Thursday, March 20, 2014

Are Inmates Running the Prison?



"The inmates are running the prison!"

I am not sure who first used the above statement, but many, including Robert De Niro, have used the phrase to describe their world.  Check this out:

"I think Hollywood has a class system.  The actors are like the inmates, but the truth is they're running the asylum."-Robert De Niro

De Niro's use of the phrase has no importance to this blog post but couldn't resist the temptation to quote the actor. I have personally used the sentence in training those who work with (or live with) students. 

I think Hollywood has a class system. The actors are like the inmates, but the truth is they're running the asylum.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/asylum.html#wdIi7SykgkfpGIFK.99
I think Hollywood has a class system. The actors are like the inmates, but the truth is they're running the asylum.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/asylum.html#wdIi7SykgkfpGIFK.I have personally used this statement in training those who work with (or live with) students.  
Before unpacking the importance of this statement and it's relationship to students, let me start with a disclaimer and clarification.  I am not saying, nor does this statement imply, that students be kept under "prison like" lock and key environments (read my March 5, 2014 blog post on this).  The descriptive statement is used, in my context, as a metaphor.  A metaphor of what happens when expectations and rules of conduct are not clearly set or enforced by the adults entrusted to set and enforce said expectations and conduct.  It is an awesome metaphor to employ. Consider what would happen if prison inmates had no expectations or rules to follow.   What would happen if inmates discovered no punishment would be received if expectations and rules were broken or refused to be followed?  Chaos is the first word that comes to my mind. 

Excluding basic social expectations and rules of decency (I admit these are not at all clear and can not be presumed "known" in today's culture--a topic for another time), I acknowledge prison rules can fluctuate between various contexts.  Even so, it is imperative that families, schools, youth ministries and all other organizations in which adults are entrusted to set and enforce expectations take their responsibility seriously.  Why?  Chaos fills the void where expectations and rules of conduct are not clearly set or enforced!  Chaotic environments destroy the feeling of safety and security students need in order to develop emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  Inmates can not be allowed to run the prison!

Here are a few ways adults allow students to run the prison (A few may surprise you and are listed in no particular order).  Oh, if you don't mind, I am going to list them Jeff Foxworthy style.

...you may be an Adult who gives your student the keys to the prison.

IF your first move after seeing your student's report card is to call the school and blame the teacher...
IF your student is allowed to break certain youth trip rules because you are sponsoring the trip...
IF your student is allowed to break certain "team" rules (fill in blank with your favorite band, drama, football, baseball, softball, etc. team) because you don't agree with them...
IF your first move after seeing your student not participating in (fill in the blank with your favorite band, drama, football, baseball, softball, etc. activity) at the level you feel they deserve is to pitch a fit with other parents, other players and/or school officials...
IF your student is not allowed to "fail" a class, activity, sport, project, etc. because (fill in the blank with your favorite excuse that has little or nothing to do with your student's actual effort and ability)...
IF you rescue your student from the consequences of their poor choices...
IF you allow your student to disrespect other adults and students...
IF you keep a separate set of expectations and rules of conduct for your "favorite-core" youth group students and call it leadership development/mentoring...
IF you are afraid to discipline because it may hurt your students feelings...

You may have found yourself in at least one of the above statements--I did (that's why I stopped writing). 

Adults, I believe it is a cultural imperative that we commit ourselves to the clear communication and enforcement of the expectations and rules of conduct that we set for students and support those others set for students.  We must, "Take back the keys!" Truth be told, our student's, no matter what they tell you, did not want them in the first place!



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