The modern school is seldom realised to be infused with elements of the prison. Recently the minister of education Ronald Jones made a statement that shocked many. Some were even making comments about our new Orwellian society; of course in jest. The statement is as follows: “There must be vigilance . .. . There is not going to be any privacy. You are coming to a public school –– no privacy!” These words are more abhorrent than you may initially realise. It seems as though the government is stating, clearly, that the school must operate as a prison.
All of us who have been through the system (of education) have trivially joked at the school being “like” a prison but if we examine its development we realise our humorous jokes were masking the grim truth.
With the rise of the modern era (18th century) there was a growing importance to standardise society. The governing powers saw that for a mesh of individuals to justly coalesce into a “society” there must be standardisation. Which is quite true. This normailisation of the social fabric, then, was acheived by the establishment of the institutions. The French philosopher Michel Foucault details this, in his ruthlessly logical work on power/punishment; shows how our modern institutions arose from this need to normalise.
Foucault pointed to a new kind of ‘disciplinary power’ that could be observed in the administrative systems and social services that were created in the 18th century, such as prisons and schools. Their systems of surveillance and assessments no longer required force or violence, as people learned to discipline themselves and behave in expected ways: standardised.
Discipline is centred on the “body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and docility. Its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls, all this was ensured by the procedures of power that characterised the disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body” (Foucault, 1978). This should be very familiar to us and we know it. Prisons were formed for a few reason and one of the main reasons was to deter others from committing crimes.
But this is far from the reality. Prisons do not treat inmates as a person of society; they create persons with unnatural, useless and dangerous existence. The prison produces delinquents by imposing violent constraints on its inmates; it is supposed to apply law and to teach respect for it; but all its functions operate in the form of an abuse of power: “the arbitrary power of the administration”.
The school refined and adapted this disciplinary power from its parent institution. At school we do our time in a shocking parallel to prison inmates. School exploits us, dividing up our days’ durations into successive or parallel segments, and serialising it. Like other disciplinary institutions, the modern school attempts to exercise control for nearly all of its inmates’ time. School is flaunted as the means of secondary socialisation of persons; this is our lifelong learning. But all we have is an education system that simply and primarily creates cogs for the societal machine: such a tedious existence.
Returning to the Minister Jone’s statement, his surveillance heavy utopian school is moving towards a more efficient economy of punishment. Surely, it seems, in society we need more docile bodies; we need more ‘all seeing’ administration to watch over the inmates in the schools. It’s about time the school stops masking itself as an institution of education and reveal its true form: an institution of punishment.