Okay, I am going to admit something up front here. This is a venting post. I am sick of the story after story of zero tolerance policies in our public schools that make absolutely no sense. Over this last school year I have read countless articles about another student who was punished for accidently bringing in a toy gun, using an imaginary gun, making a gun noise or just simply making an innocent mistake. So I am taking the liberty to vent. I want to take you through a tour of these zero tolerance “infractions” throughout our country this past school year.
Here is a list of just some of the recent events by state:
Massachusetts: A six-year-old kindergarten student was punished for having a tiny Lego-sized toy gun on a school bus. The student was given detention and forced to apologize to the bus driver.
Pennsylvania: A five-year-old kindergarten was given a 10-day suspension for making a “terrorist threat” to another student. She told the student she was going to shoot her with her Hello Kitty bubble gun. The student did not have the bubble gun on her but just made reference to it.
Colorado: A seven-year-old 2nd grader was suspended for throwing a make believe hand grenade at recess. He was playing an imaginary game of saving the world from bad guys.
Arizona: A high school freshman was suspended for displaying a picture of a gun on his school-issued computer desktop background. According to the school students are prohibited from “sending or displaying offensive messages or pictures”. The student is interested in joining the army and didn’t realize the gun picture would be considered threatening.
Rhode Island: An eight-year-old second grader who made a patriotic hat for a school project complete with tiny plastic army figures was told that the hat was banned from school. The school felt that the toy army figures that were holding guns were a violation of school policy.
Maryland: A seven-year-old was suspended for eating a toaster pastry into the shape of a gun. School officials considered the student’s actions a threat because he said, “bang, bang” while holding the pastry.
Virginia: A seven-year-old boy was suspended for pretending his pencil was a gun and making gun noises.
Florida: A 16-year-old was arrested for accidentally mixing household chemicals in a water bottle. The bottle caused a small explosion. The student didn’t realize what would happen when chemicals were mixed together. The teen was arrested, expelled from school and has to finish her school years in an expulsion program.
Where is the common sense in our public education system? Do we need to remind administrators and educators who they are responsible for? These are children–growing, learning and maturing young human beings who need guidance not adult policing.
I have seen a growing shift in our schools within the last decade. When I started teaching there was an atmosphere of community in most schools. Administrators were guiding teachers, teachers were fulfilling their dreams of educating students and parents were free to be a part of the school community at will. However, I think Columbine changed all that. We all watched in horror, as innocent students were terrorized and murdered by two very evil and disturbed students. The idea of school being a safe community changed overnight. The walls of public education became barriers between our students and the dangers of the outside world. More school shootings brought more fear and there was a change in the philosophy of educators. The future of education was threatened and students and parents slowly became the biggest threat. The philosophy of a learning community has now become an atmosphere of mistrust and an educational bureaucracy.
The growing list of petty student infractions and zero tolerance policies are the direct influence of this shift in educational bureaucracy. These policies that are implemented in most schools have created an atmosphere of arrogance, control and fear. Our schools of learning and creativity are now fascist police states where students are subject to rules and regulations above curriculum. Our children are learning that their civil liberties do not apply with in the walls of the schools they attend. It is as if our public educators are forgetting who they are working with; children not criminals. Isn’t this the same pervasive philosophy that we see in our federal government? Is our public education system becoming the hand puppet of our government in furthering control and limitations of our civil liberties?
As schools begin to close their doors over the summer, can we just step back from all the madness? Can we re-evaluate the role of education and safety in our communities? Our world has changed significantly and there has to be safety measures to protect our kids. Rules should be enforced for the rule breakers not for the benefit of control. Administrators need to understand that with the responsibility of protecting students comes the protection of their rights and with it comes the protection of their childhood. Childhood goes by so fast and it is such a cherished time in the life of any family. Let’s stop letting the same control that is permeating our society from our government seep into our community schools. As educators, let’s use some common sense in teaching our students about life and remember that our children are the most precious citizens in our communities. As parents, let’s remind our school officials to start treating our kids with respect and not control.