School and Prison – What’s the Difference?

Schools are supposed to prepare children for their futures. The mantra that many of our parents lived by was ‘go to school → attend college → get a good job → Success’. I learned that for the upcoming generation this is no longer the case. With so many opposing forces that threaten to push students off track to higher education, many students no longer see the purpose of education.

I learned that these opposing forces come in the shape of school policies that aim to push racialized students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system. In CBC’s article “Almost half of TDSB students expelled over last 5 years are black, report says” it states that of the 307 students that were expelled in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) “more than 300 expelled students were males in secondary schools. Of those, 48 per cent self-identified as black, compared to 10 per cent who are white.” It makes sense that when students are ostracized within schools based on systemic factors such as poverty and race that they no longer see value in learning.

Image result for panopticon
via Google


In order for this type of punishment to be taking place, students must be under constant surveillance. This is true when you take into account the type of schooling that North American ideas have created, and how likely schooling is comparable to the panopticon. In Michael Gallagher’s article “Are Schools Panoptic?” he summarizes the panopticon idea as “a ring of cells encircling a watch-tower, from within which a single supervisor is able to see inside each cell.” This was created in the late eighteenth century by Jeremy Bentham as a new way to build prisons. This is often compared to schools because the similarities are uncanny. Students are herded into classrooms based on age, academic level, and other criteria. Teachers supervise students, dictating acceptable and and not acceptable behaviours with a severity of consequence. No matter where the students move within the school they are under constant surveillance, and that promise is what keeps them in line.

In my time in the education system I too witnessed the effects of school policies that pushed students out of the classroom. The presence of a resource officer was a constant in my school and played a large role in supervision and served as a threat for some students. I also witnessed many classmates face suspension and expulsion. These students would brag about the time off, not recognizing how damaging the system was.

My question throughout this week was about realistic alternatives. To end the panopticon like schooling I assume that an obvious answer would  be to decrease control and punishment, how are parents and students assured the safety and stability of a school? What would that look like?


Author: Hayley Hodson

I have known I wanted to be a teacher my entire life. I never had a doubt in my mind of what I wanted to be in this world. Even though I was certain of the end goal, I never stopped to wonder what the journey to get to that point would look like. This blog is it. This blog is the messy middle where I transition from student to teacher. Every thought and belief I have and learn throughout my education is posted to this blog in order to document my journey in becoming a teacher. I invite you all to join me as I strive to become more than just a teacher, but also a kind and inclusive citizen.

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