Paper Airplane? Late for School? Shouting Too Loud? You’re Under Arrest!

Hi Readers — Here’s an incredible report on how the “School to prison pipeline” plays out in Texas, as published in The Guardian:

In 2010, the police gave close to 300,000 “Class C misdemeanour” tickets to children as young as six in Texas for offences in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time. What was once handled with a telling-off by the teacher or a call to parents can now result in arrest and a record that may cost a young person a place in college or a job years later.

The other appalling fact is that parents who don’t or can’t pay the fine, which can be $500, sometimes ignore it. Which means that when the kid turns 17,he or she can be arrested and go to jail — adult prison — for non-payment.

The draconian nature of this situation has not escaped notice. Reports The Guardian:

 Texas state legislature last year changed the law to stop the issuing of tickets to 10- and 11-year-olds over classroom behaviour. (In the state, the age of criminal responsibility is 10.) But a broader bill to end the practice entirely – championed by a state senator, John Whitmire, who called the system “ridiculous” – failed to pass and cannot be considered again for another two years.

Two more years of criminalizing everything from shenanigans to defiance? All in the name of “safety”? What about keeping kids safe from an unwarranted,  lifelong criminal record?

This is a Free-Range issue because, once again, we see what happens when we lose perspective on crime. Usually I write about how we keep our kids inside because we wildly over-estimate the chance of kidnapping. Now we see what happens when schools, politicians and police wildly over-estimate the chance of “another Columbine.” Either way, childhood is compromised.  Either way, out kids pay the price for our paranoia.  — Lenore

The Backlash Against the Columbine Backlash

Readers — As we enter 2012, there is cause for hope, as this article shows. Legislators in Colorado, home to the Columbine massacre, are taking a new and rational look at their zero tolerance laws. These are laws that REQUIRED schools to act brainlessly and not distinguish between, say, a wooden replica of a rifle and a smoking AK47. Laws that told school administrators they’d be WRONG to treat a butter knife as a butter knife rather than as a deadly weapon. According to the website TimesCall.com:

A legislative committee moved forward with a proposal that seeks to give education officials more discretion over expulsions and police referrals, which lawmakers say became more common after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, where two students killed 13 people and then themselves.

Committee members said zero-tolerance policies adopted during the last decade have tied the hands of school administrators, who are forced to expel students or involve law enforcement for minor infractions.

How wonderful to untie the hands of school administrators and free them to reason rather than to blindly (over)react. If Colorado is where the Zero Tolerance Revolution began, let’s hope that this is where it begins its demise.

The proposed legislation would make expulsions mandatory only in cases of students bringing a firearm to school and would amend school discipline codes to distinguish minor infractions from violations that need police involvement. The proposal would also direct school boards to create discipline codes that limit suspensions and expulsions to cases where a student’s conduct threatens school safety.

Significantly, this new legislation is co-sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican — more proof that, rather than taking knee-jerk umbrage at something the other party suggested, people are starting to use their brains (and not, I guess, their knees). Let’s hear it for rationality, compassion and no longer overreacting to “threats” that don’t threaten our kids at all. — L.

If she brings a butter knife to school, she will no longer be considered armed and dangerous.

New Outrage! Kids in Cafeteria Must Ask Adults to Get Them Utensils

Readers, readers — I can’t stand how stupid our culture is some times! Like…right now! At this school! This story came in as a comment to the previous post. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: We just recently had a similar situation at my kids’ elementary school.  Last week, a first grader fell and hit his head in the cafeteria. The extent of the injury in not clear, but all reports are that the injury may have included some blood, but no serious injury requiring serious medical intervention.  The kid basically fell off his stool backwards and bumped his head.

So this week, a whole new array of rules in the cafeteria have been established, including that kids who need a fork, spoon, straw, etc. are now not permitted to get up and get one, but instead they are to raise their hand and ask the lunchroom monitors to get it for them. Kids are also no longer permitted to use the restroom during lunchtime.

I am sorry that a child bumped his head, but I do not see the sense in preventing kids from taking care of their own needs helps this.  There is not always an institutional solution to every little problem.  The kid fell not because someone got up and got a straw.  The kid fell because he is a little kid who sat a little goofy on his stool and lost his balance.

