Rhetorical Analysis of the TED Talk Video ‘How we’re priming some kids for college — and others for prison’ by Alice Goffman

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Rhetorical Analysis of the TED Talk Video ‘How we’re priming some kids for college — and others for prison’ by Alice Goffman


The TED Talk video ‘How we’re priming some kids for college — and others for prison’ by Alice Goffman talks about college and prison as two pathways to adulthood, each with different experiences and outcomes for young people in America. The speaker Alice Goffman then narrows down and focuses on the prison pathway, the people likely to take the path, their circumstances and the outcome altogether. According to Goffman, young people, especially those coming from African-American and Latino backgrounds, tend to take the prison path due to their circumstances and the nature of their environments. She adds that these two groups of young people get arrested for engaging in minor offences that would otherwise be overlooked or solved within the school premises without involving the police. This paper will discuss the content and message in the Ted Talk video ‘How we’re priming some kids for college — and others for prison.’ The report will also analyze the rhetorical devices employed in the video to connect with the audience and convey the intended message.

In the video, Goffman argues a large percentage of young people in the Latino and African-American neighbourhoods end up in the prison channel compared to their counterparts who enjoy the luxury of standard living conditions. She believes that all young people should be treated equally and given the same opportunities regardless of their race or the condition of their environment. College is significant for any young person growing up and establishing a solid long-term career. College not only introduces one to opportunities, but it also provides a healthy environment to interact and make meaningful connections that prove beneficial in future. It brings ambitious and focused individuals closer to their dreams, dream jobs and stability. Despite being expensive, the college path remains the better option than the prison path because it gives young people a sense of satisfaction and pride, expands their knowledge about the world, and increases their stakes in the labour market.

On the other hand, the prison channel wastes away the life of young people and does more damage than the intended good in the name of reforms. Because of the torture and the unconducive environment as inmates, they become disoriented, with physical and mental issues. In addition, their records are ruined, and they find it challenging to secure jobs. The stigmatization in society is also unbearable to these young African-American and Latino individuals. This factor prompts most released convicts to isolate themselves, sink into depressions and join crime cartels to get a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, youngsters of colour bear the burden of stereotypical police force nature and unfavourable conditions. Like the rest of the students in better learning institutions and safe, neutral environments, they also have dreams, aspirations and hope for a better and brighter future.

As an institution that oversees the journey of young people and their transition to adulthood, prisons are very expensive to maintain. America uses approximately 40,000 dollars every year to finance and sustain state prisons. This amount is the monies of Americans working tirelessly daily to meet their endless needs, support their families and pay taxes. With the market trends, advancement in technology, and the rising cost of living, this amount will likely continue to increase in the future. This statistic implies that the tax burden on American citizens will continue to rise to contribute to the revenue used to facilitate government operations. It is undeniable that squeezing endless taxes into the budget of Americans to facilitate prisons causes financial strain.

Statistics show that the incarceration rate in America has risen by 700%. This statistic translates to 716 young people of colour out of 100,000. It means that the country has recorded the highest number of African American and Latino young adults imprisoned for minor mistakes in forty years. Young convicts lying in cold cells, receiving little and bad foods, unhealthy living conditions and constant mistreatments by wardens and fellow inmates in prisons despite all the funds channelled towards the initiative remains a mystery to many.

The speaker states that most young people arrested come from poor backgrounds. This conclusion comes from the fact that people of colour face discrimination in different country sectors, including the labour market. It has become challenging for people of colour to secure well-paying jobs in America. Therefore, they struggle to balance the rising living costs and the little finances they get as salaries and wages. To make it worse, the justice system, through the police, targets young people from disadvantaged communities to make arrest counts and not as a strategy to keep its people safe. The arrests made on young people of colour only increases their daily costs and forces their families into debt and financial crisis. The system forces these young convicts to pay court fees, lawyers and low-level warrants during an active court case.

