Saturday, July 23, 2016


Warning: This post contains spoilers for season 3 of Orange Is The New Black.  I talk about characters in season 4, but not specific plot points.

In the final episode of Season 3 of Orange Is The New Black, there is a hole in the fence at Litchfield Federal Correctional Facility and the inmates escape through the hole to enjoy a brief moment of humanity by swimming in a lake.  In the mean time, the guards have walked off their posts to protest their working conditions, benefits and salaries.

Since a prison cannot be without guards, the warden, Joe Caputo receives replacement guards from a men's maximum security prison.

This new crop of guards have very different attitudes and views about their roles in the system and are lead by the commanding, confident and authoritarian Desi Piscatella.
This introduction of the new guards drastically changes the dynamic for everyone in the prison environment, with that new tone being very strongly set by Piscatella.

Overall, I found Season 4 to be heart-wrenching in ways I haven't felt since Season 1, but what truly stuck with me was the stark differences between the old guards and the new guards in general, and between Caputo and Piscatella specifically.

Caputo believes that it is the job of the prison system to make sure that the inmates are safe and will be productive members of society when they are released.  He spends the season advocating for the inmates and attempting to get vocational activities into the prison.  He believes in rehabilitation.  It has taken him a while to get to this place, but there are flashes of it as early as Season 2, when he tells Healy "the least we should do is keep these women safe and clean."

Piscatella, on the other hand, sees his job as one of keeping order in a chaotic world. "It's my job to clear the path so you can do your job."  He frequently refers to the inmates as criminals and even thanks Red for reminding him of this fact when things start to get a little friendly.  While he begins the season with professional detachment (for the most part), Piscatella quickly throws up a wall of machismo and power, reasserting his dominance over the inmates time and time again.

As I seem to do with everything recently, I watched much of this season, and the dynamic between these two characters specially, through the lens of an educator.  Over the last year or two I've been struggling to answer the question of why we send kids to school.  It often appears that no matter how many people you ask, you'll get a different answer, but I think most fall somewhere on the spectrum between individual benefit and societal benefit.

This season pushed me more directly towards the idea of defining the role of the teacher within the educational system.  Again, I believe that every teacher will give a different answer to this, as would every parent, administrator, politician, student or man-on-the-street.

Is the role of the teacher to give specific information?  Is it to encourage students to form their own opinions?  Is it to enforce compliance to societal norms? Is our job to write the programs in their minds today that will be executed in their jobs tomorrow?  Are we supposed to be encouraging them to push beyond, or to be willing/able to do what needs to be done regardless of their passion for it?  Does being friendly preclude us from giving kids what they need?  Does giving them what need require that we be friendly?
Is it our job to shield our students from the horrors of life, or to prepare them for it?

I think there is merit to all of these to a great or lesser degree, and I in no way wish to be implying that one is a better goal than another.  I know what I see as my role, but I know amazing teachers who very strongly believe something else.

This connection came into stark focus for me at the end of June when I attended the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Urban Education's Summer Educator Forum.  The keynote speaker on the first day was Dr. David Kirkland.

Dr. Kirkland spoke at length about the role of education for students of color and students of low socioeconomic status.  He said something that has been rolling around in my head for a month now.

"I no longer believe in the school-to-prison pipeline. It's all prison." -Dr. David Kirkland

In light of this quote and the post I wrote at the beginning of June, I'm now asking myself the following question:

If my students view school as prison, what kind is my role as guard?

I don't want to be a prison guard. I want to be a teacher, but my desires mean nothing if my student perceptions don't change. I need to do everything I can to keep them safe, to help them achieve their goals.

I don't want to be Piscatella.

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1 comment:

  1. By being aware of the 2 approaches to teaching/guarding (Caputo vs Piscatella), you have already started to pave your path. Does it have to be one way or the other? With most options in life, there are pros and cons to each. Take the parts that resonate from each and create your own hybrid teaching path.


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