School Discipline vs Prison Discipline

[Delivered as L2L Talk on 2011-05-08]

What is the prison experience?

The gate is heavily guarded. There is an eerie silence prevailing. There is a formal process of meeting the inmates or the officials. You can’t go any place you want. There are strict rules for movement. There is a meeting area where you need to go, fill out an application, only then you get to meet the person you have gone there to meet. The whole meeting is conducted under watchful eye(s). Inmates are herded from one place to another under strict supervision. They are not allowed to move on their own. They are punished for any small infringement of the rules. As no one wants to be imprisoned, and deprived of his liberties to act, move, play and do what one likes, coming out of the confinement is, therefore, a day of freedom; a day of deliverance, happiness, exuberance and joy. 

Does this sound familiar? Can we connect this experience to our visit to our child’s school!

Let’s see what environment a supposedly good conventional school provides. A visitor must go through a formal process of taking an advance appointment, filling out a prescribed form to meet the officials or teachers or the students. You need to fill out a form stating clearly the purpose and get a prior appointment before you can meet any one. When you enter such a school, there is no sound coming out from any where. The teacher is held accountable for any noise coming out from her room and is liable to be thrown out of the school if she can not maintain silence in her class room. The environment therefore is eerily silent.  You can’t just walk up to any room. There are strict rules for movement; where can one go and where one can’t. Students are made to walk (if ever) from one room to another under the watchful eyes of the teachers. There are even lines on the floor of the corridors and class rooms where students may walk. Students are not allowed to go any where even to bathroom without permission. Students are are shown the rule-book for any small infringement. Students often dread going to the school (burden of tests, homeworks, dreary work). Therefore, pack up time is the most happy time, the time of deliverance, the time when there is laughter and gaiety when the students rush towards the gate as if they have been freed from the prison! 

Should not the school experience be different from a prison experience. Why is the experience similar? Is it because the students are held against their wishes? Are made to work against their wishes? 

Is there a deeper reason for holding the students every day for most of their childhood till they are 16 against their wishes in such confined places, where there is continous monitoring going on? [1] 

Is there a deeper context in the overzealous implementation of the discipline and the punishment paradigms in a school? [2]

Should not it be possible for a school to be a place where children want to go, are excited to go, where work is so interesting and engaging that they do not want to leave! The environment is happy and filled with joyful children actively and vigorously at work without being herded around and guarded [3]. Should not the children be allowed to select the learning activity they would like to select, should not they be allowed to improvise, improve, modify and replace a given activity with much more interesting and thought provoking activities? Isn’t it possible for the school to have a welcoming environment that encourages the visitors to become participants of the learning environment and contribute. Why can’t the management perceive the parents as their allies and supporters and why can’t the parents think of the school management and teachers as their partners in the joint enterprise of the their children’s future?

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    While I was in Canada, I had seen this happening. My sister's son was 8 years of age and in his 4th grade.

    My sister's work is such that she has to work in the night, so no point to wake her son up in the morning and get him ready for the school.

    To my amazement when I saw it for the first time, that he used to wake up by himself and get ready to go to the school by himself without making any hue or cry.

    But I think its a far cry in our part of the world.

  2. yes its almost like a prison.. do you know how that happens if it's a school without rules or with lax rules they would be spoilt for ever. so the next best remedy is to teach them some basic rules and remember every thing in the world has an undefined law.. yes children needs to have a joyful learning experaince.. remember too much freedom would help them make bad chioces, like underaged driver is not allowed by law.. why is it just because they prove immediate danger.. what about the danger that is not immediate, like drug addictions, disrespectful and anti social behaviours that evolve gradually. silence is also required to listen what teacher says in the class in order for the students to learn..

  3. Do you think all students should be treated as IF they are addicts, disrespectful, and anti-social?

    You do not only want to consider them guilty unless proven innocent, but would like to intern them in a prison?

    Isn't this a pretty pessimistic philosophy on which to base our interactions with our future?

  4. I almost completely agree with this. My niece has become anti social and bullied because of school and I don't think she would've started swearing if it wasn't for school and the students in it. Though I think some rules in school should stay I believe some(a lot) should go.

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