Zero Food Fight Tolerance

About two dozen eighth graders at a Chicago magnet school were arrested for cafeteria food fight.

I do love the idea of disciplining them for a food fight. Those fights are gross. But fingerprinting? A court date? Whatever happened to making them clean up and then good ol’ study hall for a week? Or have them tutor some younger kids? (Not in food fights. In something else their magnet school has taught them.) — Lenore

25 Responses

  1. LOL…what? Are they serious? Wow….just, wow…..their heads need a good shaking.

  2. Ummm…I don’t know if having them tutor younger kids is the best idea. Detention sounds about right.

  3. Were people assulted during this food fight? Was blood spilled? Did anyone put jello in the copier? No? Then make them give up a Saturday and pick up trash in the school yard and move on!

  4. Assaulted. I DO know how to spell. Just not how to type.

  5. Yes, I heard this incident reported on the radio. The general public doesn’t know that Japanese school children are expected to help clean their schools and grounds. We should be doing the same thing…for several good reasons.

    And as far as having trouble-makers tutor younger kids … it works! My wife is a school psychologist who’s been suggesting this for years and it works every time it’s tried.

  6. I was so happy to read this in a recent letter from our middle school principal, in response to an incident where a kid had a pocketknife on the bus. There was more, but I thought this was the important part.

    “One of the things [we], and all our staff do is to recognize that middle school students, like all people, make mistakes. Our job as educators is, first and foremost, to make sure our school environment is safe, and to create an effective learning environment, to teach. Part of teaching is making sure that our kids learn valuable lessons from the mistakes they make and that consequences are intended not simply to be punitive, but, more importantly, at modifying disruptive behaviors, and helping the kids involved make better decisions in the future.”

    “-Students with multiple violations or referrals to the school office are often dealt with differently than a child who has never been in trouble at school. Each incident has to be addressed based on multiple factors, not just if a weapon or weapon-like item was at school or on a school bus.”

    I’d better make sure I stay informed, though, in case parents start pushing for zero-tolerance policies!

  7. “Every time” it’s tried, having troublemakers tutor younger kids works? “Every time”? Based on…? And works for whom? You mean the younger kids always improve their grades? The older kids always cease being trouble makers?

  8. Sky: It’s kind of off topic, but peer tutoring does work surprisingly well at pretty much all educational levels, although “every time” is probably just hyperbole. It doesn’t really have much to offer the smarter of the two kids (in fact it may even hurt their grades a tiny bit, research provides mixed results for that), but it’s definitely useful for the one being tutored.

    It works so well that the university I went to set up a grant-funded, full-time, intensive peer tutoring program that encompassed pretty much every discipline. It worked wonders, got rave reviews, and as far as I know is still going strong (not to mention paying tutors significantly more than what they could make elsewhere on campus!)

    I know that doesn’t really address your point about troublemakers being “forced” to work as tutors… I don’t think it’s a great idea either, mostly because making someone do educational stuff as punishment is a bad idea psychologically. I just wanted to harp on how cool peer tutoring is. 😉

    P.S. We also had peer guidance counseling, students working jobs around campus, etc… I imagine most universities do to some degree or other. Why the hell can’t middle and high schools do the exact same thing? They don’t have to pay the kids in cash (at least until they’re old enough to work under the labor laws) but they could be compensated in other ways. Or the labor laws could be modified to allow payment to college-tuition savings accounts. Something, anything would be a nice step towards cranking out kids that have a good work ethic and study habits.

    As others have said, and I’m sure will say later on in the comments, food fights become a lot less fun after you spend a few weeks cleaning up after lunch.

  9. I think some schools are realizing that their own discipline policies are ineffective, or they dread the backlash that they will receive from many of the parents. Calling the cops delivers a blow that will make an impression, and the parents are less likely to argue with the police, or at least it will cost them $$$ to hire a lawyer to do so.

    I think detention and a clean-up job is a much more appropriate response, but, really, how many of the kids do you think would actually report to detention, or pitch in on the cleaning?

  10. Maya,
    Your principle sounds reasonable. You’re lucky.
    This type of Zero-tolerance policy is simply a way for administers to pass the buck. They don’t want to think to earn their high salaries (at least here in Canada), they just want to spout some over-used catch-phrase and pass their disciplinary problems on to whoever their policy states should handle it: the police, a reform school, etc.
    Shouldn’t the school system be able to handle most incidents of misbehaviour itself?

  11. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that our public school systems could learn a lot from some university models. We can’t treat children as if they are mindless, soulless, spineless, and muscle-less automatons, and then expect them to magically develop those traits when they turn 18 and start looking for work / higher education.

    Would YOU want to hire someone that has absolutely zero experience in things as simple as working for a supervisor or following multiple-part directions? Would you want to teach a class of 19-year-olds that have only been woken by mommy and ferried to school every day under duress, with little more self-care ability than a typical 6 year old? Those are some of the real failures of the public school system, but no one seems inclined to fix them.

    High schools do not need a janitorial staff. They don’t need professional administrative assistants. They don’t need 90% of their kitchen staff. The list of jobs in schools that could be replaced by 2 or 3 motivated kids is a long one. Incidents like this could be virtually eliminated if we just started involving kids in the actual running of the school, instead of treating them like incompetent prison inmates. It’s not rocket science.

  12. Hey, they were throwing food! Carrots, milk, jello, fresh fruit. Those are deadly weapons!

  13. This is a stupid as the middle school that passed the “no touching” rule, where kids were not allowed to touch each other in any way. No handshakes, high fives, hugs, pats, horseplay, etc.

