Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 01 2013

Where You’ll End Up

I am surrounded by a lot of talk of jail recently. I don’t know why, but it seems to be trending pretty seriously over the last few weeks.


Sometimes, it’s a teacher giving the “what do you want your life to be?” lecture, which ends up involving a “wouldn’t this be terrible?” piece about life in prison. In other conversations, it’s parents trying to get their kids to wake up, describing how hard it would be for the kid to live there and how hard it would be for Mom to see her kid that way. This inevitably involves a vivid description of the nearby juvenile detention facility and frequent use of its affectionate local nickname.


That the juvenile detention facility is an easy walk from our school and even has an affectionate local nickname should be concerning enough.


What’s even more concerning is the messaging kids must get when they hear this all the time. I know these people mean well, but I’m actually really uncomfortable with threatening kids in such a way. When I was growing up, not a single person ever even suggested the possibility that I might end up in jail. It was never on my radar, and hence was pretty solidly out of the question. I get nervous that having these conversations puts a depressing idea into kids’ minds.


At my old school, people used “working at McDonald’s” as the threat, and I’m not sure how it’s escalated so severely since then. It has to be hard to be a kid when we talk college when they’re doing well and jail as soon as they mess up. I thought we decided Scared Straight was ineffective?

3 Responses

  1. Heh, I remember the “do you want to end up in jail?” lecture from when I was a kid. The speech generally lacked punch because it was always coming from people whose most intimate experience with the criminal justice system was, like, contesting a ticket – kinda hilarious to listen to your geometry teacher tell you about how rough life is on the inside, haha. And because we knew plenty of people who’d been in and out of the big house without it putting much of a dent in their personal lifestyles.

    I really dislike the “working at McDonald’s” threat. An honest job’s a job in this economy and it’s pretty insulting to a big chunk of workforce.

  2. Tom Triumph

    I agree that the “working at McDonald’s” threat (or any job deemed lowly by the teacher) is pretty insulting. As Parus points out, it’s an honest job.

    In my classroom we talk about choices, and which choices limit our future. Education is not about keeping kids out of jail or sending them to college, but in offering them choices as they stand before their adult life. McDonald’s is a great job for someone who needs a flexible schedule (caretaker) with benefits. It also offers advancement that can be transferred to other employers (if you wish).

    To be able to CHOOSE a job they want, rather than take the few jobs they can get, is both a cautionary tale and a powerful incentive.

    • mathinaz

      Eek sorry, this clearly didn’t come out right. I agree with both of you about the McDonald’s comment being insulting. I didn’t mean to say that one threat is okay and the other isn’t. I just do think the intent behind talking about jail is harsher than the intent behind talking about a career at mcdonalds and the change is startling lately. Thanks for letting me clarify.

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