School as Prison

A blueprint for America’s schools of the future?

W.J. Astore

Back in the 1970s, when I was in high school, smart aleck students used to joke about high school as “prison.”  Nowadays, American schools have metal detectors, school police, even armed teachers.  And let’s not forget reinforced doors and lockdown drills–just like real prisons!  And all these guns and security devices and police presence is together touted as “the solution” to school violence.

I thought of this when I read this morning that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where seventeen students were murdered last February, is adding metal detectors to protect students.  (Not that metal detectors would have kept out the former student/shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who murdered all those teenagers in cold blood.)  Perhaps the school is doing this to reassure parents; or to deter copy-cats; or to preempt possible lawsuits in case of future attacks.  Or maybe they really believe that having 3,200 students pass through metal detectors each and every morning is the cost of being “safe.”

One thing is certain: We’re raising our young people with a lockdown mentality.  We’re teaching them the best way to be safe is to submit passively to metal detectors and other forms of security screening.  We’re indoctrinating them with the idea that a guard with a gun is the very best form of security, and that even their teachers, charged with educating them, may be packing heat in the classroom — to keep them safe, naturally.  (These teachers may even be making a few extra bucks after completing gun training.)

Who says American students aren’t learning anything in our schools?  They’re learning every day they pass through a metal detector, or see heavily armed police in school corridors, or their teachers toting firearms.  Every day they have to submit to lockdown drills, they’re learning.

I don’t have a smart aleck observation here.  Just a sad one: that old joke about school as prison isn’t even worth a teenager’s smirk anymore.

8 thoughts on “School as Prison

  1. The students are learning to be safe, they have to submit to authorities who control their lives. Officer Friendly now looks like an army trooper.

    The variables that are cited here in America for violence, like gangs, video games, no prayer in schools, lack of mental heath care, or the police had their hands tied by privacy laws are bogus. The major difference between USA and Western Europe and Japan among other countries is stringent firearms control.

    If you look at violence in America, the one variable never seriously addressed by politicians is the availability of firearms.

    America with it’s willful amnesia has forgotten about Las Vegas or Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School until the next time.


  2. Basically a horrid and self-serving job of threat assessment. If you are asking how to keep out shooters then even this is mostly window dressing with a little bit of stuff which can work, given a circumstance where the shooter’s actions were as predictable as the disaster plans.
    However, if you are asking how to prevent deaths of students then the resources should be going first to safety on the automobile rides to and from school.
    The last is included with the idea of mortal risks. The risk from a school shooter to any individual student in the US is less than the risk of death by lightning strike or even shark bite. Death by car accident is in the range of several thousand times the chance of any student being killed by a school shooter. And don’t forget death by disease or other health condition which fits somewhere in between.
    That is not to say that a “live shooter” is not nasty when and where it occurs nor does it miss the increased chance of a live shooter. Statistics show us where to place resources for the most effect but statistics, by nature, do not get rid of rare but deadly incidents. That is like pretending that someone winning the lottery “beat the odds” when that person’s win is used to figure the odds.
    Beyond the note about statistical chances, acting as though every school needs lockdown is an ugly and depressing environment in which to raise anyone. Constant fear of the rare event while ignoring the common hazard. While no one wants to be unprepared for disaster, this also ignores the problem of puff-chest “heroism” from those pretending to protect us against dangers which rarely happen (they had a lot invested in that image) versus investing resources in those areas which do affect us commonly and which do, statistically, take a much larger toll.


    1. Great point. Safe driving, and especially avoiding alcohol while driving, is vital. So too is sex ed and making contraception available. And how about helping students to avoid concussions and other sports-related injuries? Finally, adequate mental health care. Mental illness sometimes strikes during adolescence.

      And of course combating bullying. We could easily add to this list of “mundane” threats, which should get far more funding than efforts to turn schools into fortresses — or prisons — against active shooters.


      1. “So too is sex ed and making contraception available.” Here in Indiana the land of Pastor Pence abstinence only is allowed to be taught in public schools. The idea of sex education beyond abstinence must conjure up images among our legislators of the Kama Sutra or Hustler Magazine being used as the text books.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. There’s nothing like STDs and unwanted pregnancies among teenagers to make me feel safer.


  3. I too, was in a ‘prison’, on Long Island in a public school that ate up a lot of my hard working Dad’s salary, in house taxes. He was tough, with me & schoolboard, but may have had a point – “They’re there to LEARN, not be entertained!”
    Enter a ‘teacher’ later on a Miss Agnes Ritz. Ex Nun, changed her mind, bleached blonde, obviously family dough she dressed expensively. (We guys loved her cars: Chrysler 300’s & Impala’s – convertible’s!) but she brought order into the classroom! Fun was over! English & Latin her domain. Oh! was she tough!
    But when it was all over, we DID write better!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Philip Astore, we do still keep in touch! And not a meeting goes by, without mentioning….Miss Ritz. After graduation, she was actually a lot of fun! We came from a middle & working class school district in Huntington. Some friends were 1st generation Americans; there’s no doubt she put a ‘polish’ on them, their parents neither understood, or had the time to.


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