College Prep Vs Prison PrepMay 5, 2020
Recently, I was driving to Atlanta from St. Louis. Anyone who has traveled the route knows that along Highway 57, in a town called Ina, there is a Prison on one side of the highway and a college on the other side. The Big Muddy River Correctional Center stands directly across the highway from Rend Lake College. For years, I never really saw the college. The prison is much more visible with its large barbed wire fence and tall watch tower. The scene made it easy to envision the life of the inmates.
It was not until this trip that I noticed the college across the highway. There is a beautiful sign competing for the attention of highway travelers, but it loses easily to the potential sighting of armed prison workers across the highway. As I traveled the highway, I paralleled my driving experience to high school. For many students, their travels through high school are as much about preparing for prison as it is about preparing for college. Today’s schools are transforming into prison-prep programs for students and the potential college students are becoming victims to the transformation.
Schools prepare students for the future that await them. Educators, and the entire school community, identify their students potential and go to work preparing them for the future. We groom out students to become scientist, writers, mothers, fathers, and the responsible community members we envision them becoming.
It is with this vision that we mold these pliable minds and prepare them for the future that awaits them. It is the belief in the students’ potential that inspires educators to action. We provide them with the tools we know they will need to perform their roles in society. We are literally helping them get into character, as a director would a stage performer.
There’s a young man I know who shows every sign of becoming a newscaster or something closely related. He has expressed a strong interest in the profession; and it helps that he looks like a 10 year old version of Ed Bradley, former CBS news correspondent. Therefore, his teachers’ natural response has been to put this kid in front of an audience with a microphone at every opportunity. He is encouraged to express his ideas and speak freely and openly, for these are the successful habits of writers, news reporters, lawyers and politicians. We want him to be prepared for the future that awaits him. School for this child is a college prep experience
There is another group of student whom we are grooming for their future also. There are other children who do not show the same potential of young “Ed Bradley.” These are the children who show up at our doors with less than admirable career paths. It appears that they have been preprogrammed for an alternative lifestyle. Everything about their attitude says that they are not interested in becoming responsible citizen or a part of a community. The worst of these kids disrespect their teachers, fight other students, and tell us that they don’t want to be at school.
This message is a clear communication that we have to do something different. As we look at this child, we do not see a contributing members of society. It is difficult for us to image this child fitting into any profession or community. We know where this kind of attitude leads. We understand where these kinds of characters are found. So, we change our strategies for this student. We know exactly where this child is headed. We will never say it aloud but in our actions our vision becomes clear.
We install medal detectors at the entrance of the school and hire a stern disciplinarian or security guard to keep the peace. The child is patted down before entering school to check for weapons. He is subjected to random searches for contraband in his locker or on his person. He is instructed to walk in a straight line with his fellow classmates in the hall. Silence is a perfected practice and is reinforced with harsh reprimands. This child is often separated from his peers. There is a scheduled time for talking, eating, sharing and laughing. School for this student is a prison prep experience.
The most unfortunate result of this practice is that our young “Ed” attends to the same school. The responsible citizens are subjected to the same restrictive school environment. Their expression is stifled also and their joy of learning is suppressed by the new order of schools. Our successful prison-prep program results in the elimination of college-prep for the rest of the children.
It is with this understanding that I urge us to reconsider our reaction to this defiant bunch. Even though several of our children arrive at our doors determined to practice behaviors that lead to poverty and crime, we must commit ourselves to seeing a bigger, brighter future for them. We must see more in them than they can see of themselves. Yes, we must lie to them. We have to tell them that we see them as responsible citizens, before we see it. We must treat them better than they deserve. We must give them praise and positive feedback before they truly earn it, so they begin to want it legitimately for themselves. We must resist the tendency to transform the school into a prison prep program. It is vitally important that we preserve the learning environment in its intended state. Great schools today treat all kids like they were destined for college and ignore the place across the highway.