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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Discipline and Boundaries

I read a short report in today's Brattleboro Reformer about an "assaultive student" at the Austine School who was cited into court for simple assault and disorderly conduct. It's the second one in recent memory. A previous report sounded much more threatening, and was more detailed, but either way, there's something that doesn't sit well with me in reading about police being called for student discipline. As with so many other things, it's not the way it used to be when I was a kid.

The Brattleboro Retreat, although not recently, has also relied on the police to take authority over unruly or combative youth and there have been past incidents where those youthful patients were tasered into compliance.

Each of these institutions serve a special population of youth where some level of boundaries and behavioral expectations must be in place, and I am no eye witness to what happens, but it seems to me there's something amiss when so often I seem to read about the need for police.

I grew up next door to a woman who was deaf. It wasn't frequent, but she would at times become so frustrated in trying to communicate that once every so often there'd be an outburst, sometimes violent. Calling the police on her would have never been something her family, or her neighbors, would have considered. There was a level of understanding about her outbursts. Could someone have been hurt? Of course.. But the reactions from others made more sense, and I have to say, I wouldn't have seen a lick of good that could possibly have come out of having her hauled into court. Who knows how frequently she was not understood? I don't think her outbursts were so contained to one instance as much as I believe they were a culmination.. The straw that broke the camels back. And it wasn't a question of method.. She knew sign language, and those around her also knew, but there are times when signing doesn't serve as effectively as the spoken word.

And those with emotional and mental challenges? I can't help but think its even more of a balancing act, and short of delivering a chemical lobotomy to very patient (which I have been eye witness to) it seems to me that for those afflicted with the special misery of mental health crisis is in fact something that can be anticipated with a measured and planned response that would not bring taser-armed police into a private facility that charges a great deal of money to deliver "treatment"..

In the grade school I attended, there were many fights over the years. One every few weeks. Parents were called, kids were suspended and repeat offenders were expelled. But I never recall even once, the presence of police. One of my now grown children was tackled in a bus line and was brought to the hospital via ambulance with a possible neck injury. Again, no police. Again, it wasn't a thought that would have even crossed my mind.. The boy who committed the assault was suspended and for me, it seemed a proper punishment.

So, I am wondering what has changed and why? Have we become so intolerant to even special need populations, that its given zero consideration when dealing with disorderly conduct that might be one of the defining elements to that need?

It just seems to me that there's no place in a judicial system, who already claim a lions share of the population, for assisting institutions such as those who are bringing in youth with varied challenges and diff-abilities. Can't they come up with a better response than court citations, and are parents being forewarned that thoughtful considerations for behavioral issues aren't included in the price of admission?

Just doesn't sit we'll with me. But again, I only rely on what's been reported and the only eye witness accounts I have are from my own experiences long in the past. So, I must take a guess that these situations must have been much, much worse than I am imagining.


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So, I am wondering what has changed and why?

To answer this is to step into a web of complexity, but there are one or two points of view I might be able to contribute.

I too have no recollection of police in schools…ever. As you describe, discipline in those days fell to the parents and school administrations. Conflict resolutions were worked out by the kids and parents and school personnel, when needed.

One the earliest encroachments of police presence in schools soon followed after the advent of the Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug craze. It was when the DARE programs, which started with after-school programs, were integrated into regular classroom curriculum that an unsettling police presence took foothold, and once established, pulled the criminal justice oversight ever deeper into the lives of children.

In a very real sense, for the first time in history, children were criminalized and are marginalized from it to this day.

At one time, police knew their place in communities and were valued for it.
Now, the police and the criminal justice system know no bounds and much of the huge prison population, the criminalization of America and it’s escalating surveillance puts the very young to the very old at the mercy of victimless laws, contrived war mongering and a prosecutorial madness with no end in sight.

Nancy Reagan’s JSN and the DARE programs and the encroaching police presence in school curriculum are examples of what can go horribly wrong in a culture where media influence glorified the likes of Dragnet, Peter Gunn and many other “pistol and holster” programs.


Friendly Police In Schools

We saw the police and fire folks in school in the early-mid-70's, usually once a year.

