Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

In our 22 months of full time rving we have passed thousands of schools.  We’ve also passed hundreds of jails, and I’m always struck by how similar they look.

Have you noticed this too?

jails and schoolsBland concrete walls, small windows, tall chain link fences.

Both institutions reek of, well… Institution!

The only main difference I can see, is that aside from the special security measures to ‘keep kids safe’ the bars at a school are invisible… but they are just as real as the bars that keep prisoners in line…

The bars at the majority of schools in our nation are placed on the students’ minds and potential… but they have they same effect that is… to keep the inmates students in line.

Despite the obvious shortcomings of the current public education system in the US, I was still overwrought with fear to extract my children from its clutches and become their primary educator.

I was terrified that I would fail them.

So, after some soul searching and discovery, I boiled my responsibilities down to two manageable goals:

Goal #1: Encourage their passions – No matter our age, we are all passionate about something… So from a very young age, we have been exploring our childrens’ passions.  At first, we were just trying to engage them on family vacations (like taking them on scenic train rides and to model train museums (two of my four children are rail fans)).  However, as their interest increased, so did the tools they used and time they spent researching.  Pretty soon, we knew all about Diesel/electric locomotives, main line routes, and every major railroad merger of the past 25 years.

These topics all provided opportunities for writing, reading, math, science, geography, history, all of the subjects a student would be exposed to in a traditional school, but all focused on their passion – and therefore – readily received by children hungry for knowledge.

Goal #2: Encourage them to be passionate about learning – For the past 20 years, I have been completely self-taught.  A self-taught data base administrator, a self-taught medical transcription instructor, a self-taught dog ice cream maker and most recently a self-taught magazine editor.

It is through my love of learning, that I have been able to accomplish this very varied life experience.

Now, my children can further their knowledge on their subject/s of choice and any other topic they develop a passion for.  They’ve learned how to research on a computer, through books and periodicals and through life experiences.

Our lifestyle affords them the opportunity to visit the locales they discover.

  • To touch the equipment.
  • To stand on the rails,
  • To meet the engineers, and
  • To see how the freight moves across the country.

But can this individual learning model be replicated in a classroom setting?  Do teachers have the time and resources to free their pupils’ minds from the jail of the mass production of the public school system and help them explore?

Given the current climate with school overcrowding and “teaching to the test”, I say, unfortunately, “No”.

The current school situation is merely a symptom of our broken “American Dream”.

Unless, more parents awaken from the consumer driven haze and create their own dream for their family, their children’s education success is a mere crap shoot based factors that have very little to do with learning.  Like the encouragement they receive from their teachers, their ability to fly under bullies’ radars, and their discipline and determination to not fall in with the wrong crowd.

In the penal system of the average American public school, students must conform to excel.

Have you ever found greatness by following the crowd?

Kimberly Travaglino is the author of “How to Hit the Road“, a comprehensive step-by-step guide for making your family’s full time RV dreams a reality.  She also serves as the Editor of Fulltime Families Magazine, a company that supports risk takers, pioneers, and enlightened families blazing their own path across the country.

This post is one in a series of posts about redefining education. Here are the others:

Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Imagine something better than school

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Learning is the new paradigm of Education

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

How to use parental mentoring as a solution for educational reform


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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8 Responses to Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

  1. Elizabeth April 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    nancy, the difference is clear to me: jails have better food! 😉

    • Nancy April 15, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      @Elizabeth, That’s probably true. And better food than old folks homes as well.

  2. mrsculpepper April 15, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    The similarities between schools and jails is actually one of the reasons I started homeschooling. I was at her school one day and watching these very young children marching to lunch *with their hands behind their backs* really really creeped me out.

    • Nancy April 15, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      @mrsculpepper, That makes me sad. I’ve spent many, many years in schools and haven’t seen that. I have a feeling it’s a case of “we see what we want to see”.

  3. Nancy April 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    @Terry Leeper, Happy to hear you enjoyed my book!

    You can subscribe to my blog here: If you sign up there, new blog posts will be sent directly to your email.

  4. Living Outside of the Box April 15, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    My husband always loves to tell people how much my high school looked liked a jail! Really–there were no windows, it was fenced in, and no one was allowed out (until after school) unless they had written permission. It literally was a jail.

    I love your ideas about being able to study all subjects via a love/passion/interest! What a great tool to give our kids our a well-rounded education, but in such a way that actually interests them, and drives them to want to know more! Thanks for your post!

  5. Thomas Arbs April 19, 2012 at 12:19 am #

    There was a circulating text once, couldn’t find it, though, about jails having far better funding, and actually giving inmates better opportunities, than schools, ending in the not-so serious “suggestion” for youth to perform some minor crime that allows them to serve just the right time to complete an education in jail…

    • Nancy April 20, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

      @Thomas Arbs, I remember reading one about swapping old folks and prisoners – that way the old folks will have plenty of activities and good food.

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