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School and Zero Tolerance and Bullies

Readers — This is what truly perplexes me: Why do seemingly so many school administrators adamantly refuse to think like normal, rational human beings?

The other day I visited the Sudbury Valley School  in Framingham, Mass., and saw such a completely opposite world — a heart-soaring place where kids are trusted not only with tools but with their own educations — so now it’s doubly hard to read about cases like the one below. (More about Sudbury Valley to come. It really was so thrilling, I have yet to process the whole thing.) – L

A veteran teacher at a Chicago elementary school has lost his bid to reverse a four-day suspension without pay because he showed an array of hand tools to his second grade students as part of a math lesson.

Douglas Bartlett displayed pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches, a pocket knife, and a box cutter in his classroom as part of the lesson. He also described and demonstrated how each tool is used by professionals.

Mr. Bartlett, who has been a teacher in Chicago for 17 years, thought he was using physical objects to help his students learn the required course material.

Instead, according to school administrators at Washington Irving Elementary School, Bartlett was guilty of wielding “weapons” in his classroom in violation of various school policies.

School Principal Valeria Bryant cited Bartlett for “possessing, carrying, storing, or using a weapon on the job when not authorized to do so.”

He was also accused of violating school rules, repeatedly engaging in flagrant acts, inattention to duty, and negligently supervising children.

The equating of “tool” with “danger” reminds us that we have become so focused on threats to kids, we can’t see anything else. Not a cool lesson. Not a future trade. Not a welcome breath of the real world in the classroom. Just DANGER DANGER DANGER.

Something there is that loves to hate, to freak out and to blame. – L

What kind of deranged teacher shows his students a wrench????

What kind of deranged teacher shows his students a wrench???

Aieee!

Note that the superintendent is quoted as saying, “School law MANDATES we investigate whenever anyone in the school feels threatened or uncomfortable with the actions of another student.”

Making someone “uncomfortable” is all it takes to warrant an investigation? So if I say, “I like hamburgers” to a student who’s vegan…should I get ready for a 5-hour evaluation? After all, the other kid may feel uncomfortable about my carnivorous ways. Call the cops! Or the thought police! Or Nurse Ratched!

Superintendent: “We never know what’s percolating in the mind of children, okay? And when they demonstrate behaviors that raise red flags, we must do our duty.”

I feel the same way about superintendents who raise red flags by getting to a position of authority without demonstrating any common sense. – L.

P.S. The dad has set up an email account if you wish to get in touch: njpencil@gmail.com

Readers — It’s weird enough when we are warned that our bumper stickers are busy attracting predators. Now there is a new line of school bus that videos the cars behind it, on the bizarre assumption that these may be driven by predators so unsure of where else to find a child that they are following the big, yellow kiddie dispenser. And that’s not to mention the thumbprint recognition and tracking of the students, as if THEY were predators: 

A brief glance won’t tell you the new buses are equipped with voice-over-IP communication systems, or that they transmit data on speed, location and acceleration in real-time. The “Thumbs-Up!” thumbprint scanner, which keeps track of which kids are on the bus and whether they’re supposed to be there, is also hard to see unless you’re really pressing your face to the glass, as are the multiple interior security cameras.

Slightly easier to notice is the rear-facing camera, dubbed — no joke — the “Pedophile Finder.” “I wish we could have come up with a better name for it,” says Dallas County Schools spokeswoman Allison Allison. (Yes, that’s the correct name.) The camera, mounted on the top portion of the school bus and positioned to capture the license plate of tailing vehicles, isn’t just to catch pedophiles. It could be a parent who lost custody of their child, or a kidnapper. But “Pedophile Finder” was the name that stuck. “The bus driver can’t tell if somebody’s tailing him but if they recognize a pattern of a car following a bus” based on video, they can take appropriate measures.

I’m really curious what those “appropriate measures” are. Slam on the brakes and wait for the crash? Alert the police, “There’s  a car behind me!”  Get out of the bus and demand to see if the driver is wearing pants? Please, PLEASE protest if your school district even CONSIDERS these add-ons as “necessary for the safety of our children.” – L. 

To catch a predator...while driving a bus.

To catch a bus-tailgating predator.

UPDATE! I love this comment so much, I have to highlight it here:

“When I was a little girl, an unarmed adult wandering the halls was likely to be questioned, not presumed to be a psychotic mass murderer.”

*

Readers — This  surprising story ran in yesterday’s New York Times about the news media’s new favorite story, finding “breeches” in school security. As reporter John Eligon begins:

The three news reports followed the same format: Television reporters walked into schools with hidden cameras, under the premise of testing the security measures. Each time, the anchors provided a sobering assessment of the findings.

“One of the more depressing reports I’ve seen in a long time,” said Matt Lauer, the “Today” show host, after a report showed unsettling lapses in security.

“What we uncovered may shock you,” Chuck Scarborough warned viewers of WNBC in New York.

Similarly, an anchor with the NBC affiliate in St. Louis prefaced a story by saying, “Some of it will disturb you.”

What disturbed ME — aside from the schools that went on lockdown, the kids made to cower in the classroom, and the not insignificant possibility of someone shooting the reporter — was summed up by Al Tomkins, senior faculty for broadcasting and online at the Poynter Institute, who told Eligon:

“What happens is you’re spending all this energy and time investigating school safety when that’s already the single safest place for your child anyway… [This] sort of reaffirms the false notion that my kids are really in danger at school when they’re not.”

Exactly. Like all the sweeps week stories where reporters go to playgrounds to film how easily kids can be lured away — as if to suggest strangers are doing this all the time — this new generation of reporters would make us believe our kids are in grave danger anytime any adult steps foot in a school.