    I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance rules. LOL

  14. To me it depends. Did they have a history of problems – so they reach this level of disipline? Was someone hurt? Then the arrest make sense. I’ve had kids arrested before – for stealing money from my purse and trying to steal my epi pen.

    Another time the same student was arrested because he had a fist raised towards a teacher, and the cop walked by on his way to do a community helper presentation. The cop had HAD it with this child both in and out of school. Cop said, “You are under arrest.” Slapped on the cuffs and walked out of the school. When I talked to the teacher it turned out he was trying to intimidate another student who was being called as a witness in another matter involving student shoplifting.

    This was a 5th grader.

  15. Whoa, I’m glad I went to middle school in the 80’s. We got caught having a food fight, we got detention.

    @Randy, I love your ideas.

  16. And I thought I’d seen everything with the Spork incident. This is ridiculous. It wastes valuable police and court resources and based on what I know about the American courts system, this is going to haunt them for life, all because the police and principle were too chicken to do their job properly.

    Just send them give them a week in detention, force them to clean up and be done with it.

  17. @Randy.

    The idea of ‘kids in charge of kids’ is not new. Progressives with high ideals have preached about this for at least a hundred years, and the few examples we have of places where it was implemented it showed to be a horrid mistake. I’ve known of one such implementation in a supervised play ground (you know the kind, with see saws and other equipment) as early as in the 1890’s (yes, the 1890’s) in Amsterdam where the supervisor (an adult) would pick out a few bigger kids to ‘help him’ supervise the little kids. All the big kids that ‘helped’ turned into ruthless, vicious bullies that terrorized the little kids.

    Then, of course, there is the Stanton Prison Experiment, where students were split into two groups, the ‘prisoners’ and the ‘guards’. It turned ugly very quickly, with the ‘guards’ being vicious and cruel towards the ‘prisoners’.

    It’s even worse when you let real inmates have a position of power in a prison. As my hero Theodore Dalrymple would put it, in a prison without guards, the biggest psychopath will become King. In a school where kids have power over kids, the biggest bully will become King of the School, and it doesn’t matter if these were perfectly good kids to begin with. That kind of power does corrupt, especially those (like kids) who have little experience with self-restraint.

    William Golding already knew of this phenomenon. That’s why he wrote Lord of the Flies. I would suggest that anyone who seriously thinks of putting kids in positions of power over other kids read this book first. Then take a deep breath.

  18. uhhh…..whatever happened to a day of suspension, and help the poor custodial staff clean up the mess? “Concerned about potential injuries”….more like, “worried I’d get my butt fired if some parent didn’t think I protected their kid well enough.”

    Asinine.

  19. I went back and read the comments under the original article. This was not just food being thrown, but lunch trays, with one child being hit in the head by a flying tray resulting in blood. The police officers were the once already assigned to the school, and the students were belligerent and defiant when told to stop.

    With that in mind, MAYBE harsher action was deserved by a few of the students, but it should have been sorted out which ones, not just arrest them all.

  20. Marion, Randy didn’t say anything about putting kids in charge of other kids or of discipline, which is the kind of model you’re talking about. He was talking about tutoring, janitorial services, kitchen work, office tasks, etc.

    IMO, that’s completely different with respect to the very legitimate concerns you raise, especially if you start with the premise that they will do these things under adult supervision, not in place of it (a la Lord of the Flies.)

  21. @Steve – Many years ago, before I had kids, I saw a PBS special on schooling around the world and learned that much of the longer school day/year in Japan is used for caring for the school and the grounds. I’ve been wistfully pining for the same thing in the US ever since, but doubt it will ever become common here.

    Besides greatly reducing things like graffiti and wads of toilet paper stuck on the ceiling, this approach also helped to build community among students and staff. And it doesn’t have to be considered all grunt work. I still remember a clip of young students gleefully cleaning the floor by attaching rags to their feet and skating down the hallway. I have copied the idea at home with my own kids, and their friends ask to join in.

  22. If you read the comments from the source, you’ll see that trays were thrown and food was also thrown at the officers.

    Since the officers would not be allowed to club the kid in the head, as in the ‘good old days’, arresting them was probably the right thing to do.

  23. I love your blog but I have to admit you’ve got the blame all wrong here.
    1. The ideas left by the other commentors are great, the only problem is that it is not the job of the police to enforce school policies. It’s the school’s job. Apparently they couldn’t handle the children and the police had to be called in. The police have a job: to arrest people. Not to parent, babysit, counsel, teach or anything else. The police handled the situation the way they needed to with the powers they were granted after apparently no one else could.
    2. In my days (which wasn’t too long ago) when kids fought, they fought and that was that. Nowadays the gang mentality takes over especially in Chicago and these simple food fights turn into deadly matters. Darrion Albert? Anyone? For those of you that don’t know he was a honor roll student killed by “unarmed” students after being beaten to death in the streets. The police were blamed for not doing enough that time.
    3. The ideas are great and a quick internet search will get you the Chicago board of Ed number to talk to those in charge to actually
    make changes. Until then unfortunately the police will probably be called again to do the jobs that the parents should be doing at home.
    4. I too lived in japan and loved the idea of the kids cleaning the schools. I wish it could be implemented here.

    I’m off my soapbox now. Love your ideas.

  24. Well sorry to burst your bubble people, but having the kids clean up probably won’t happen since it would probably translate to “less pay for janitors/getting janitors fired”, and since almost every type of worker is unionized these days I feel safe in assuming janitors are too, so that would never happen.

    It’s a good idea, and I like it, but we happen to live in the real world… -sigh-

  25. “almost every type of worker is unionized these days”????

    In fact, union membership in the US dropped to an all-time low last year.

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