Does public school prepare students for Penn State or the State Pen?

05/06/2016 12:48 pm ET

Every morning as I pull up at work, I know that I will have to park my car in the alley (our makeshift parking lot) behind the tall black gate that runs the entire perimeter of the facility (I will talk about the gate later). I can barely get out of my car to get my belongings before I can hear my name being called from inside the gate. “Good morning Mr. Hill!” As I peer through the gate to see who called me, I know in my mind that it is only a matter of seconds before whoever called my name will be upset because I didn’t speak back quickly enough which will set the tone for our interactions the entire shift. Therefore, I yell back, “Good morning!” in a stern voice. As I am passing the gate, there are hundreds of people holding the gate and yelling different obscenities at one another. The physical play is so rough that I can tell that today won’t be a good day. What I’m describing may sound like a prison or a juvenile detention center, but it’s not, it’s a public school.

When I was in high school, I can remember my counselor who was Caucasian in an all African-American school, telling my classmates and me as we were approaching graduation, “You guys should not consider college because college is not for everyone. Consider a trade, because you people are good with your hands.” In real estate, there is an illegal practice called steering, where agents and brokers guide prospective home buyers to or away from certain neighborhoods based on race. In real estate it’s illegal, but in education, it is called guidance, same practice with different names but equivalent results. It was very difficult for African-Americans to get into the trades in the ‘80’s, it was almost easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. Being steered from college left many of us on the streets without direction, which ultimately caused many to relocate to their new addresses Cook County Department Of Correction, 2700 S. California, Chicago Il. 60608. 

Fast forward 25 years later and not much has changed. As an educator, I know that there will be a ton of resistance to this idea, but school is one of the most dangerous places a parent can send their child. Education today is built around a system that is setting inner-city students up to fail. We have lowered the standards to increase the promotion rate, in an attempt to satisfy people sitting in downtown offices making decisions for children they have never met.

Children are given a false sense of success with all of the propaganda that goes on behind the scenes in order for the school district to appear successful. Case in point, when I first started teaching, there were three benchmark grades: third, sixth, and eighth. Promotion was based on two district-wide assessments. One was ISAT, students had to score in the 24th percentile (which was one of the lowest in the country at the time), then there was the DWA (District Writing Assessment) which student had to show proficiency with a score of 15 or better, have a cumulative grade of a “C” in core classes, and finally, students had an attendance requirement. They could not have more than nine unexcused absences.

Writing was the first thing that was cut from the promotion policy as if children didn’t need to learn how to write in order to be successful in life. Next on the list was attendance; a child can miss fifty days and still pass now. One of the reasons is because after the teacher marks a student absent the attendance clerk will go behind them to mark them present. For those of you who don’t understand, it’s a money thing. Schools get paid when students are present.

Pay close attention to keep up with the current promotion criteria. Students in benchmark grades are now promoted in the following manner: if they score in the 24th percentile or higher, they can be promoted with a “D.” If they score between the 11th – 23rd percentiles, they can be promoted with a “C” or higher. Although most states have adopted the “Common Core” and districts are carving out three to four weeks for students to take it, most districts have found a way not to use the data from it.

This might seem like a noble idea until one can see the bigger picture. When kids are pushed through elementary school, they are not successful in high school. This allows frustration to set in, and either they get kicked out, or they drop out. Once they drop out, one of them will come up with a bright idea (remember they were pushed through), which in most cases will be criminal in nature and will land them in prison if they are lucky. If children are pushed through high school, in most cases after graduation, they won’t be able to find adequate employment which will cause them to come up with a bright idea and their outcome is the same as above. It’s all a part of the master plan. They weren’t convicted when they dropped out; they were convicted on the playgrounds of America’s public schools. Below are four reasons why I think public school is the prerequisite for prison.


  1. The Playground Is Where Social Justice Is Redefined

Whenever there are dozens of people in an area gathering in different sections while others are playing and taking part in different activities, inmates and students know that it is the perfect place to establish social justice. You have cliques forming, people making out, and others recruiting to see who’s posse is the strongest. He who has the strongest posse is the “Man/Woman”. When I surveyed students on why everything “goes down” on the playground, they responded, “Because there is less security during recess.” It amazes me how at such a young age their minds can be conditioned to seek out opportunities to force their wills on others. I witnessed good children turn into the status quo in order to survive the concrete jungle. On playgrounds across America, real and makeshift weapons are being recovered every day. I don’t want to call them playgrounds because rarely is there equipment out there to play with. What about the gate I mentioned earlier?  If you think the gate is there to keep people out, try to leave when you want to, and you’ll soon realize that it’s purpose is to keep people in.


  1. Uniforms breed contempt

In prison uniforms are issued to prisoners so that they can be easily identified. One could say that uniforms strip people of their identities, and teaches them at an early age to have a conformist attitude. Uniforms rob students of their sense of self; it causes them to blend in when they were created to stand out. When everyone wears the exact same thing, it makes it more challenging to identify a person when something happens. There should be guidelines on what students wear to school, but placing them in a uniform is preparing them for their future – Sing Sing!


  1. Surveillance

From the moment they walk into the building, students are under constant surveillance.  If they are not walking through a metal detector, they are being wanded and sometimes having their bags thrown on a scanner. Teachers have become more like correctional officers than the educators that we went to school to become. We are called when students are suspected of having a weapon. We have to determine if the utensil in their hand is a writing apparatus or a makeshift weapon. In some cases, it is one and the same. We have been trained to watch children as if they are already criminals. 


  1. Developing an appetite for prison food

Did you know that Aramark supplies prison food? I’ll give you one guess who supplies school lunches. You’ve guessed it, Aramark. I hear my students complain about the lunches every day. I watch them go through the lunch line (this is mandatory even if they don’t eat) get their trays and throw them straight in the trash. According to The New York Times, “Food and nutrition directors at school districts nationwide say that their trash cans are overflowing while their cash register receipts are diminishing as children either toss out the healthier meals or opt to brown-bag it.” Children across the country have started boycotting school lunches.

I once believed that it was about the kids, just as some of you believe that the penal system is one that corrects behavior. If it’s about the kids, why is it that according to CNN Money, every state spends more on inmates each year that they do on students? Prison has become big business and empty cells, equal empty pockets. This is one man’s opinion, not the gospel.

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