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Child Combatants: The Disenfranchisement of the Public School Student

This phenomenon is profiled in the recent documentary The War on Kids, which reveals that the drive to educate children has become secondary to the desire to control and dominate. According to the film, children are subjected to the most invasive forms of control and are deprived of the most basic and fundamental human rights that are afforded even to prisoners of war. Strong accusations indeed, but if you look at some of the stats, including this one from the ACLU which states, Children are far more likely to be arrested at school than they were a generation ago. The vast majority of these arrests are for non-violent offenses such as “disruptive conduct” or “disturbance of the peace.” And the rigid Zero Tolerance policies intended to protect children often wind up punishing or humiliating children who could have easily been dealt with in a more proactive manner (97 percent of all zero tolerance suspensions don’t involve drugs or a weapon). Many of these policies, when implemented, become short-sighted and wind up unnecessarily punishing children, like in the instance where a teenage boy prevented a girl friend from killing herself by taking a knife away from her and locking it away in his locker. He was praised by his teacher for coming to the aid of his distressed friend, but ultimately suspended for holding a weapon in his locker. There are numerous stories like these (some of them more egregious) that highlight the need for deeper investigation and reform when it comes to school safety and discipline.

Some would argue that this near totalitarian approach lends itself to a system where children (especially those in lower socio-economic areas) are fast tracked from high school to correctional facility (also called the “school to prison pipeline”) instead of maybe high school to college. To be fair, what has obviously taken place is a gradual erosion of civil liberties and civility within our schools. Schools should be a place to instill fair and democratic values; instead we are seeing extreme forms of authoritarian discipline. The students have no more rights and are apt to live up to societies low standards and enduring suspicions.

It is undeniable that something has seriously gone wrong. Some might say it is “children of today.” However I don’t buy it. Has the public school system lost its footing? Should parents be the ones teaching responsibility? Or is it a shared responsibility? Is keeping children safe a paramount concern above everything else? Are we investing in the juvenile justice system more than we are investing in the educational system? Who is to blame for the current state of public education and can it be reformed?

Read more: Children, Family, Healthy Schools, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


+ add your own
10:02PM PDT on Mar 24, 2010

thank you

2:39PM PST on Feb 25, 2010


6:41PM PST on Feb 14, 2010

This is very sad....we will just have to......KEEP THE FAITH...PRAY....and BECOME the VILLAGE...that our CHILDREN need....

4:19PM PST on Feb 14, 2010

It truly is such a sad truth to see how dismal public schools are becoming. This is one of the reasons I transferred to a high school at the state college (combined type thing to where I will graduate high school with my AA in May of this year). I couldn't take the profanity, promiscuity, and downright disrespect. Something really needs to be done.

7:00AM PST on Feb 11, 2010

I think the problem is that they often go after the wrong kids. I mean really, suspending a kid for holding the knife in his locker that his friend tried to use to kill herself with?
When we hear stories like that, it does seem like the whole thing is ridiculous. The dangerous part of this is that there are truly disturbed children out there and while I do hear about them, it's not as often as hearing about the innocent kids getting suspended.
Are there investigations happening so that the innocent kids don't get punished? I don't know, it sure doesn't seem like it.

4:46AM PST on Feb 11, 2010

Thanks for the article

8:59AM PST on Feb 10, 2010

you cant be save in schools anymore =(

5:40PM PST on Feb 6, 2010

Sorry, Eric, but it is "the children of today." As an educator, I can attest to the fact that most teachers have to face daily extremely distructive students. Not "disruptive" students. "Destructive" students. Teachers have to deal with a more violent breed of kids. I don't blame the kids, though. I place the blame entirely on the laps of the parents, who have completely failed to instill basic values of respect in their children. I see it every day at work. The kids come to school acting crazy, and the heroic teachers have to spend minutes every day dealing with them instead of going about the business of teaching the remaining students in the class. Students being arrested at school? Necessary. Sorry if I'm a bit hardened, but it's the way things are now.

9:50AM PST on Feb 4, 2010

makes you sick to think of what goes on in our school, can't feel safe anymore and that used to be one of the safest places to be.. sad..

9:07AM PST on Feb 4, 2010

JERILYN C. - How dare you belittle single parents! I am a single mom raising an 11 year old son and a 6 year old daughter. I would rather (and am happy) be divorced instead of staying with the husband/father just because you or anyone else thinks it would be "better" for the kids.

My son is an A student, an athlete and is very polite. I am raising him to be a GENTLEMAN. My daughter is following his footsteps. Having a son without his father involved is the father's choice, and my son is doing just fine! I am a strong and capable woman who can raise a boy and a girl. Being a single parent has nothing to do with kids getting out of hand.

Having a father for a boy to grow up a "man" is ridiculous. Having a good, trustworthy, loving parent is all a child needs!!!

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