31 May 2011

"I'm proposing to make my school a prison"

A only-slightly-tongue-in-cheek suggestion by Nathan Bootz, superintendent of public schools in Ithaca, Michigan.
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?!
His full, open letter to the governor of Michigan is here.  Via Daily Kos.


  1. By framing the issue in terms of "Prisoners have it better than the children" all he will do is give an excuse to worsen conditions for inmates. Better to frame it in terms of "If we fund education properly, we won't need as many prisons"

  2. Seems like a ridiculous argument to me as the role of prison is to restrict people's freedom and isolate them from the remainder of society while hopefully providing rehabilitation, that sure isn't the role of schools.

    The youth who are being educated in school are supposed to acquire those other needs and services from by the actions of parents (who can also aid in education and hopefully keep their kids out of prison).

    School gets kids for 6 or so hours a day. Which means they already cost the same funds in services as prisoners do but only for the hours they are in school.

  3. @jaundicedi and @JDJarvis, you both make good points, but unfortunately, logic has nothing to do with it.

  4. logic? who needs logic? Then we'd be asking for evidence that increased per-student spending actually increases the quality of education.

    Instead, time and time again it is shown parents have the greater influence on a child's grades and educational results. The question educators should be asking is: how can we get parents more involved in the teaching of their children? not "how can we get more money from the parents?"

    (btw: all good comments above)

  5. Ideally the role of the school is to ensure children do not end up in jail and are afforded the opportunities that allow them to succeed outside of school.

    In reality, in a poor rural or urban school district, nothing can be farther from the truth. Children come to school starving because they have not had food since their meager lunch from the day before. Students come to kindergarten ill prepared because the TV is their mother, babysitter and educator and from then on it is a constant round of catch up. Fifth graders read below grade level in the majority of cases. How are you supposed to pass a 5th grade end of grade test when you cannot read on the level of the test?

    The political will to protect and strengthen public education does not exist. It has become cool to slag on teachers and education, when it is in fact no one group's fault, but a failure of the collective whole. It is important to not reminisce about the good old days of when you were in school, because they are gone in most districts. Instead, think about what you want your children or grandchildren to have in schools and work towards it. It's also important to not to always compare private school students or those in rich suburbs, because the home lives are completely different.

    Education needs to come in all levels beginning with pre and post natal care. If parents are taught how to care for their child students will not come to school so far behind.

    I see this everyday as a teacher in an exceptionally poor, rural school district. Unfortunately there is no easy answer to the problem of public education in America, but it certainly begins with people like the mayor writing letters that make people think and talk about the problem.

  6. You forgot about the anal rape stuff.

  7. Back in 96 or so, the supreme court ruled that students are not entitled to the rights of US citizens (regarding at least two of the constitutional amendments, I believe). Being a suburb of Hollywood, we would have 'class' outside with no access to our lockers while filming was taking place. Our books were over 20 years old... Most of the good teachers (the ones trying to make a difference) were young and were the first to get culled while the dinosaurs worked the system. School was a joke.

  8. A few years ago Governor Patrick gave the commencement speech at UMass Boston. This was the line that I was reminded of by this post: Achievement gaps for poor and minority kids persist, and half of all kids in some of our public high schools drop out before they graduate. And they then become the 75% of prison inmates and 69% of jail inmates in this country.

    If you're interested in the speech it's here and (I think) worth the read.


  9. His point is fine, but he is playing with statistics a bit. The 2009 Annual Report from the Michigan Department of Corrections (the most recent report available on their website) lists 46,000 prison inmates. I'm willing to bet there are way more than 46,000 children in Michigan public schools.

  10. This is an excellent example of why our system is totally twisted

  11. I spent 25 of my 38 years teaching in schools with high poverty so I understand your frustration in wanting to provide children with high quality learning. The schools where I worked provided two meals/day and many of the teachers kept extra healthy snacks around for the students who stayed after for help. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is understood by 99% of the educators who choose to work in these schools. (Hungry, sleep deprived children, who don't feel accepted aren't going to learn academic subjects.)
    While a basic amount of funding is necessary for safe buildings, curriculum resources that match the standards children are expected to learn, professionals who have the training to understand and respond to learning needs with a wide variety of teaching strategies, at some point more money doesn't solve the problem. A case in point - D.C. public schools had the largest per student budget for years as well as one of the highest failure and drop out rates. How school districts allocate money is more significant - new textbooks may not be the best budget answer for subjects like science that constantly are impacted by new research and discoveries. Internet access and net books or I Pads would be a better investment. A weight room won't guarantee a good work out any more than making sure kids walk, run, and do exercises with their teachers. All that takes is time and you can even add educational soundtracks to the exercise time as "kinesthetic review".
    Money can help close the gap in the short run if spent wisely and combined with the right mission and vision but it will never do the job on its own.

  12. hi , I'm from Algeria , and I was really touched by your words , believe it or not we have the same
    thing going on in Algeria ,we share the same suffer,it's sad and it's really hurts , I'd love to have your permission to translate this message to the Arabic language and publish it in blog , forums , facebook groups and twitter accounts
    abdelhafid cherair

  13. Let's cut the purposely failed public school thing out altogether, people with money will always afford their children a proper education and we can then send all the remaining riff raff directly to the military or private, for profit prisons providing jobs and enriching our tax base! It's a win, win, win!!!

    They can start multi-billion dollar wars on any pretense they want- don't ya think they could make our public school system better if it really was a priority? And doesn't purposely dumming down our population better serve the selling of those lies?


  14. abdelhafid, you may certainly quote the text I posted, but please understand the words are not "mine" -they were written by Mr. Nathan Bootz, and I was just quoting him. You can read more about him at the link.


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