That outlook reinforces the notion that all strangers are at least somewhat likely to be madmen, and that therefore all schools MUST be hermetically sealed. (See earlier post, “Strangers in the Schools”) The upshot is letters like the one I got a few weeks ago from a mom in an Iowa town of 1000, where students are no longer allowed to hold the door open for ANY adult, even one they know. (Which, in a town of 1000, is probably everyone.)

The media tells itself it does these reports as a public service. It does them for ratings, and the public be damned. – L

School or prison? Does it matter?

School or prison? Fearmongering reporters push to make them the same!

…his plans for the future could be DOA. According to David Lohr in the Huffington Post:

A high school senior in Ohio is facing felony charges after officials at the technical school he was attending for firefighter training searched his vehicle and found a pocketknife. The young man’s future and his dreams of serving the public are now in jeopardy.

“If I am convicted of a felony, I’m never going to be a police officer. I’m never going to be a fireman. I’m never going to be in the military,” Jordan Wiser told The Huffington Post. “I won’t even be able to be a janitor. I’m 18 years old, and this is going to ruin my entire life.”

Read more about the case in the Star Beacon,  The Daily Caller, and at 19 Action News, which filed the report below. Note that at the end the reporter seems to feel he must soften the idea that the prosecutor — who said he is simply enforcing the school’s zero tolerance policy —  is an evil jerk.

I doubt anyone will be swayed. – L.
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19 Action News|Cleveland, OH|News, Weather, Sports

Parents at North Farmington High School in Michigan want the school to halt production of “Carrie” as this year’s musical, reports Aileen Wingblad in the Detroit Free Press. They say it is disturbing and insensitive. My favorite complaint from a parent at the Board of Ed meeting was this:

Lyrics refer to sex, alcohol, marijuana and violence, she noted, which “is making our job as worried parents even harder as we try to keep our children physically and emotionally safe. These lyrics throw all our efforts back in our faces.”

I love that she actually refers to her cohort as parents who have a job to do: worry! In this case, they are worried that a musical is somehow powerful enough to make children emotionally and even PHYSICALLY unsafe. …Does she think Carrie has REAL telekinetic powers?

Abandon hope, all ye who watch the musical based on the movie I was in!

Abandon hope, all ye who watch the musical based on the movie I was in!

But, as a lover of musicals —  and I must add, the lyricist of one that played Off Broadway, back in the day — I must admit part of me is thrilled that anyone would ascribe that much life-changing power to lyrics!

Meantime, here’s a comment on the Detroit Free Press piece I found spot on and inspiring:

I have known [North Farmington High School's theatrical director] Dean Cobb for over 25 years. I was fortunate to be the first person at NFHS to be in 4 musicals at North, having been a freshman when the musical theatre program began in 1990 (I played The Wizard in the Wizard of Oz). Dean not only taught me to love theatre, he taught me to believe in myself and he taught me to work hard to achieve my goals. At a time when I was having a hard time talking with my parents (as many teens do) Dean became a confidant and mentor. In the years I have known Dean, I have seen and heard him teach students about positive self worth, respect for one another and to celebrate diversity. Today, I am the artistic director of a theatre company in NYC (www.illuminart.org) that is dedicated to using theatre as a tool for change and inspiration of social justice. I owe my fulfilling career to the lessons and inspiration of Dean Cobb.

I encourage anyone who objects to the performance of Carrie at NFHS to take a good look at the story. It shows how young people suffer at the hands of bullies. It shows that mental illness differs from religious belief. It also shows what constant isolation and taunting can do to the mental health of young people. It is a story that bears repetition.

I applaud the administration of NFHS and the FPS for its continued support of the performing arts at North Farmington High School and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Dean and Sue Cobb and Lucy Koviac for their years of guidance and support.

Sincerely,
Randy B. Topper
Artistic Director,
IlluminArt Productions
NFHS Calss of 1993

Readers – -This is an amazing article from The New Republic by Jenny Jarvie about a phenom called “trigger warnings” — warnings written on blog posts and, increasingly, everywhere else, that tell folks that the material they’re about to read may “trigger” awful thoughts:

Initially, trigger warnings were used in self-help and feminist forums to help readers who might have post traumatic stress disorder to avoid graphic content that might cause painful memories, flashbacks, or panic attacks.

But they kept spreading, and now:

Last week, student leaders at the University of California, Santa Barbara, passed a resolution urging officials to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi. Professors who present “content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” would be required to issue advance alerts and allow students to skip those classes…. [Elsewhere]  Warnings have been proposed even for books long considered suitable material for high-schoolers: Last month, a Rutgers University sophomore suggested that an alert for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby say, “TW: suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence.”

How does this have anything to do with Free-Range Kids?

We are constantly fighting the belief that kids are in danger from everything: “Creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure…”And yet, the assumption of fragility pervades our culture, from infrared monitors to watch baby at night — as if SLEEPING is dangerous — to now these warnings on college classes, as if THINKING, or even having a MISERABLE MOMENT is dangerous.

On this blog and in my speeches, I always try to explain that it’s not a million individuals who have suddenly decided to frantically helicopter parent, it’s a society TELLING us that if we DON’T supervise every afternoon at the park, our kids will be snatched, just as surely as if we don’t buy the latest educational toy, or serve exactly the right food, or enroll our kids in the very best program, they’ll end up stunted, illiterate, unloved and unemployable. But the real danger is this:

 By framing more public spaces, from the Internet to the college classroom, as full of infinite yet ill-defined hazards, trigger warnings encourage us to think of ourselves as more weak and fragile than we really are. 

Fight the assumption of fragility. Be strong!  - L.  

Now THIS lady could use a Trigger warning.

Now THIS lady could use a Trigger warning.