"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Proposal: convert schools into prisons to improve student life

Ithaca public schools superintendent Nathan Bootz proposes making schools into prisons to improve things for students. I add a comment.

Published in Big Think



Dear Governor Snyder,

In these tough economic times, schools are hurting. And yes, everyone in Michigan is hurting right now financially, but why aren't we protecting schools? Schools are the one place on Earth that people look to to "fix" what is wrong with society by educating our youth and preparing them to take on the issues that society has created.

One solution I believe we must do is take a look at our corrections system in Michigan. We rank nationally at the top in the number of people we incarcerate. We also spend the most money per prisoner annually than any other state in the union. Now, I like to be at the top of lists, but this is one ranking that I don't believe Michigan wants to be on top of.

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I'm proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. It's the least we can do to prepare our students for the future...by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan Bootz, Superintendent, Ithaca Public Schools

S. Krashen comment:

Nathan Bootz is right: Prisoners get a much better deal than many students do: they get health care, libraries, and good food – children of poverty get little or none of these. For many children, school is worse than prison.

These same children are also exposed to a mechanical, rote, test-prep oriented curriculum in school, while children of high-income families are exposed to a curriculum that emphasizes creative problem-solving. This adds mental torture to the physical discomfort of poor nutrition and lack of health care that many poor children endure.

The deadly curriculum children of poverty get in school was documented decades ago by Jean Anyon, and is more true than ever today, thanks to No Child Left Behing testing hysteria, made even worse by current US Department of Education policies.

We are even seeing the elimination of recess, in order to jam in more test-prep time. Ohanian's book, What Happened to Recess? is as relevant today as it was when it was published ten years ago.

Ironically, middle class children who attend well-funded schools do very well on international tests: They score near the top of the world. Our overall scores are less spectacular because we have such a high rate of child poverty, the highest of all industrialized countries. Providing poor children what our prisoners already have would profoundly improve school achievement.

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