The police would come and instruct us in bike safety, helping us learn about attaching orange flags to our bikes, how to use hand signals for stopping and turning, and generally encouraging us to ride safely. They'd also tell us that we could always ask them for help if we needed it, too.

The fire department would come to talk about home fire safety and a plan to get out in case of a fire. They handed out "Tot Finder" stickers for us to put in windows so they could quickly located kids if there was a b;aze.

Actual "policing" of the school was firmly in the hands of the principal, teachers, parents, and those honored with deputization as school crossing guards. Yes, kids did all the crossing guard work. It was a respectable volunteer position for a 10 year old. : )


Abdicated their responsibilites deferring to police activity

I am not suggesting here that the police were ogres, blue meanies or had unfriendly individual traits.

I’m sure that they could be quite friendly and not without some instructive qualities.

But there is nothing you describe in your comment that couldn’t have been done by non-uniformed, non-criminal justice personnel in the community, and parental and school overseers and instructors.

You can’t put a uniformed police officer (with or without a badge), in front of anybody who doesn’t make a connection that these are crime fighters.

A police presence, especially an unwarranted police presence, being placed (stationed) on a regular occasion in an “otherwise non-criminal setting” is an remarkably unhealthy intrusion on the daily lives of kids.

Maybe in your day the “Actual "policing" of the school was firmly in the hands of the principal, teachers, parents and their deputy students…” seemed idyllic and respectable at the time, but the police encroachment ultimately has done more harm than good. Today those principals teachers and parents have abdicated their “actual policing” in favor of deferring to police activity. This is true for the other institutions named by Babalu in her article above.


Dangers Real and Imagined

This is an interesting observation, and I wonder about the many aspects at work here.

Children in general are now subjected to increased severity in terms of discipline and scrutiny, and have all sorts of performance pressures. At the same time childhood has become increasingly scheduled, codified, and micromanaged. Gone are the days of wandering and idyllic fantasy.

But also, society as a whole has never been more juvenile, youth obsessed, and fixated on escapism.

Whether it's pre-made virtual environments, or specialized summer camps, and enrichment programs- we seem to have a need to dominate the moment-to-moment lives of our youth. This is not just concern or involvement- I see it as facets of control, which certainly plays out in the militant attitude the article points out.

As far as the criminalization of youth, chalk it up to our hyper and repressed society. The moldy mold of the status quo. Here in our self-proclaimed progressive shire, a staple of youth activity, skaters, are seen as a blight upon neighborhoods and despoilers of greenscapes, even if they be playgrounds. The negators and bloviators are prevailing.

The losers are spontaneity, joy, discovery, freedom, and fun.


Negator and bloviator responding

I’ll be short and simple:
It’s a wonderful idea, and the absolutely worst place to put it is Crowell Park.


The switch..

Seems to be, as I read the comments here, an insidious switcheroo .. are kids no longer sent to the principals office? What infractions would bring about a week long detention? Are there any left that haven't become attached to a law somewhere, where most people now seem to react by dialing 911? Certainly the change did not come overnight. In trying to figure it out, to satisfy myself that there's a lick of validity to the way things seem to have changed, what popped into my mind was the first time I read where a schoolboy, (years ago) in kindergarten no less, had been charged with a criminal act committed while in school. I can't remember the specifics, only my shock that any adult would find it fitting to haul someone so young into court. It's not only unnerving to think that even when parents teach all the right things, the consequences to making what I consider to be common mistakes, is a juvenile record, and in some cases, the juvenile is charged as an adult, it scares me for some reason!
So, it seems more than just a hard ass approach.. It's ridiculous that we seem to have become a society with an expectation that kids, even those in preschool, know everything they need to know about coexisting in what has become a rather complex world. Seems perhaps we do the same thing with learning in general. Graduate kids who can't make change, flunk those who don't get their homework done on time or let them just drop out because of failure to thrive in a mainstream setting, or simple economic need.
It's depressing.
Now, those with bird feeders risk breaking the law depending on the bear population and their appetite. I just read about that the other day, too. Beekeepers included.. unless, if I remember correctly, they leave their land open range and not post against trespassing.
Maybe it would serve me better to find what things are not yet legislated. It might be easier than trying to figure out the logic behind a call to 911 replacing a trip to the principals office.


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