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?