The Metaphor of School - Part II

01/03/17, 9:20 PM

The Metaphor of School – Part II


We all know and understand the metaphor of school as factory.  But there is a much less seemly, much less desirable metaphor that I am compelled to explore a bit, both given its longstanding use and the current ways schools are often treated in and by society.


We all went to school. We all know school.  We all know that there can be good days, great days – when the metaphor of school was close to school as heaven.


On the other hand, we have all been to school on the not-so-good days when the metaphor of school became “school as prison.”  We have all been guilty of feeling and often saying that the school felt like a prison.

No one wants to think or consider that “school as prison” has much credibility, and I reject that metaphor.


Yet, it may be worth noting that school as prison has some longstanding metaphorical implications, and I’m compelled at least to explore them, and then reject them.


As a general rule, schools today are not welcoming.  They can’t afford to be when security is so important.  Elsewhere in other posts, I’ve written that children have become the new targets in far too many mass shootings, and that schools provide an all too convenient location for active shooters – actives shooters who have no motivation but their own self-willed need to cause hurt and pain.


And this does have an impact on schools.  Instead of open doors, we have locked doors.  Instead of open fields we have chain link fences.  Instead of open pathways, we have security cameras.  We often have security guards at front entrances.  When in California, we had highly trained 24-7 security guards and a single entrance which required stickered permissions to enter.  On the bright side, the guards were highly trained – so well trained that they could welcome people to school and know their reason for being there before the guest stepped out of the car.  But, they were security guards nonetheless.

And I would add, they were important to the school and to me.  During my work in California, I do not think I was ever called “Warden Fuller,” and that’s because the security team were a part of the school culture.  So very often I would stand with them to greet students in the morning or say goodbye in the afternoon.  Representatives from the security team attended weekly operations and planning meetings.  They were always invited to attend faculty meetings.  The work of security was important and they are important people.


What must it be like for a child to look out of the classroom window to see chain link fence, guards patrolling, knowing that they are watched every minute of every day.  What must it be like for teachers to have to wear and display identity badges with codes to gain entrance, to pass a security checkpoint every day?  Doesn’t that sound like “school as prison?”


And, there’s a bit more.  Prisons imply control, strict control.  I’ve been in lots of institutions (schools) where I’ve heard the unhappy teacher rattle off a far too familiar refrain, “The inmates are in charge of the institution.”   That comment, whether said in jest or not creates a prison like culture.  That comment admits the school is a prison, that students are the prisoners, and that control has been lost.  Of all the comments I hear, that one makes me the most concerned.  And perhaps because it can contain seeds of truth about the metaphor of schools.


Schools can never be prisons – it’s not what we want.  We do want secure and safe facilities for students to learn and grow.

But it’s the parallels that are disturbing.


Schools are not factories. Schools can never be prisons.


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