12 Years a Prisoner – The K12 School Experience ?

No nation in world history has been so ambitious as the United States, setting out to educate 100% of its citizens. A lofty, yet inspiring goal indeed. It is an opportunity and a privilege. Yet, upon closer inspection, the K-12 school experience bears an awful resemblance to a life of prison.

Granted, most prisoners made a choice that led them to prison, while all of us are thrust into the school system with little choice or decision making input. Take a moment to reflect and conduct a small experiment in compare/contrast with the images below.

Uniforms & Uniformity
School UniformsPrison Uniforms












Space Design & Industrial Layout

High School Hallway
prison hallway
Prison Hallway







Recess & Playground

recess prison
Recess in Prison






recess school
Recess in School









Transporting Prisoners








Transporting Students









Supervision and Security

prison guard
Guards in Prison
school guard
Guards in School














Walking in Straight Lines

shackles prison
Walking the Line – Prison
shackles school
Walking the Line – School














The Cafeteria Experience

lunch in school
Lunch in School
lunch in prison
Chow Time in Prison














School and Prison: What’s the Difference?
While the similarities of these images paints a rather depressing picture of school, there are many differences between the prison and K12 school experience that are positive. Much of these images focuses on how people and spaces are organized vs. daily goals and learning activities. It is meant to be thought-provoking rather than an indictment.

Here’s my opinion. Schools need to consider the possibilities of how we organize people and learning spaces to be more nurturing, allow for more freedom, and create less parallel to the prison experience.

Which Bus? What's the Difference?
School and Prison: What’s the Difference?

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