I have served my prison term, and I don't want to be locked up again. That is exactly how I felt when I stepped forward at high school graduation to receive my diploma. The days of cruel authority with no room for exceptions were over for me. It wasn't the actual process of education that made high school like a prison for me. But high school, governed like a prison by rules, routines, and confinement, created an atmosphere that did not encourage learning and self-improvement. At the core, high schools and prisons are institutions based on rules with built-in punishments for any sort of disobedience.

There are probably sound reasons for most of the rules the law enforcers have developed in both settings, such as safety, control, and efficiency. It seems that the stress in both of these atmospheres is on punishment rather than on reward and encouragement for good behavior. Breaking the rules in both cases leads to punishment; following the rules leads to uninteresting routine in which the participant has little or no say. As we all know, the authorities say that a routine is necessary to the operation of both establishments. Like prisons, high schools rely heavily on set routines and require people to get permission to break the routine.

Such a practice certainly does not encourage an open, accepting atmosphere in high school. Even for a simple change like a day off of school, the system seems to fall apart if forms aren't filled out properly. Once, at the last minute, my father asked if I wanted to go on a day's business excursion with him to check some farms for insurance purposes. He thought the experience would be educational for me, and I was excited about it. My father and I left the city; my mother went to work as usual; and my high school went frantic trying to track me down. I cut school that day with the intention of broadening my education, but the next day I was sent to the dean by my first-period instructor, was humiliated by the dean's secretary, and was forced to call my mother to vouch for my story.

Because of this disciplinary action, I missed all of English and part of chemistry. Most importantly, the dean made me feel like a criminal for doing nothing wrong. Along with not filling out the proper forms, socializing in high school is practically treated like a minor offense. I for one would much rather see the teachers put their energy into the classroom than have teachers waste their time seeking out the petty criminals. Students aren't even allowed room for growing, learning, and playing between classes. As soon as the bell rings, teachers take their posts in the halls and begin telling students to be quite, keep their hands to themselves, and get to the next class.

Most students find it easiest to get along in high school when they actually consider themselves prisoners, stop thinking, and simply do what they are told. Is this the kind of person our secondary school should be producing? A feeling of confinement is the focal point of my high school experience. I very seldom sensed encouragement to make free choices and deal with different learning situations.

As with small children, all decisions were made for my peers and I. Even the classrooms were confining - maps in chalkboards on the front walls, windows on one side wall, a clock in the back of the room, a door and a bulletin board on the fourth wall, and in the center of each room the desks, nailed to the floor. Perhaps freedom was once given to high school students, who continually abused it. Or perhaps present students no longer care about the quality of their time in high school, so they let others make decisions for them. But there is a reason for the current state of affairs, and I think this sense of confinement is a major part of the problem. As in prison, a student must serve his or her time, or term of confinement, without exception - until age sixteen. The conditions under which students are kept in school are often are not pleasant.

Classrooms and prison cells hold groups of unhappy people, and, supposedly for the sake of improvement, confinement is enforced often against a person's will. It seems to me that in high schools rules and regulations must be set and carried out to a certain extent. A routine is also important to the success of any school system. My objection is the degree such rules fill our lives.

High schools are not prisons. They are institutions that should mold the minds of free - thinking citizens who can function successfully in a fairly complicated society. Encouraging students to stop thinking for themselves and punishing them for every slight change from the norm is bound to stifle rather than encouraging students. So they are sent to college or into society with a feeling of helplessness as a result of being confined for years. A routine may be necessary, but should not be carried out to the extent that it produces "prisoners" unable to take responsibility for the rest of their lives.