School Survival

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Lockdown: America Treats its “Troubled Youth” Like Prisoners

by Misled Youth Network

"As long as the child will be trained not by love, but by fear, so long will humanity live not by justice, but by force. As long as the child will be ruled by the educator’s threat and by the father’s rod, so long will mankind be dominated by the policeman’s club, by fear of jail, and by panic of invasion by armies and navies.”

-- Boris Sidis, from A lecture on the abuse of the fear instinct in early education in Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1919

“Take the word overseer, like a sample / Repeat it very quickly in a crew for example / Overseer / Overseer / Overseer / Overseer / Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer!
Yeah, officer from overseer / You need a little clarity / Check the similarity!
The overseer rode around the plantation / The officer is off patroling all the nation
The overseer could stop you what you're doing / The officer will pull you over just when he's pursuing / The overseer had the right to get ill / And if you fought back, the overseer had the right to kill / The officer has the right to arrest / And if you fight back they put a hole in your chest!”

-- KRS – One “Sound of the Police”

There are places where all the most oppressive aspects of society are distilled into institutions of systematic abuse. Both prisons and youth programs (such as therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment facilities, wilderness programs, and boot camps) use suppression of speech and thought, isolation, violence, dogma, snitches, and forced labor to control inmates or students. These tactics serve to break down a person’s sense of identity and security, leaving them vulnerable to any ideology the institution wishes to impose. Perhaps the greatest irony can be found in the fact that these places exist in the interest of deterring crime, and more insidiously, in the name of “healing” and “curing.” Unfortunately, inmates often leave prisons unable to integrate back into society, and thus resort to more crime, while kids leave behavior modification programs with psychological scars and little faith in their ability to better themselves.

Locking people up is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation. The alliance between prisons and the corporations that profit from building and maintaining them is known as the prison industrial complex. The number of inmates in state and federal penitentiaries has skyrocketed from less than 200,000 in 1970 to over 2 million in 2003.1 The US incarcerates 714 out of every 100,000 of its citizens, by far the highest rate in the world. Of these, a disproportionate number are blacks and Latinos.1 in 8 black males, 1 in 27 Latino males, and 1 in 63 white males of the same age group are currently behind bars.2

And yet, prisons rarely rehabilitate their inmates. Funding for educational and drug treatment programs has been cut, while facilities are overcrowded and staffed by poorly trained guards in order to maximize profit. Most job training amounts to forced labor where prisoners are paid pennies for their work. Being locked up weakens social bonds and lowers social status, making it difficult for inmates to form relationships and find jobs upon release. However, the most debilitating aspect of prisons is the mentality of fear and degradation they instill through a system of hierarchy and punishment. Those with the ability to dominate gain more respect. It’s no surprise that prisons tend to act as a “school for criminals,” and inmates often leave with a greater likelihood to commit offences. This perversion of the idea of rehabilitation reflects our society’s attitude that goals can be attained through force without respect to the individuality of a person or a situation. Increasingly, this mentality is directed towards youth in a way that can be as destructive as any maximum-security prison.

Everyone loves a quick fix. So when someone offers a frustrated parent a “miracle cure” for their rebellious, depressed, truant, or just plain weird kids, it’s very tempting for parents to hand over all responsibility to a behavior modification program. Like the prison industrial complex, programs for “troubled youth” have become a profitable industry (estimated at $1 billion to $1.2 billion)3
that is largely unregulated. In many states there is a loophole that allows any school that claims to have a religious basis to operate outside of government supervision. Some programs have even moved to places like Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, and the Czech republic to avoid public scrutiny. Although the unregulated nature of programs makes it impossible to be precise, there are an estimated 10,000 to 14,000 kids in approximately 400 therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment facilities, wilderness programs, and boot camps currently operating in the US.4 Behind barbed wire fences and locked doors, or in the wilderness of forests and deserts, horrendous abuses against children often take place.

Kids are usually “escorted” to programs, meaning that they are hauled out of their homes by a couple of beefy guys without any warning. Inmates at least have the luxury of knowing why and when they are being locked up. Once inside, contact with parents and the outside world is strictly censored, if allowed at all. Prisoners have far more freedom to communicate with others. As in prison, kids who snitch on each other receive more privileges from the authorities. Friendships between students are discouraged because administrators feel that these bonds will undermine their authority. Youth are more vulnerable to their particular brand of dogma when they are socially and culturally isolated. Religion plays a major role in many behavior modification programs, from providing spiritual guidance to enforcing moral standards. Creative _expression such as drawing, writing, and playing music is forbidden unless it is part of “the program.” On the other hand, inmates are usually allowed pen and paper to fill the empty expanse in their daily lives. Both inmates’ and students’ individuality is slowly eroded by their monotonous daily routines.

Another method of disciplining students is to assign mindless and repetitive tasks such as carrying buckets of rocks from one place to another, only to move the pile back to its original location. This is reminiscent of the chain gangs of past times breaking rocks all day. Working kids to the point of extreme physical exhaustion is a common practice in behavior modification programs. Since 1980, at least twelve young people have died of easily preventable conditions such as dehydration, heat stroke, and hypothermia in wilderness programs throughout the nation. While physical exercise and contact with nature can do much to clear one’s mind and invoke self-discipline, many outdoor programs are callous and neglectful to individual children’s needs. There are also “boot camps” for kids that mimic the harsh authoritarianism of the military. Boot camps are some of the most degrading and violent programs children must endure. They have resulted in a number of the total of 38 childrens’ deaths that have occurred in institutions in the US.

Most of the kids who are sent to behavior modification programs come from families that are abusive in one way or another. Many have mental illnesses that they and their communities don’t know how to deal with properly. Those who end up in prison usually come from poor communities where violence is a part of everyday life. Clearly, these problems are deeply rooted in our culture and manifest themselves in numerous ways. People do not learn to take responsibility for their actions by being locked up, humiliated, isolated, and abused. They simply learn that they are not to be trusted and that coercion is an acceptable means of attaining goals. From the start, children need the security of being able to make mistakes and creative outlets to express themselves. Discipline must be constructive, not cruel and arbitrary. If problems arise, they need to be dealt with on an individual basis that takes a child’s personality and circumstances into account. Of course, all this takes time and energy and a lot of care, but it is vital if we as a society are to end the cycle of abuse and build a culture of mutual respect.

3. “Therapeutic education industry booms as parents seek help for kids." The Chicago Tribune, 1/20/2004-- Byline: Bonnie Miller Rubin"
4. “Therapeutic education industry booms as parents seek help for kids." The Chicago Tribune, 1/20/2004--Byline: Bonnie Miller Rubin

Misled Youth Network

Written by: Misled Youth Network
21 November 2005

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