Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Blurry boundary but clear difference

Erin's picture

I was surprised when my peers got confused about my pictures of prison and school. Immediately, I realized that the longer I looked at these two postings, the more they looked alike. I was absolutely shocked by such an observation because school and prison really should not be equal in any senses.

Honestly, I have my assumptions and impressions about prison. I believe that prison exists for a reason. No matter how problematic the prison system is becoming, prison primarily serves to be the correction facility for people who made mistakes under justice system. People are sent to prison for something that they did wrong in most cases today.

On the other hand, in most people’s mind including mine, school ought to be a divine place. Ironically, the administrations and certain policies are compromising the purity of this place. However, no one can deny the paramount role that school and education play in any individual’s growth and success. 

How did such two distinctive places get mixed? I will start my conversation from the two pictures: my high school gate which really looks like locked-down place from outside and women prisoners sitting together who look like typical Chinese students are studying. These two pictures together showed two places strangely but interestingly intertwine.

People say it doesn’t take much to go from genius to madness. Then, how far is school to prison? I am afraid that I don’t have a definite answer. But still, every time when I think back about my years in school before and now, I do feel the strengths my schools have given me and eventually help me to get where I am today. Beyond all the similarities we draw between the two, I think that the ingredients which distinct school from prison are tolerance, respect and most importantly horizon.

First of all, school is the best and the only place to make mistakes and then start over.  Here, the second chance is the tolerance I am referring to. Generally, school provides a warm and encouraging environment and the public are more tolerant with the issues concerning school. On the other hand, prisons and offenders are having hard time to reintegrate into society.  As Meiners stated that “mass media consolidates and frames readings of crime and incarceration and advance an epistemology of ignorance” (Meiners, 109), such discriminations towards prison, unfortunately, are quite common in our society.

While it’s extremely hard to break out the path and start new life again after incarceration, school encourage students to explore their potentials and try again or something else if they fail.  I still remember how wonderful it felt when I was encouraged to take “risks” and not to worry about the consequences. I am always grateful about the privileges to have met so many inspiring mentors who guide me to break through the boundaries that I set for myself along the way during school years. Some people might criticize school to be a bubble that isolates students inside from the outside real world. I, however, think school as a safe net that protects me if I ever fall attempting to get out of my comfort zones. It also has been my sources of courage and given opportunities to discover myself.

I have to admit that the comparison between the re-integration into society after incarceration and another attempt when someone fails in school might seem very uneven and exaggerated.  Nevertheless, school is very tolerant in the senses of environment it provids

Secondly, school provides the very first setting for everyone to learn the social rules through interactions and respects for oneself and others. No matter how “our schools’ physical structure resembles prison but also the tentacle in policies, practices and informal knowledge that support, naturalize and extend relationships between incarceration and schools.’ (Meiners, 4), school and prison are very different essentially. Even though the existence of “school-based practice” in some incarceration impacts the “population who are considered extraneous, dangerous or incapable” (Meiners, 55) and confused people the dividing line between the two, the principles to establish these two facilities determine that the future paths of the two will diverge.

 The atmospheres in two places will be different. The rules and regulations in prison are to limit, to regulate and to keep everything in order and after all to rehabilitate. Individual interests are ignored and privacy was not respected. On contrary, in my opinion, the uniform management of daily routines in school is a way to create an optimal space for everyone to get to the most of this part of school, learning to be a social person. The rules and regulations in the school not only teach one to obey but also to respect others. In the past 14 years at school, I gradually learn to how to interact with different people and respect uniqueness of every individual. Rigorous academic competitions and various extracurricular activities lead me to build self-esteem and develop high expectation. The unique social environment school provides enables me to develop inter-person skills and learn to respect others.

In the end, school allows people to start from scratch and dream high.  For most people, school is the place where the dreams were inspired. The fundamental causes why many girls lost their directions and were stuck in the school-to-prison pipeline are complicated. Nevertheless, many of them didn’t have the access to figure out other options in their lives. In reality, there are indeed clear discrepancies on access to information about opportunities across schools and regions.  Hopefully, with the rapid development of technology, such information gap and delay will be narrowed.

When those black girls thought that they were on the road to good characters and realized they actually chose another dead end. (Winn, 110), they were reluctant, or just not able to see other routes in life. In this sense, the purpose of education in school goes beyond purely the knowledge more about the vision to see and courage to dream about future. Personally, I would never have imaged myself sitting in another continent and taking some courses which have nothing to do with math science five years ago. I think those new opportunities and experiences   as beautiful surprises in life. For me, experience in school has been about expanding my horizons to see what’s out there and what I am capable of. Despite constant frustrations about difference between dream and reality, school has provided me with the amazing platform to see even further every day.

Although the argument I develop above is far from thorough or comprehensive, I still finally decide to make my paper this way to bring some positive energy in the air. Hopefully, my reasoning did illuminate on the positive perspectives about education system and resonate with good memories about schools. Undeniably, the education system hasn’t done it best to help all the students in need and its flaws are causing many students go to the opposite side of success. However, with awareness of the potential problems and tolerance, respect and horizon which school has always carried, someday we will figure out a way to make out society a better one. Every progress or adjustment takes time and trials to accomplish. We will have to wait and see.


Meiners, Erica: Right to be Hostile, School, Prisons, and the Making of public enemies. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print

Winn, Maisha: Girl Time: Literacy, Justice and the School-to –prison Pipeline. New York: Teachers College, 2011. Print




Uninhibited's picture

Erin, I think that this is a


I think that this is a wonderful account of how school has made a positive impact in your life. I think that as we speak about the school-to-prison pipeline, it's important for us to remember the ways in which school can be a place of positivity, dreams, and achievement. I had a very positive schooling experience, even though I grew up in a poor urban neighborhood. I had teachers that encouraged me and believed in potential. Many that went out of their way to guide me on the road to success. I still keep in contact with my teachers and even the principal of the school. He even called me in DR when I had to fly over after graduation for a family emergency. I do agree that there are many gaps that schools have to close and many ways in which the institution of schooling can be improved. I thank you for reminding us that school can be a place of hope. I wonder how/where these pockets of hope exist within prison walls. I'm sure that they have to in order for people to bear it. I think that we hear about some of them in Howard Zer's book and even in Barb's research.