Kathleen Nolan, Schools-Prisons

August 5, 2011 § 16 Comments

Q&A with Nolan about disciplinary policies and a thought from John Protevi on the matter.


§ 16 Responses to Kathleen Nolan, Schools-Prisons

  • Alex Mandel says:

    I think Kathleen makes some good points however I do seem some fallicies in her argument. First thing I noticed was false dichotomy in talking about the shiny new youth prison next store. She was presenting her argument as if the spending on education have been decreased in order to spend more and invest more on youth prisons. That seems like a weak argument using the premise she provided. I agree with John Protevi’s point at the end of his comment. Kathleen is trying to make a connection between the social institution of the educational system and the social institution of the prison system and how the two are intertwined and that’s where she juxastposes the two. I disagree with her basic premise and agree with John Protevi. Who is saying that discipling one segment of the population via the social institution of the educational system is a separate issue than segmenting and removing the power of the same segment of the population even if the route used to do so are similar. The second thing I noticed is she is complex questions through out her argument to make her points. For example when she is describing the conditions of her south bronx school and than introduces the new initiatives set out by the state. She comments how it’s ridiculous that the state spend money and ask teachers to institute these new initiatives. How can one argue with that after she has described the schools physical conditions. Finally she surpresses evidence throughout the question and answer. For example when she comments on the rising suspension and incarceration rates of the 1990. She doesn’t include things like a huge spike in overall incarciration rates in the US in the time period from 1980s-2006s. She also doesn’t talk about the dramatic decline in crime from the spike in the early 1990s to an all time low in 2005.

    Personally I’m indecisive on the issue. I’m not really sure how I feel but I don’t really buy everything she is claiming here. I think there is much more to our educational systems failings that her arguments.

  • Cheng-Hua Wang says:

    Nolan makes some good points, but I feel that she’s leaving some factors out. I think kids in the racially segregated schools just don’t care about school. They have other things on their plate like obtaining food and shelter while avoiding getting stepped on. I feel that zero tolerance just makes school a bit less bearable for students. Kids act out and get punished more severely now, rather than punishment, is there no positive reinforcement available? I feel that since kids in bad neighborhoods tend to have a hard time just living, making things better for those who behave better would make more sense and yield better results than more severe punishments that just adds more of the same unpleasantness. I think kids need both immediate and long term justification for doing good, not more reasons to avoid doing bad. I feel that schools are designed to be like prisons. Classrooms in my high school were mostly windowless and the few that had windows were just slits. I feel that there are reasons behind this such as security and maintaining student attention and these are legitimate reasons for designing schools like that. After reading this article, I feel that schools are for the most part fine, but zero tolerance needs to go. Kids are not the smartest decision makers. Growing up is all about learning by doing and making mistakes. I feel that zero tolerance is just something politicians supported because it got them votes, not because it is good for kids.

  • Mai Quynh Ta says:

    I think Nolan really cares for high school student and the problematic punitive discipline in the education system. She made some good points but I feel that her arguments sometimes are one-sided.

    First of all, she said her school is an extreme example of the punitive discipline policy. From that, she claimed that: “how we got to a point where we, as a society, were more willing to invest in policing and jailing poor youth than we were to invest in their education.” By taking the extreme example, one issue came up is that would her research apply to the whole education system? And how does she know that the whole society invest in it or support it?

    Second, on the last question, when the interviewer asked what the first step to make schools better. Nolan mentioned that “vast majority of urban students struggling in low-performing public schools—those most affected by punitive discipline—want desperately to have meaningful classroom experiences”. Why does the urban students matter here when who benefits the end of the “school to prison pipeline” should be all the high school students disregard of race, age and social class. By saying that, she somehow makes me thing the her ultimate intention in doing this research is to benefit the rich, urban students.

