Yeah, often the students give up, too. If you don’t know the answer, your school may resemble a prison.
Gary Stager’s post with jarring comparisons is here, at District Administration’s Pulse! blog. [District Administration purges its archives about every three years, it turns out; here is a copy of Mr. Stager’s column courtesy the Wayback Machine – Internet Archive.]
When the elder Fillmore’s Bathtub son attended intermediate school, he complained of the discipline. So did a lot of other good kids. We got a call from a parent asking if we’d join in a meeting with the new principal, and hoping to learn things were really hunky dory and offer assurances to our son, we went.
Texas was in the new throes of adjusting to the old TAAS (an acronym for words I’ve misplaced — Texas Academic Acheivement Stressproducer or something like that). The principal opened the meeting explaining she was unhappy with our kids’ behaviors.
Now, let’s pause for a moment. Our son had taken the TAAS twice to that point, and gotten perfect scores both times. The previous year he’d participated in a winning Odyssey of the Mind team, each of whose members had a parent at this “discipline” meeting. I think each child was also in the gifted and talented program. Looking back, almost all of them graduated in the top 10% of the class, there were a couple of Eagle Scouts and Girl Scout Gold Award winners in the bunch — these were kids who were self-disciplined to get education.
The principal talked about problems the school was having with noise. Talking had been suspended in the cafeteria, to help keep noise down. Kids were instructed not to talk while passing between classes, at their lockers, and not to close lockers noisily. Several kids had been disciplined for closing their lockers with too much gusto to please the noise storm troopers.
She then explained that her hope was the school could win the state’s highest level of recognition for achievement on the state standardized tests. Consequently, she was instructing all teachers to help work toward that goal. Physical education classes were being employed for test drill, which meant literally the kids didn’t get exercise, but instead were seated on the floor of the gymnasium doing test drills. Our son had already complained about how stupid that was.
But the principal chirpily explained that recesses had been suspended (these were fourth, fifth and sixth graders) to allow more time for drill.
When she announced that, after she had seen this done at a private school, the kids would be instructed to put their hands behind their backs when walking through the halls, silently, I asked her if she were familiar with the Texas prison system, and what crimes she thought our kids had committed.
“Crimes? They haven’t committed any crimes. What are you driving at?” she demanded.
So, I explained that on death row in Texas, the most grisly murderer had more free time than our kids, a right to recess and outdoor exercise, and more opportunity to socialize — and that lawyers argued even they were being driven mad by not enough time for communicating with other humans, etc.
The principal took great offense. I think she expected an apology from me. I had taken great offense by that point, too, that she was treating my kid like a criminal.
We took him out of that school, and enrolled him at an “academy” our district had set up to emphasize arts and science. He scored perfectly on the TAAS for his old school, and he complained a bit about missing some of his friends. But his performance rose, and his happiness rose markedly, when he got recess and wasn’t treated as a criminal from the start.
Occasionally, I wish we had pursued the issue through legal channels. There are schools in Texas that still suspend recess and PE for test drills, and where talking and socializing, and play, are frowned upon or outright forbidden — the things that kids need to stay sane and develop into top notch students.
What’s the difference between a school and a prison? There is little difference, really, except the methods of teaching. If your instructional methods and policies approach those used in prisons, perhaps you should change the sign on the front of your building. It’s the most slippery of slopes: When legislatures, school boards and administrators cut art and music programs, reduce extracurricular activities, clamp down on social interaction, and make other moves that erase the lines between “school” and “prison,” teachers become the last line of defense, the edge of the cliff before the abyss.
See Mr. Stager’s column. It’s a wake-up call, for anyone not deaf and blind.
[District Administration does not archive articles forever, and Mr. Stager’s 2007 article is long gone. Resurrected from the Wayback Machine – Internet Archive, is the full text. Be alert that links may not work. This was added here on January 29, 2020.]
What’s the Difference Between School and Prison?
Sunday, June 03, 2007 5:11 PM
Will Richardson’s blog, discussing a recent New York Times article about the New York Police Department converging on schools to search students for cellphones and iPods made me think about the school environments we create for children.
I worry about the climate of our schools and did a bit of research that confirmed my fears.
Let’s consider some recent events and emerging trends…
- An exhaustive new report, Criminalizing the Classrom: The Over-policing of the New York City Schools, and related a NY Times editorial raise serious concerns whose consequences are “significant and consequential damage to the learning environment.”
- Students continue to be marched from one end of the institution to another, often in order of height or with “troublemakers” near the front of the line.
- Students remain grouped by age while increasingly segregated by race (here and here) and gender in single-sex classes (more here).
- Data-driven decision making depersonalizes students and turns them into little more than digits in a spreadsheet. (arguments for and against)
- Student speech rights and press freedom continue to decline. (resources from the ACLU & Rutherford Institute )
- We have long accepted the practice of seeking permission to use a toilet in school.
- School security costs are through the roof.
- A school banned conversation between boys and girls.
- The Supreme Court of the United States is actually entertaining the notion that a principal may punish a student at any time for what they do outside of school or school events. The issue at stake is if a school principal may do any action that “disrupts its mission.”
- The White House, with the assent of the Supreme Court, advocates drug testing of all middle or high school students interested in participating in any extracurricular activity, even the chess club.
- School officials continue to assert jurisdiction over what students do with their home computers despite constant rulings on behalf of students.
- This school and others are requiring students to remain silent during lunch. Another school claims that the silent lunches they deny exist are for “safety purposes.”
- This school requires “silent transitions” between classes. If students talk between classes, they must attend “silent lunch.”
- Schools are suspending students for recording incidents of audio or video of unprofessionalism instead of protecting the students as whistleblowers.
- Special paint is being purchased by schools to jam cell phone use. This continues the desire to treat cell phone use or possession as a crime.
- A legislator in Texas has proposed a bill to study the value of recess. The testing demands of schooling and the elimination of recess has caused the formation of national group to advocate for the most basic element of childhood welfare, recess.
- Art, music, foreign languages and even physical education (social studies and science too) are being eliminated from school days as a response to calls for academic accountability.
- The popularity of school uniforms increases complete with pseudo-science used as justification.
- Despite record population growth and increasing tax revenue, Nevada educators are strapped for funds. The concern? There is no money to pay for school detention! Seven million dollars is being sought to staff “detention.”
- When teacher pay and professional esteem is tied to test scores and public ridicule, NCLB is likely to increase the antagonism between teachers and students.
- Collective punishment (prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949) is a hallmark of NCLB with all teachers and students held “accountable” for the test results of a few.
- A Santa Fe elementary school student was duct-taped to his chair by a teaching intern. Here is a similar story from Oregon. Here’s one from California. Even the Aussies are doing it!
- School basketball coaches are accused of paddling players for missing shots in practice. The district ended corporal punishment three years ago.
- Corporal punishment is still legal in 22 states.
These and other trends “ripped from the headlines” lead me to wonder if we should just merge the education and penal systems into one bureaucracy and transform schools into prisons? Why wait? The distinctions are often difficult to discern.
The opinions stated in this article are those of the author.