When Victor Hugo said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison,” he probably meant one important thing: Ignorance is not bliss. For years, convicts have been condemned for their acts, if not for the strength of the provided pieces of evidence against them —or both. No convict has ever been seriously condemned for ignorance. It has always been the motive behind the actions that led them to their own demise.
But has anyone ever really thought about what led them to these motives that made them succumb to doing criminal deeds?
If a criminal is found guilty, he probably knows what he is really doing. It is not something we can call ignorance. A crime is always premeditated. There is always that ulterior motive. Motives are relevant to plans. Plans are always structures organized to manifest outcomes based on knowledge.
So, where is ignorance there?
Knowledge is knowledge. However, knowledge of something is not a guarantee of having this knowledge applied properly. Most people are misguided by their knowledge of something. Most people have reasons that are for selfish gains, rather than for the world at large. There lies the ignorance. If knowledge is directed to a more guided path, there will be a huge difference.
This is why schools are important. Schools do not only give you knowledge. Schools guide you to use the knowledge you have acquired in the most proper and ethical way you could. The training inside a school ensures good reasons and better applications that could help change the world and improve human conditions such as encouragement of human laws and rights.
In a cell in one of the most notorious prisons here in the Philippines, I recall an interview with someone convicted of rape and murder. When asked why he did it, he simply answered that he had no idea that what he had done was wrong in the first place. He only followed his urges, and without the proper knowledge and training to control these urges, he had committed a crime. In another cell was a thief, who was hungry and needed something to fill his belly with. He saw food and found himself reaching out for that sought for food to satisfy such a basic craving for survival. He had no knowledge that it was not supposed to be done without the consent of someone who claims to own the food he desired.
Ignorance. What is the cause of this? Deprivation of the guided knowledge that is established in schools, which in more common terms is what we call education. As someone who has taught in schools the value of human rights, my belief in the power of education as a means to avoid crimes is firm. When you educate a person of what is right and wrong, the person has a chance of applying this learned fact in his or her everyday life. If you let this person apply it repeatedly in an environment that encourages it, such as in a school, a person has a chance of remembering to practice this always and for the rest of his or her life. Guided and accustomed to these rules and proper application of knowledge inside a school will help an individual to keep practicing this earned training even outside school.
Therefore, when Victor Hugo said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison,” he probably meant the importance of education to eradicate ignorance, especially ignorance of humane laws. If convicts were educated well enough, the motives behind their actions and their actions themselves, could provide a way for them to avoid their own demise.