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Voice Paper #2

Chandrea's picture

What continually catches my eye is the picture that Jo posted of meals provided by schools and jails. We briefly talked about it in class but I thought we could have discussed it some more. I think I have always had this defeatist attitude towards public school lunches. I was on free/reduced lunch so I didn’t think I had any right to complain – at least I was being fed. I remember being so hungry after three or four hours of class and rushing down to the cafeteria. But what was I rushing for? The only food items sitting on my tray were poor excuses for school lunch. Because of these unsavory experiences I had in school, I’d like to further explore how tightly scheduled activities that are more commonly overlooked, such as mealtimes, serves as a way to oppress people both in schools and jails.

After making the observation about the sluggish feeling I would get after eating school lunch, I finally made the connection about the eerie similarities between the mediocre meals that were served in our public schools as well as our prisons. One of our classmates also made a point about how lunch lines were way too long and time consuming. By the time you sat down, you wouldn’t even have had enough time to eat! But lunch isn’t just a time to eat – it’s also a time to take a mental break, have a quick conversation with friends, and re-energize. Although schools are mainly academic environments, it shouldn’t mean it has to be that way every minute of every day. Six hours of school means six hours of non-stop academic conversations. But the word “conversations” may imply that there is some sort of exchange or two-way dialogue. This doesn’t always occur in classrooms. Teachers could be teaching their students by using oppressive pedagogical methods that embody the principles of banking education. Banking education is repression and ignorance projected onto students. So what are schools for and what is the rationale behind its oftentimes inflexible scheduling?

If schools are meant to provide a comprehensive education to prepare students for the real world, why aren’t they providing stronger support to their students? I’m not specifically looking to address the academic support offered in schools, but rather alternative forms of support that we wouldn’t necessarily think of right away such as allocated time to rest, refuel, and recharge so that students can put their best foot forward when they are doing their work. School days seemingly get longer, lunchtime feels like it’s been scaled back, and recess becomes a luxury.

What if schools’ intentions are to push kids out into this “optionless” reality? (Tratner 82). If a student just couldn’t handle the rigid scheduling of the school day, he may skip classes. Skipping classes could lead to suspension. Zero tolerance shapes movement of people of color to prisons (Meiners 30). I can understand how students could feel wronged for not being allowed enough time to eat or not having a decent meal. Why are we punishing students with unhealthy choices for lunch? In Tratner’s thesis, Fred argues that “schools in his community… do not have adequate resources” and that kids “internalize their position in society based on their treatment in school and accept their fate (83). We haven’t even considered the socioeconomic statuses of some of the students in the public school system. If students eat two of their three meals in school, shouldn’t we be making a better effort of feeding the students healthier meals to ensure that they are better prepared in the classrooms? Funding for the improvement of school lunches could be considered an inadequate resource. Where is this money going? By serving students low quality food, we are sending the message that we think they’re undeserving and unworthy.

Prisoners also have unyielding schedules that they must abide by. What’s interesting is figuring out what the purpose of having prisons is. Is the goal to keep them in or “fix” them and hope that when and if they get out into the real world, they’ll be able to function as contributive members to society? When we visited Eastern State Penitentiary, our guide told us that prisoners were in their cells for 23 hours of the day and had one hour to go outside. And Barb told us about how one of the prisons that she worked in experienced frequent lockdowns. The prisoners’ last meals would often be around 3:00pm and if the prison was on lockdown, the prisoners would not be able to access the prison commissary to pick up necessities, such as snacks.

I think one of the reasons why school meals and schedules are so strangely similar to those of the prisons is because the two walled institutions have similar populations. As Erin’s prison/schools image demonstrates, the two populations are just seen as the general masses that need to be controlled. At some point, many of our classmates couldn’t make the distinction between students and prisoners. The similarities don’t end at being served unpleasant meals – some schools require that their students wear uniforms, carry passes when they travel from one place to another, and be subjected to security scanners just like their prisoner counterparts (Meiners 143).

Looking specifically at the similarities between mealtime options and more broadly at the structures of scheduling at schools and prisons can help us further explore what this means in terms of the treatment of students and prisoners. It takes a closer look at how both groups of people are being controlled. As Meiners states, “Children are not born enemies. Enemies are shaped by and through institutions” (140). Early on, students are being treated like prisoners. It’s no wonder a school to prison pipeline exists.