  • Tinamarie Rintye says:

    Nolan makes a relevant point that many of the zero-tolerance policies do not work with discipline it most schools, but I feel since her study was only done in the most extreme cases it a bit bias. And then to say charter schools are not working was untrue statement. New York City has great success with them in neighbors such as Harlem because everyone is involved with those schools from parents to principals. Which contradict her claim that democratic environment would help solve the issue, well that what charters are, they involve everyone in the community. I agree completely that failing schools need the community there in to help take responsibly for the failure of the education system; Nolan was on par with that point. It something I always said you have to take responsible for yourself. Schools in areas of great hardships need to go to the community and say we may not have great deal of funding, but with that funding and time you can volunteer we can make a difference in a child life. It been done in New York city, New Orleans and even the Philadelphia area. Bigger picture to get out of this article is that educations is failing children in areas of great hardship, and something needs to be done about it. For zero tolerance and politically popular reforms are not working and leading young adults to possibility of prisons. Nolan solution is make an environment that democratic and involves the community because young people understand that education is important and needed to be successful.

  • davidhanaway says:

    I believe that Kathleen’s point on the fact that the zero tolerance policy is affecting students negatively is totally correct. The fact that when a student does something wrong the school can get the police involved really outraged me. I went to a private school and there were zero to any problems so I can’t really fathom the fact that police were being deployed at high schools. I feel as if its just the cheap or easy way out instead of actually treating kids as individuals and not having police deal with their actions. If a kid does something wrong I typically feel as if there are problems at home or something else that is bothering them. So why not create an environment where you can actually work with the children and figure out their problems. I feel this in turn will deter them from doing the same bad actions in the future. Maybe one way would be having a counselor to work with them and give them advice. Rather than calling the police and getting them in trouble with the law.

    On another point, I feel as if the recent debt ceiling being lowered will really affect schools and students educations. I fear that the technology and any other resources a typical student needs will decrease and limit students ability to learn. Also, I believe that a lot of the after school programs are going to be cut and then will lead to students creating more problems in school. A lot of students really look forward to school sports or clubs after the school day, and if they don’t have that the look forward to they will respond badly. Another point is that I feel as if students behave well in school to be eligible to participate in sports/clubs after school. I really hope that the change in the debt ceiling doesn’t affect students this way but I fear that its inevitable.

  • prj32 says:

    I think some of the author’s points are valid but others are extremely biased. The fact that her studies only involved extreme cases of segregation and zero-tolerance policies in schools, only shows part of the story. However, if we focus on her side of the story, I concur with many of her arguments and conclusions. For instance, she states that there is a correlation between the enforcement of these policies, increasing suspension rates, and juvenile incarceration, which proves that there is an existing problem that most be resolved.

    I think her biggest problem is the fact that this policies are creating a very harsh environment for the students, which could be deterrent to their academic performance and behavior. I do believe that schools should provide a welcoming environment and that school representatives should stay away from prison-like policies, else chances are students will start to fear and hate their schools.

    In addition, I think that in order to solve this problem school authorities should reach out to the center of the problem. It is important to note that may of these students come from very troubled houses, and all these issues are very likely to affect their performance in school. Thus, I agree with Nolan in that schools must come up with a plan of action that helps students tackle these problems and receive support from their educators. Educator should create a peaceful environment were students feel safe and cared-for, and as the author mentioned “restore the moral authority of the educators.”

  • Kathy Wu says:

    Without reading the book, it is difficult to determine the credibility of Nolan and many of her arguments are based on her own research. With that said, I do agree with her thoughts on education.

    Students are treated like criminals, so they act like criminals and later become criminals. In some cases, the high security and police officers are needed. There are many schools where students endanger the safety of their peers. Nolan suggests, “… reforms that helps create schools that are democratic and respectful spaces where parents are invited into the community and students find welcoming classrooms.” I believe a major issue is that most parents, especially those of low income, either don’t care or don’t have the time to monitor their children.

    A problem that we face in all schools (not just the urban school systems) is the quality of teaching. An article in Good Magazine discusses how low wages are driving good teachers away from the classroom. Also school systems focus heavily on standardized tests and not on whether or not a student is actually learning.

