Incarceration: Academic or Otherwise

I know a fair amount of teachers. This is what happens when you've spent time in higher ed, and when that higher ed field is English. (Because, most majors have a motto of a few select Latin words, but the motto for the English department is quite aptly, "What're ya gonna do, teach?") And let's face it, the reality of teaching is that every once in a while you end up teaching someone who is two cards away from the entire Check-Me-Out-I'm-Crazy deck. And teachers, as human beings, go home thinking, "What am I doing wrong?" And then call up a fellow teaching friend and say, "I have this one student who...."

So of course my teaching friend calls me up and says, "I have this one student who..." and I respond by comparing undergraduate school to prison (for which this particular student has some experience). College isn't for the smart or even the sane, I say. It's for those who grew up with the slightest sense of the American tradition. It's the subconscious first step towards the white picket fence.

But really, isn't it curious to think about the correlation between prison and undergrad? Which one requires more effort to survive? And what does that say about the people who push through the easier of the two? 

Both of them require a time commitment to make it through. You get congratulated when you make it out of either. (Food's probably about the same.) I'm guessing the general consensus would be that undergrad is easier than prison, right? You can leave your school at your leisure. The likelihood of bodily harm is less significant. The harsh persona and nature of prison acts as a deterrent so that people actively avoid going to prison. 

Undergrad doesn't have that sort of sting. Between the two, it's the lazy man's choice. Whether or not it needs to become more rigorous is an argument for a Dean, not for me. (Remember, there's still grad school to think about.) But it is important to consider that these days, undergrad is seen more as an obligatory extension of high school rather than the secluded ivory tower meant for idealists and inventors. These days, it's a hodgepodge. You're going to get the ambitious type A students (who think of college as a launching pad to something greater), the students who clearly would rather be anywhere else, and the students who demonstrate that the line between crazy and sane is so incredibly permeable. And each type has different expectations; some reasonable, some not.