How We’re Priming Some Kids for College — and Others for Prison (TED Talks)

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  1. What problem does the presenter bring up in her talk?
  2. Does this problem exist in your country?
  3. What do you think should be done about it?
  4. Do you agree that possession of marijuana should be decriminalized?



to oversee = to supervise

On the path that American children travel to adulthood, two institutions oversee the journey.

to emerge = to come out of a dark, confined or hidden place; to become known

Young people emerge from college with pride and with great friends and with a lot of knowledge about the world.

probation = a system that allows a person who has committed a crime not to go to prison if they behave well and if they see an official (called a probation officer) regularly for a fixed period of time

Young people on this journey are meeting with probation officers instead of with teachers.

to foot the bill = to pay

But here, taxpayers are footing the bill and what kids are getting is a cold prison cell and a permanent mark against them when they come home and apply for work.

incarceration = imprisonment = the act of putting somebody in prison or in another place from which they cannot escape; the state of being there

There are more and more kids on this journey to adulthood than ever before in the United States and that’s because in the past 40 years, our incarceration rate has grown by 700 percent.

to saddle somebody with something = to give somebody/yourself an unpleasant responsibility, task, debt, etc.

a halfway house = a place where prisoners, patients with mental health problems, etc. can stay for a short time after leaving a prison or hospital, before they start to live on their own again

coffer = a way of referring to the money that a government, an organization, etc. has available to spend

The problem’s actually a bit worse than this ’cause we’re not just sending poor kids to prison, we’re saddling poor kids with court fees, with probation and parole restrictions, with low-level warrants, we’re asking them to live in halfway houses and on house arrest,and we’re asking them to negotiate a police force that is entering poor communities of color, not for the purposes of promoting public safety, but to make arrest counts, to line city coffers.

to seize somebody = to arrest or capture somebody

This is the hidden underside to our historic experiment in punishment: young people worried that at any moment, they will be stopped, searched and seized.

a sophomore = student in the second year of a course of study at a college or university

In my sophomore year, I started tutoring a young woman who was in high school who lived about 10 minutes away from the university.

to come of age = to reach the age when you are legally recognized as an adult

By the end of my sophomore year, I moved into the neighborhood and I spent the next six years trying to understand what young people were facing as they came of age.

to pull somebody in = to bring somebody to a police station in order to ask them questions about a crime

So in the first 18 months, I watched the police stop pedestrians or people in cars, search people, run people’s names, chase people through the streets, pull people in for questioning, or make an arrest every single day, with five exceptions.

aggravated assault = an aggravated crime involves further unnecessary violence or unpleasant behaviour

an assault = the crime of attacking somebody physically

Chuck pushed the kid’s face into the snow and the school cops charged him with aggravated assault.

bail = money that somebody agrees to pay if a person accused of a crime does not appear at their trial. When bail has been arranged, the accused person is allowed to go free until the trial

But anyway, since Chuck was 18, this agg. assault case sent him to adult county jail on State Road in northeast Philadelphia, where he sat, unable to pay the bail — he couldn’t afford it — while the trial dates dragged on and on and on through almost his entire senior year.

to get a warrant lifted = to have a warrant cancelled

Chuck had managed to get his warrant lifted and he was on a payment plan for the court fees and he was driving Tim to school in his girlfriend’s car.

an accessory /əkˈsesəri/ = a person who helps somebody to commit a crime or who knows about it and protects the person from the police

And then a juvenile judge, a few days later, charged Tim, age 11, with accessory to receiving a stolen property and then he was placed on three years of probation.

impunity = if a person does something bad with impunity, they do not get punished for what they have done

And certainly not for the same things that other young people with more privilege are doing with impunity.

a frat = fraternity = a club for a group of male students at an American college or university

Or had raided their frat parties in the middle of the night?

shaky = not certain

But according to a committee of academics convened by the National Academy of Sciences last year, the relationship between our historically high incarceration rates and our low crime rate is pretty shaky.

perpetrator = a person who commits a crime or does something that is wrong or evil

There are innocent and guilty people, there are victims and there are perpetrators.

to decriminalize = to change the law so that something is no longer illegal

We’re seeing cities and states decriminalize possession of marijuana.