  • Lan Nguyen says:

    After reading, I’m not sure what exactly Nolan argues for: incidents in the most marginalized areas or the way the zero-tolerance is carried out differently due to discrimination or maybe both. But I think she needs to make herself clearer.
    I’m sure that Nolan is fighting for a better education infrastructure for those in segregated urban schools since they do not receive enough attention from government, media and society. Things like zero-tolerance policies are going on there too common to be published on media.
    But at some points, her argument is confusing. When she is talking about the broken windows of her classroom, it is a weak analogy “school is prison”. Just because the school with broken windows vs, the white and shiny building is merely about the appearance, it couldn’t say anything related to the policies instituted inside the school punishment system. By saying it looks like a prison, it functions like a prison is a false cause fallacy.

  • lauracava says:

    There needs to be disciplinary facilities in underdeveloped areas where crime is high. Students need to know that there are consequences when they decide to act out in such extreme ways. To only give a detention or even suspension is pretty much letting the kids “off the hook”. Most kids would find getting a suspension as looking “cool” to their peers and even enjoy not having to go to school for a couple days. Teaching children right from wrong starts outside of school. Living a stable life at home and having supportive parents is a large part of a childs life and without that they can fall down the wrong path. Imagine a fight breaking out in school where students are pulling out weapons. How is someone to expect a teacher to stop the children without getting themselves hurt. Police are necessary in schools not only in lower income areas, but also in nice to do areas. I do believe that there may be discrimination in schools, but to take away police officers would lead the kids to believe they can do whatever they want. Kids need to know that acting in such a way will get you into serious trouble. Having youth prisons are a good idea to not only show the children the consequences of acting poorly, but also to try and help them better their lives. Teaching them what happens when you break the law may make them realize that it would only be worse getting sentenced to a real prison. Having programs in the youth prison is a good idea to help them try and better themselves and influence them to try and make a better life for themselves. These programs could reward them for their good behavior and show them that they don’t have to live that lifestyle forever. The kids need peers that are going to challenge them to get better grades and role models to guide them in the right direction.

  • When I read this article I was in some disbelief because I went to a to a brand new public school and I was the second class to graduate from there. I had the luxury of having new books, new desks, and even smart boards( though we never used them). It is very difficult to have an unbiased opinion because what I am thinking is to just demolish the one school and just build a brand new one. I know that there is no possibility of that happening because there is no money to do that but from the conditions that were described in the article the windows that do not open and the desks that are 30 years old just make me think of a really beaten down school that is holding on by a thread. When you think of a school the last thing you want to think of is a prison, even though there are times when you want to break out of school. School should be a place that welcomes you, a place that you are able to spend 8 hours at without worrying about your safety.

  • Anqi Li says:

    When I saw the title of Nolan’s book, it reminded me of my student life in my home country. It were “poorly performing” and “highly controlled”, just like what was mentioned in the book, and for us, at least for many of my classmates, the school was just equal to a prison.

    However, after reading, I have a whole new view of what Nolan claims in the book. She provided a strong comparison of her teaching environment in school and the youth prison, these impressed me a lot, and made me began to realize her idea—-“….we need reforms that helps create schools that are democratic and respectful spaces where parents are invited into the community and students find welcoming classrooms” , Nolan said, at the very end.

    It’s no doubt that Nolan is fighting for a better study environment for those students who just like her students. Due to her “zero tolerance” policy, that kind of students are now suffering their unfair school lives and they need somebody to change it. In the reading, Nolan said many organizations start to do relatively research and other activities in order to help this group of students.

    Have a whole view of the article, I got confused at the same point as Lan’s opinion. Although Nolan made a good comparison of the school and youth prison, it is easy for readers to confuse about the word “prison”. This word seems have double meaning in the article. On one hand, Nolan provides bad school vs. brightly youth prison, which sounds like prison is a place that much more better than the school, but on the other hand, Nolan use the prison as other meaning. Therefore, the usage of this word (in the article) may be a fallacy, at some point.

