Why Government Schools are Behaving Like Prisons

According to a recent BBC News piece, it has become common practice for state schools in the UK to put pupils in ‘isolation’ for days, weeks or sometimes even months on end. This involves placing pupils in a room fitted out with isolation booths where they must be silent and cannot even go to the toilet without being supervised.

This is the kind of cruel and demeaning treatment of children that was practised in Victorian times, but it makes no sense for this to be happening in an age where cruelty to children is no longer socially acceptable and where children’s rights are recognised by the law.

So why are hundreds or possibly even thousands of children, many of whom are diagonosed as having disorders, being treated like prisoners and being placed in what some schools call ‘punishment cells’? It’s not, as we might instinctively fear, that our moral standards towards children have suddenly regressed back to Victorian times. The root cause is the state schooling system imposed upon society combined with unjust laws that target parents. The whole system is a cascade of coercion, starting with an illiberal law that prosecutes parents for not forcing their children to attend a state school and ending with teachers being forced to make the terrible choice between failing their duty towards all their willing pupils or doing cruel things to a minority of unwilling or unable children.

UK schools are becoming more like prisons every day, not just in the way they treat those under their authority but also in the sense that all state schools contain at least some individuals who aren’t fit to be in the company of civilised people. The root cause of this is the idea that education is a ‘right’. This has led to a law prosecuting parents who don’t force their children to attend a state school, which results in every school having some individuals who, either for their own benefit in the case of children with disorders or for everyone else’s benefit in the case of children who are aggressive/violent, shouldn’t be in the same classroom with well-behaved children who want to learn. In turn, that has led to schools adopting prison-like tactics and to teachers acting like prison guards in an attempt to minimise the negative impact on the innocent children they want to educate.

As the BBC News article illustrates, it’s not just aggressive or violent teens being placed in isolation – who the less forgiving types among us might argue are only getting what they deserve – but it’s also teens with disorders, such as autism, who just can’t cope with the traditional classroom environment and need a different solution. Are they deserving of such treatment? Of course not. And I’m sure teachers across the UK feel the same way.

Ultimately, unjust law combined with the state’s monopoly on education has led to ALL children being treated less like students and more like prisoners. Not only has the state monopoly on education lowered the standard of education children receive, but a system of state coercion imposed upon parents has also had the unintended consequence of lowering the moral standards by which state schools treat the children under their authority. The state treats parents like children. State schools treat children like prisoners. Violence begets violence.

Government schools have always been figurative mental prisons, but for many children across the UK today, state school has literally become a prison. So how can we undo this absurd and terrible system we’ve created? Well, if the problem is that teachers can’t avoid having to deal with unmanageable and unsuitable children, then the solution must be to enable them to do so. Furthermore, if the problem is that children with disorders can’t cope with the traditional state schooling environment, then the solution must be to not to force them to do so and to allow market society to supply alternative education solutions.

The answer is simple but radical. We have to abandon the idea of education as a ‘right’. If we abolish the law making attendance of state school compulsory, then the minority of violent, aggressive and generally unmanageable teens won’t be herded by state decree into the same space as well-behaved children who want to learn. Not only will this enable teachers to provide a higher standard of education to their students, but it will also mean innocent children will be spared the psychological and physical trauma of spending years in the company of a minority of violent, aggressive or mentally unstable individuals.

That’s a start, but it’s not enough. We then need to stop forcing schools to educate and operate in the same way by allowing the market in education to function and flourish. A free market in education will supply a variety of education environments and styles, which will serve the needs of children, particularly those with developmental disorders and special educational needs, much better than the one-size-doesn’t-fit-all template of state education which traumatises children instead of educating them.

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