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Kids In Cuffs

Updated on August 4, 2022
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LA is a creative writer from the greater Boston area of Massachusetts.

When a student misbehaves in school, I believe _____ should discipline them.

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Discipline Taken To The Extreme?

I read an article on Thursday afternoon and have not been able to get it off of my mind. Earlier this month, a twelve year old girl from Forest Hills, New York was arrested (and later released without penalty) for doodling on her desk. The article also mentions the arrests and ticketing of other students across the country for “crimes” such as engaging in food fights, talking back to teachers and being repeatedly late for or absent from school. As you would expect, children’s rights groups are coming to their aid and, some in cases, parents have hired lawyers to challenge the schools’ policies.

While I know that it’s not the publicly acceptable side to take, I support the faculty and administration in enforcing their zero tolerance policies. Let me explain. I was born into a family of teachers and was raised to respect and treat my teachers in the way that I would want my mother, uncle, grandmother and such to be treated. Though I would internally question a decision made by a teacher, I would never voice my opinion. They were in charge for a reason. If I had a problem with the way things were done, I could major in education in college and be the kind of teacher I always hoped to have. Luckily for me, I was a well-rounded student who got good grades and kept out of trouble and who had, for the most part, fantastic teachers who were employed by, for the most part, equally fantastic principals/headmasters/deans.

Yet, I do realize how unfair zero tolerance policies can seem and, if not followed fairly, how easily they can backfire. Centering on the graffiti incidents that the article describes, the students were presumably warned that if they wrote on desks or any other school property they would be arrested. If nothing else, they knew they would be dealt with by the administration. Clearly, writing on something that isn’t yours is wrong, rude and really uncool. Having sat at numerous desks through the years that were covered in graffiti (and having daringly included some of my own in pencil), we all know that it’s not an uncommon thing. However, just because everyone does it doesn’t mean that people have to do it. The article describes the girl as a good kid who had never been in trouble before. She was mortified by being escorted out of the school in handcuffs and spent the days following the incident too sick to go to school. While I do feel bad that such a “good kid” was perhaps made the scapegoat for many other kids who were lucky enough not to get caught, I’m sure she will never add her graffiti to something she doesn’t own ever again. I know that if I had been told I would’ve been arrested or even made to go see the principal for writing on a desk I would never have drawn those bored stick figures any place, but on my pad of paper.

As far as truancy and tardiness is concerned, I know firsthand what happens when you’re late too many times. Though issuing tickets was not a policy at my high school, we were given a detention after three unexcused late arrivals. After suffering through one detention, I made it my goal to get my mom out of the house faster so that I would be on time to school and her to work. It was embarrassing for someone with my sparkling record to be sitting with my friends who prided themselves on how many detentions they could rack up in my one term. Yet, knowing how strapped for cash our families were, I know that if our headmaster had followed the Los Angeles policy of having the police department issue traffic tickets with large fines, we would’ve been early to school every day. When you’ve got such a large penalty looming over your head, you tend to put in more effort to keep yourself out of trouble.

True, none of these students are hardcore criminals and don’t deserve to be arrested. They probably are generally good kids who stepped on the wrong administrator’s toes or, in the heat of the moment, lost control of what they were doing. Yet, rules are rules and when generations of kids persist in breaking said rules administrators tend to pull out the big guns and make life harder for the newbies. If these schools are anything like the ones I went to, every student is given a handbook of rules and regulations on the first day of school. While no one actually reads this book, we are required to sign a behavioral contract that our parents/guardians also sign that says that all parties understand what will happen if the student does such and such. The problem is no parent/guardian expects their child to commit an offense and when they do the adult in charge is quick to point fingers and to scramble for a defense team. Though I was raised in a different generation, I don’t believe that any of these students were made to do the things they are accused of doing. I believe they committed their “crime” of their own freewill fully aware of what the penalty would be if they were caught. The deal is they didn’t think they would be and, most tragically of all, they didn’t think the principal would keep their word.

The article mentioned the possibility that such stringent policies had the potential of giving first (and multiple) time offenders reason to quit school. While I do understand this perspective, I perhaps naively see all of the good that could come from these policies. What if that girl in a burst of creative genius had one day been caught adding graffiti to a building? I doubt the police would let her twenty-four-year self off as easily as they did her twelve-year-old self. What if that kid who just can’t seem to make it to school either on time or at all decided to act this way as the adult breadwinner of his family? Even the most understanding boss would fire and replace him the same day. I say let them learn now while they’re still young enough for these lessons to sink in. The more these parents shelter them now the more they’ll have to bail them out later.

It is a shame these school have become like prisons. Yet, they wouldn’t have become this way if something hadn’t gone wrong. Somewhere along the line, a teacher’s note to a parent to talk to their child about their in-class behavior went missing. Somewhere along the line, the words of a principal said during a conference with a parent about their child’s absences went unheeded. Somewhere along the line, certain parents forgot that they must be active in their child’s life in order for things to go smoothly. If everything had gone as planned, it wouldn’t be necessary for security guards to be present in all school hallways in case a “fight to the death” broke out. If everything had gone as planned, this girl wouldn’t have been arrested for doing something so minor. However, at some unknown point, things got so bad that police had to be called in to do that job that parents refuse to do, and overwhelmed administrators and teachers can’t. Yes, it is a shame that things are how they are, but they didn’t get this way overnight. It was gradual and we all had a part in it. My fingers are crossed for the future, but I’ll cross them in my pockets as not to offend anyone.

To read the article that inspired this Hub please click on the link below.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2010 L A Walsh


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