  • Steve Ford says:

    Kathleen brings up an interesting point about how the government needs to be addressing the real issues that schools have in poor areas. I like that Ms. Nolan saw firsthand how ineffective this zero tolerance policy was. There is no excuse why some schools in America have desks that are 30 years old. Also books especially need to be up to date with how fast technology is developing. I think that students need to be as up to date with the latest technology, so they can keep up with this fast paced world. I think the government needs to target the poorest school and give them whatever they need to bring their establishment back up to standards. This topic needs to get more attention because all kids deserve the opportunity to get a good education. The current policy seems to work with areas that aren’t poor. It is time for the government to change up their approach when dealing with poor areas.

  • I am fairly familiar on the subject and as a former tutor at west Philadelphia high school, aka a new renaissance school, I feel as though I am familiar on the subject. The problem is the teacher unions…period. and frankly, I really have no problem with unions. however, we pay some of the highest rates for school with honestly the least results in all of the western, industrialized nationa. I will try to move beyond thte politics though.

    I feel as though the greatest problem I the mentality. We are trying to communicate education: not punishment. It all comes down to simple parenting/education 101: carrots honestly tend to work better than sticks, because with sticks, they simply try to avoid being caught for the bad action, not correct it. This is a simple learning lesson which should apply board wide.

    – Cliff

  • annaychin says:

    Ultimately, I agree with Nolan, that when students are academically engaged, there are usually less disciplinary problems. As a psychology major, I have read similar studies like Nolan’s examining the effectiveness and effects of “zero-tolerance” policies and there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that show it’s not very effective. In fact, it can foster some criminal activities like bullying and fighting in school, and cause resentment within the bullied since they receive the same punishment. Yet, despite the research that gets shown, there is little reformation of the country’s school systems and it is the children who suffer most. They may want to go to school, but because schools don’t receive money unless they perform well, they don’t have resources to engage students. I don’t know if I agree that all students understand the importance of an education, or want to really “turn their school around,” but I do have to agree that most students will want to go to school if only to socialize. Even then, I’ve experienced students going to school to socialize and skipping classes in between breaks just so they don’t have to listen to their teacher lecture. I think a lot of teachers feel frustrated with it comes to the school system, because they really don’t have a way to fix it. It’s a cyclical problem with no real solution. In a way, schools are like prisons.

  • sm939 says:

    When Kathleen Nolan talks about the reason kids want to go to school I got a little confused. At first she says that the kids want to go to school for their friends but then she goes on to say that she thinks kids are really going because they understand the need for education. I disagree with her second statement and I think she was correct in thinking kids are just going to school for friends. Now I’m not ruling out every kid since there are some that truly understand the importance of education, but how many kids would pick the education part of school over the social aspect?

    Another thing Nolan says that I disagree with is when she talks about reforming schools and communities. She says we can’t continue to make minor changes to try and reform communities we need to start making drastic changes as a nation. Now while I agree that if we could get the whole nation to change that would be great I disagree with her opinion that making small changes is not what we need to do. I believe that’s where big changes start; something minor happening little by little. Every little thing that a community or school does can only help.

  • From an economic point of view it makes no sense to punish students by incarceration where a few hours in detention could have sufficed. I believe this was one of the points Kathleen Nolan was hinting at in her responses to the question. In economics there is a concept known as opportunity cost, which is basically what you would be doing with your time if you were not doing what you were doing right now. By adopting the zero tolerance policy it not only costs the country money to fund the penal system but also the lost talent that is sent to prison, many of which begin to spend more and more time in prisons. Secondly it is note worthy that a lot of the zero tolerance is practiced more fervently in segregated schools and high schools for lower income family. They for one represent the part of the population that cannot really make a case for themselves due to their situation and sometimes lack of education. I also agree that the zero tolerance policy does nothing to encourage learning and instead creates resentment for the system by the students. They recognize that they are being undervalued, the see the publication dates on their textbooks, they know what technology is and that the computers available to them are outdated. Instead of spending the money on improvements for them, the system is more focused on punishing them like they were criminals, employing policemen to patrol their hallways, metal detectors to police what they bring into school. These images are similar to a prison and the students to criminals, no wonder they slowly descend into the lifestyle of criminals.
    Nolan presents some solutions but at this time many of her solutions will be difficult to enact given the financial state of the country. And even if there was money I am not to confident in the success rate of her policies.

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