Additionally, they are forced into house arrests and put in halfway houses to enable these hearings. They are also placed on probation and parole restrictions that only sets them up for arrests as the conditions are unrealistic and unfavourable considering their living standards. The government fails to realize that they are young and in a critical stage of their lives. Therefore, they require an adequate show of care, support and love. Such inconsideration by the justice system sends many of these young people to depression and unstable physical and mental health in the long run. Consequently, young African-Americans and Latinos live in constant fear of being arrested any minute, not because of the severity of an offence but because of their skin colour. The streets, schools and their homes are not safe anymore.

Alice Goffman uses various persuasive advertisement techniques to communicate and drive her message home. She employs logos, pathos and Ethos in her speech to accentuate the message and make it simple and comprehensive. In the case of logos, Goffman uses certified statistics to cement her statements regarding the high rates of arrests of young people with an African American and Latino background. Goffman uses statistics from She rolls out evidence that depicts how young people of colour are shifted to prisons while those from the dominant race enjoy their teenage hood and successfully join colleges to pursue their dreams. According to Goffman, the incarceration rates have risen by 700%. This figure is the highest it has ever been in forty years. She adds that this percentage translates to 716 young people of colour out of 100,00 people. The speaker gives these statistics to the audience to help them realize how wanting the issue is and how fast action needs to be taken by relevant parties to salvage the situation. She presents her inner thoughts using proven studies and statistics to persuade her audience to side with her point of view.

In addition, Goffman states that the government uses approximately 40,00 dollars every year to finance and sustain correctional centres in America. She mentions this amount to bring her audience to reality and understand the depth and harm of the prison path to Latino and African American young people. She presents logic to them to help them recognize the government’s failure through its justice system in delivering fairness to all young people across the country. Americans work so hard every day to fulfil their tax obligations besides their personal needs. Goffman understands that her audiences’ knowledge that government is extravagant in sustaining prisons, yet, it doesn’t commit to changing the situation on the ground, would bring them closer to her idea and make it more relatable.

Goffman also uses pathos as a rhetorical strategy to reach out to her audience in the best way possible. She uses pathos to evoke feelings and anticipate the response of her audience. Goffman gives a story of two boys, Chuck and Tim, members of the poor neighbourhood where she lived for a short while. Sympathize with the boys. Chuck was 18 years old and playing football while Tim was only 10. She explains how the boys had it rough growing up because of their financial crisis since their mother struggled with addiction and could not secure a job. She then elaborated to the audience how Chuck got arrested after pushing a kid’s face to the snow because the kid called his mum a crackwhore. After that, Chuck’s life takes an adverse turn and ultimately influences his brother’s. He became a high school dropout on the run because he had become too old to join senior year, thanks to the delayed court hearing and his inability to pay 225 dollars in court fees, respectively. In this case, the speaker uses the story to allow her audience to sympathize with the boys and feel the negative impact of the prison path on young people of colour and how it is beyond their control.

Goffman also uses Ethos to convey her intended message to the audience. She mentions how she has explored and witnessed false accusations and aggressive arrests of young Latinos and African-Americans in poor neighbourhoods in her speech. Her career as a sociologist played a vital role in establishing her audience’s trust and making the information she was giving out valid and credible. She further adds that she spent six years in Philadelphia, interacting with young people of colour and watching them get arrested. According to Goffman, young children used to play and imitate the aggressive and unlawful arrest of young people of colour by the police. Goffman uses Ethos to construct her appeals and arguments, capturing the audience’s attention and delivering the intended message.


It is undeniable that prisons have challenged the lives of many young African Americans and Latinos. Prisons typically stand between young African-Americans and Latinos devoted to pursuing their desired careers and fulfilling the American dream. The government, through various authorities, needs to radicalize society and eliminate the problem right from its roots instead of making unnecessary arrests that end up crowding prisons and burdening taxpayers in the long run. The speaker’s proper use of rhetorical strategies in the video has given a better understanding.


Goffman, Alice. “How We’re Priming Some Kids for College — And Others for Prison”. Ted.Com, 2015, https://www.ted.com/talks/alice_goffman_how_we_re_priming_some_kids_for_college_and_others_for_prison.

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