Marieve Elkins

Marieve Elkins

When I was deciding what I wanted my first piece in The Daily Beacon to be, I pondered many different topics within the criminal justice system; but every time I kept thinking about where it all begins or the roots.

The United States schooling system has an uncanny resemblance to our prison systems. When I think about my time in the public school system, I constantly see reminders of how our schools are a replica of jails and prisons. It is more than just the plain concrete walls and locked or barred-up windows.

When children are placed into classrooms from the time they are five, they are being accustomed to an authoritarian structure similar to that of prisons. This means that there is no democracy, and there is an obvious leader or central power. Children are put into classrooms where they are to sit and listen to the leader – a.k.a. the teacher. The teacher is up front standing while children are sitting behind the teacher.

I have had teachers here at the University of Tennessee point this out. You walk into a classroom as a student and automatically go sit a chair; you do not question the authority because it is what you have been shown your whole life.

Children are also expected to sit quietly and do as they are told, and there are consequences if they do not oblige. The consequences are also negative reinforcements; like in prison, they are given a form of silence punishment. In prison it is solitary confinement and in schools it is detention. Do you see the similarities? Both are forms of silent punishment in which the person is exiled from their fellow peers.

One thing most kids look forward to in school is lunch and recess. They are set times which they go to everyday. This is maybe the most similar to prisons, as they have a schedule for free time outside. The only difference is students call it recess and are given jungle gyms, and inmates are given weights and basketballs.

There are many more insane similarities between the two.

Small but important ones are the dress codes that both enforce. Yes, prisons are stricter, but codes are still there in schools. Some schools have simple rules you have to follow in dressing, but others have uniforms. I understand that this is supposed to make schooling easier since no one will be judging by what you wear. But making these kids wear the same thing takes away their only form of expression in schools.

Do you remember having to walk in a perfect line during school? This is a crazy commonality between our schools and prison systems. This is enforced in both, and there are harsh punishments for people when they step out of line, literally and figuratively.

Is this how things have to be? I don’t think so. Children should be given the opportunities to grow and flourish in schools, not simply be taught to be submissive. Students should be given the opportunity to learn and try new things while being able to express themselves. Schooling systems are making mini prisoners out of the children of the United States.

Marieve Elkins is a senior majoring in sociology with a criminal concentration. She can be reached at

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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