criminals who get involved in more criminal activities. Such scenes and occurrence underline the effect or result of prison life. They provide credible resources for the middle school students to base their conclusions regarding the effectiveness of prisons in recollection. Different television and radio programs also air stories about reformed prisoners who are doing marvelous works. It means that news items and channels will provide a balanced coverage of the situation or topic to adequately inform the student in his writing process.
Consult Your Teacher
Your teacher is an incredible source of material and guidance when writing an essay on the effectiveness of prisons. He will provide directions on where to get credible materials and how to use the information in constructing your paper. Being a teacher gives him the moral authority and responsibility to direct you in your class work.
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New Orleans Charter Schools Shouldn’t Treat Students Like Prisoners
Is my high school, Lake Area New Tech, a prison or school? Students arrive ready for school every morning, but unfortunately must wait outside the building until security guards unlock the doors at 7:30 a. m. It could be raining, hailing, or sleeting, but they will NOT open the doors until then. Once the doors are unlocked, it takes the guards 15 to 20 minutes to search each student and check for uniform violations. That leaves us with just a few minutes to eat breakfast before class starts at 8 a. m. That’s not enough time for 600 students to make it through the cafeteria line. On a typical morning, we are treated like prisoners, which causes students to react in a variety of negative ways.
Some students break the rules in response to how they are treated. I know how they feel because I was once punished for an act of “rebellion.” At my school, female students are required to wear skirts and socks of a certain length. One day I arrived at school without the proper socks and was told by my principal that I had two options: I could either go to in-school suspension or get my parents to bring the right socks. This made me angry and I gave my principal an earful. But I didn’t want to end up in in-school suspension with more than 30 other students so I called my mother and asked her to bring the correct socks. It took her at least a half hour to bring them, meaning I lost that half hour of class. After going through that frustrating experience, I was upset for the nearly the whole day. I am the top ranking student in my class with a 4.5 grade point average, and also participate in sports and contribute a lot to my school. Why should a student in my position—or any student at all—be treated like a prisoner?
My school is not alone. The charter schools that have opened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina are beyond strict. The rigid discipline structures that have been placed inside these schools are not effective. In many schools students are expected to walk in straight lines, remain silent, and wear a full uniform at all times. These discipline structures focus too much on behavior rather than academic performance, which should be administrators’ number one priority if they want to help students excel. The only benefit we get from abiding by these rules is to look like young professionals. Yet what good will that do us if our test scores and academic performance are low? In order to become professionals we must succeed in academics, which is something we are unable to do if we’re being held in detention or suspended due to a uniform or behavior violation. By attending a school with fewer rules, I would excel even more since there would be fewer distractions about attire or behavior.
It’s quite challenging for most New Orleans students to adapt to the rigid discipline structures since they come from environments that are nothing like that. Many students here are exposed to drugs or violence or at least witness something of the kind. Although I have had no personal involvement in either, I often witness drug transactions on the streets. Some people think the violence and drugs make the rules even more necessary to make sure students don’t engage in such activities. Wrong! If you treat students like prisoners, they will react like prisoners.
Students also respond differently depending on who is making the rules. Most of the administrators working in the schools I have attended are white and not from Louisiana. This makes me think back to the beginning of the United States when the Native Americans were being “Americanized” by white Europeans. The white people made the Native Americans convert to their religion, stop speaking their native language, stop wearing their traditional clothing, and change their names to “American”and “Christian” ones. They even had to start wearing their hair like the white people wore theirs. I see a similar process happening in schools with all of these stringent rules, which leads me to the question: Are we being trained for the professional world or for the white world? Or does being a professional mean being part of the white world?
Students may feel as if teachers from the North don’t know much about Southerners’ backgrounds. Why should we have to abide by rules created by people who are not from the South and don’t have full insight about us? Some students feel like the teachers don’t know much about us apart from stereotypes. When the people who create the rules know so little about who we are and where we came from, what reason have we to trust them?
Kenyatta Collins, 16, is a junior at Lake Area High School. This essay is part of a collaboration between The Hechinger Report and high school students at Bard’s Early College in New Orleans.