Schools Aren't Prisons

I've seen the pictures comparing school design with prison design. I've heard the arguments regarding why schools are evil and coercive and why teachers actively work toward stealing children's dreams. I've seen the talking points that float around the alternative schooling and unschooling movements.

School isn't a prison. It isn't slavery. It isn't child abuse.

True, some kids don't want to go to school. Many children have awful experiences with schools that are nothing more than test-taking factories. In some states, education is not an option and home-schooling is a crime. All of those injustices need to be addressed.

However, the lack of choice does not necessarily equal abuse, slavery or prison. In many respects, I can't choose my country. I have little choice over the language I speak (even though English is such a bastardized tongue). I don't get to choose my own rules when I drive. Part of being in a community is adhering to the laws chosen.

I get it. On some level, it sucks to be a kid and have little choice in this matter. However, the greatest lack of choice a kid has is in a home. We don't choose our families and yet few of the un-schoolers argue that families are evil. They speak of walls as if the physical separation of rooms is an act of injustice and yet homes have walls. Is my child's bedroom simply a large prison cell? Is the kitchen just a really small prison cafeteria? Are family chores an act of slavery?

If we're going to look at social structures honestly, there are more broken homes than broken schools. Abuse at schools is something that makes the news. Abusive parents are so common we have to devote entire government agencies toward dealing with the issues. Do we look at the examples of dysfunction and declare that the existence of bad families means that the concept of a family is an inherently evil concept?

Don't get me wrong. I believe in tearing down many of the walls at schools. I also believe in getting rid of compulsory schooling. I love the idea of opening up the world to field trips, apprenticeships and guest speakers. I want to rethink the factory. But when it starts with the metaphor of prison, slavery and abuse, the reforms will always lack nuance. They will always be big, failed, bold steps in the name of an idea rather than an honest look at the context, community and children.

Unrelated thought:
I find it odd that many of the people arguing that schools are evil will post Facebook updates about how an educated women in Iran is a dangerous woman. They advocate for children in Africa to have access to schools. No one advocates for getting poor people in other countries into abusive relationships, slavery or prison.  



John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler.
He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard
and the co-founder of Write About .

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