This is a perfect example of over-correcting for an unfortunate accident and in the meantime, creating worse problems for kids.  I think 4th graders should not expect an adult to take care of all their needs.  Talk about encouraging helplessness and entitlement!  Now the school would prefer my kid miss classtime to use the toilet instead of lunchtime? — A Reader

Outrage of the Week: School Cordons Off 3-Foot Hill

Hi Readers — Just got this note from David Robert Hogg, who blogs about traveling the world with kids at MyLittleNomads.com. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!  — L
.
Dear Free- Range Kids: I live in Seattle. Home to hikers, snowboarders, world travelers. It seemed like everyone I know was giving their kids the freedom to explore pretty much how we did as kids. OK, maybe not quite, but close enough not to land us on the Outrage of the Week.
.
Then I got our weekly email from my boys’ school. They are taping off a part of the playground because some kids had fallen, slipped, or tripped on it. Wrote the principal:
Dear Parents: After a few injuries caused by large groups of students running down the slope to line up after recess, I asked our custodial engineer to temporarily tape the area to keep students from running down the slope.
.
 have been communicating with our district gardeners and machinists to discuss a better solution such as landscaping the sloped area to prevent students from unsafely running down into it … I am also meeting with the Playground Committee this week and will seek their input on the improvements for safety reasons.

This is a "dangerous" hill?!

.
Dear Principal (I wrote back): I was very disappointed to see the yellow tape around the dirt slope on the playground and even more disappointed to read your reasoning for it. 
.
I’m a firm believer in the value of play – real play. There are risks, of course, that are serious enough to require intervention. A dirt hill with a 3 foot slope is not one of them. 
.
In the simplest terms, what happens when a child falls while running down this slope? They learn they need to be careful when running down the slope! Remove the challenge and the consequences and you remove the opportunity to learn. Let me ask two questions:
.
Are we making our kids any safer?
Almost certainly not. While potentially anything could happen with any fall, the majority of upsets are likely minor scrapes and bruises – if that. But more important, there’s evidence that removing small risks from a playground only serves to encourage greater risk taking – and prevents no injuries in the aggregate.
.
Are we making kids any smarter?
The message we’re sending when we try to protect our children from trivial dangers like this is that we don’t trust them, their intelligence, their ability to learn. To be safe in the real world requires the ability to tell serious risk from manageable risk. Teachers talk in the classroom of getting kids to think independently – and then the children walk outside to see tape marking off a slope that a 2 year old could safely run down.
.
Kids are better off  when they learn to navigate the real world than when they are protected from every possible risk. A playground that more closely resembles the real world makes for safer, stronger, and smarter children in the long run.
.
It’s difficult to write seriously about such a trivial matter but I fear if I don’t speak up now that this policy of a zero-risk schoolyard will only grow stronger and our kids will pay a steep price. Steeper, even, than a 3-foot hill. — David Hogg

The Difference Between a “Cut” and “Cutting”

Hi Readers — Got this note yesterday and it really resonated, mostly because it shows another instance of the authorities being deliberately dense, “for the sake of the children.” The case reminds me of the Zero Tolerance laws, when schools deliberately refuse to acknowledge the difference between a Lego gun and a Glock, or a Cub Scout “spork” and a spear. While I applaud the idea of helping kids if they have problems like cutting, I am sick of this cultural decision to be dumb as a stump. So read on, if you don’t mind getting mad, too. This comes to us from Kathy, a mom of two in Maryland. — L.
.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I had to share this latest outrage I heard today. A mom was telling me that her friend’s daughter cut her finger while in shop class.  I believe this girl was 11 years old.  Of course, she went to the nurse, and the nurse immediately started making a HUGE stink over the cut.  The reason?  Because they want to prevent children from purposeful self-mutilation or “cutting.”
.
They forced this girl to fill out a range of forms stating that she did not cut herself on purpose, and that she would pledge NOT to start cutting herself on purpose in the future.
.

This cut in class was an ACCIDENT.  This little girl had no intention of cutting herself when she walked into that class, nor did she have grand plans to start self-mutilation.

.

I am stunned at the reaction of the school.  In my opinion, they are grossly overreacting to common in-school injury.  What’s next?  If someone breaks their arm on the playground, they have to sign away their recess rights for the rest of their school career?!  If a kid doesn’t finish their lunch, do they have to sign a pledge saying they won’t become anorexic?  Yikes! — Kathy

Self-expression -- or self -mutilation?

A Minor Heartbreak

…that just came in the mail:

Dear Free-Range Kids: My father just passed away a few weeks ago.  He had a little lollipop tree in his house, that each child who visited got to pick from.  It was my children’s favorite.
After he passed, my daughter took 15 lollipops from the tree to give to her pre-k class.
She wasn’t allowed to give them out and tell them about her Pop Pop.  They are now a choking hazard for 4-5 year olds. — A Reader

Outrage of the Week: Older Siblings Banned from Middle School Pick-Up

Hi Readers! Oh great — more unmitigated fear, and unintended consequences. L.

.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I recently received an email from my daughter’s middle school that included this gem:
High school students are not allowed on C. Middle School property. They are trespassing and will be charged by the police. Please do not send your high school student on CMS property to “pick up” a younger brother or sister. They will be charged with trespassing.
I am frankly horrified.  This school is both a magnet school (drawing students from the entire county) and a receiving school for students who have transferred from schools that have been labeled as “failing.”  Many students travel long distances without access to buses.  Many parents must rely on older siblings to help with transportation.  The same principal who has threatened to have the high school students arrested ends nearly every email with the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  I don’t know what village she lives in, but my village includes a lot of helpful high school students who get their younger siblings to and from school. — Frustrated Mom

Outrage of the Day: Boy Suspended for Nerf Gun

Hi Readers — Onto more toothsome matters tomorrow. But in the meantime, for your tearing-your-hair-out pleasure, we bring you this story of Zero Tolerance. What I love about it is the genius reasoning on the part of the principal, Candice Reese:

“It’s not too harsh of a punishment and we want to make sure all of our students are safe,” Reese said.

Because…they weren’t safe with a 6-year-old with a Nerf gun at recess? — L

“No Touching” at High School? A Student Protests!

Hi Readers: I’m so proud of this high school student — for what she’s doing and also all her clear thinking. The points she makes about her school’s no-touching rule could be made about most Zero Tolerance laws. Be prepared to cheer! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a senior at a a small New England high school. A few days ago, the administration implemented a new rule: No physical contact at any time. The only appropriate touch, we are told, is a handshake. Presumably, this is to thin out the kissing couples who clog up the halls. I have no problem with that. But am I wrong in thinking that banning all touch goes too far? This morning I was in the library and saw a boy and girl studying at a nearby table. She had her arm around his shoulders.  A librarian rushed over and loudly harangued them. They were forced to sit two feet apart for the remainder of the period.

As a college-bound 17-year-old, I am insulted by the presumption that I am too immature to decide which kind of touches are appropriate for school. If the administration seriously thinks we can’t make that distinction ourselves, how do they expect us to survive in college?

I’ve written a petition, which I plan to put into circulation the week after next (next week is midterms). I’m pasting it here, and I’d love your thoughts.

* * *

We, the undersigned, call for removal of or significant amendments to the new “No Touching” policy at our high school. The case for our request rests on several points:

  • Interpersonal touch is not inherently sexual, and to treat it as such is to make it so. Touch can be a powerful bonding mechanism between friends, and any rule that fails to differentiate between acts of sex and acts of friendship seems arbitrary and inherently draconian.
  • High school students will soon be turned loose and made responsible for their own decisions. Is it not the responsibility of educators to impart valuable life skills and ready us for autonomy? Outright bans are not the way to do so. Rather than be taught to see interpersonal touch as inherently bad, we should learn the nuances of what is and is not appropriate for public venues. Don’t force us to look at the world in black and white. Show us the shades of gray.
  • Imposing limits on interpersonal relationships merely divides “school” and “life” into separate and often warring factions. This further alienates many teens who already fail to find much real-world meaning in school. School should be a holistic place in which social as well as academic needs are met. If we’re expected to integrate education into our lives, we should be allowed to bring our lives into our place of education.
  • According to the World Book encyclopedia, “[m]ost teenagers mature psychologically at the rate set by their society. As a result, psychological adolescence normally lasts at least as long as the period of legal dependence.” In other words, micromanaging merely infantilizes us. Trust us to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate touches, and we won’t let you down.

Outrage of the Nanosecond: Stop That Egg!

Hi Readers — Just because it’s an outrage kind of day, here’s another: A woman was detained at the Canadian border because she was bringing in a Kinder Surprise Egg. You know — the chocolate candy with a prize inside. The problem? That prize presents a choking hazard!

The BIGGER problem? A law equating candy with crystal meth! Of COURSE there is a prize inside. That is why people BUY them.  The adults know it’s there. The KIDS know it’s there. That is why the word “KINDER” as in “KINDERGARTEN” is featured rather prominently in the candy’s name. What next? A ban on Cracker Jacks? After all, kids COULD think the prize was a piece of popcorn!

Anyway, I automatically knew I’d love this story because it uses the word “kerfuffle” in the first graph. So here it is! Have a kerfuffle-free day! L.