Notes: (1) Cross-posted on the IDEA website (Institute for Democratic Education in America), and (2) This is a first attempt at a Daily Kos diary and I welcome help from the tagging experts on board. :o)
The other day, I made a suggestion in the comments of Brainwrap’s excellent diary (2/22/10) on the latest developments in the evolution of the Pennsylvania school district tale known in the dkos community as ‘WebCamGate’. In short, the district is being sued by the parents of a student who was disciplined by his school for something he must have done in his bedroom at home. How did they come to understand this alleged infraction of some rule? Seems the laptop computer in his bedroom belongs to the school and had within it the capacity with its cam technology to record said alleged infraction. "A clusterf*ck," writes Brainwrap.
In my comment, I recommended that dkos readers check out the trailer of a documentary...
More on 'The War On Kids' below the fold...
...directed by Cevin Soling called "The War On Kids" for an in-depth look at the oppression of children in our current authoritarian educational settings.
I had purchased a copy of the documentary and watched it several times, each time becoming more and more alarmed with the authoritarian tactics being used on our children in public schools.
In the documentary, Dan Losen, Civil Rights Project at Harvard University (now at UCLA), describes current authoritarian tactics and says that these kinds of ...
"...unyielding authoritarian approaches are alienating students not only from their schools but also from the concept of being part of a democracy. They are not getting the message that being part of society is something that includes them, giving respect to their voices, their concerns, their interests. This disrespect gets translated into discipline policies."
Then to my chagrin later that day (2/23/10), the same day I recommended the documentary, I came across an article online on the website of the Statesman Journal, our local paper in Salem, Oregon, entitled "Officers to stay on school grounds: Council renews contract with police." It begins:
"Eleven Salem Police officers will continue to walk the halls at a number of Salem-Keizer schools...."
Houston, we have a problem...
‘The War On Kids’ documentary begins with Judith Browne, Co-Director of The Advancement Project, talking about how authoritarian policies escalated into what they are today. It started, she says, with the wars on drugs and the worries about guns. The clamp down on children evolved into a "fear of children." Terms like "super predator" were used and under ‘zero tolerance policies’ potential weapons of mass destruction could be found in a butter knife, a tweety bird chain, a cuticle cutter clip, a key fob, all leading to children being expelled from school.
Dr. Henry A. Giroux, Professor, McMaster University (Author of Stealing Innocence: Corporate Culture’s War On Children) tells about a ten year old boy who stole $2, was arrested and charged with a felony and spent two weeks in jail.
The systems are referring youngsters to the authorities for trivial infractions of the rules, adding enforcement officers on the campuses who are intervening... and arresting kids and taking them away for often minor kinds of violations in which a simple shoving match is now an assault, possibly a felony assault.... The harshness of these policies is not only contributing to the incarceration of youth but, by their removal, from being active participants in our democracy.
There are many more examples in the film. John W. Whitehead, President of The Rutherford Institute, reports of hundreds of cases. He’s helped with the defense of the kids: a child suspended several days for violating the zero tolerance policy against drugs for having ‘Scope’ at school; girls having ‘Midol’ in their purses; a child having ‘Alka Seltzer’; a child just joking around draws a gun at school (draws with a pencil!) and shows a friend...all were suspended from school. A young girl, a good student, passed a nail file to a friend across the isle who wanted to clean her nails with it. She was thrown out of school for a year and three months. Do we need to go on? How about the four Kindergarten boys playing cops and robbers with their fingers as guns? They are thrown out of school for violating a zero tolerance weapons policy.
Back to the articlein the Salem paper (actually in a side bar on the page next to the article), we learn some of the history of having the officers in the local schools:
The earliest time a Salem Police officer was placed on school assignment was in 1969. It's unclear to which school the officer was assigned. A federal grant paid for the cost. Salem Police became a constant presence at Salem-Keizer schools in the late 1980s, when the district began supplementing the cost.
And from the reporter’s account:
It's difficult to pin down the number of student referrals made by school resource officers to the Marion County Juvenile Department for the 2008-09 school year. Salem and Keizer Police and the Marion County Sheriff's Office all have school officers who may overlap on juvenile cases.
After all that time in the schools and the system finds it "difficult to pin down the number of referrals made by school resource officers" to the Juvenile Department? Is that not strange?
But, never fear,
"... the district's spokesman, called law enforcement a "tremendous ally" at schools. "They are a very big partner, and part of the team in the education of our young people."
My question is: What do the youngsters think about all these authoritarian enforcement resources at school? If they are anything like those interviewed by the producers of "The War On Kids," they don’t like it.
And I haven’t written anything about the cameras located everywhere... watching hallways, classrooms, bathrooms, cafeterias, libraries, gyms, buses. "It’s creepy," says a teen girl in the film, always having people watching all the time. She says she puts her head down in the halls and walks straight to class so that no one can mistakenly suspect her of doing something wrong. Imagine living like that day to day.
A student in the documentary talks of "friends who cry themselves to sleep at night and wish they were dead." He doesn’t appear to think of the enforcement resources and oppressive atmosphere as helpful to his education.
I think we should be taking a leaf from Tyrone Howard’s book, actually from his paper published in the Teachers College Record -- "Who Really Cares? The Disenfranchisement of African American Males in PreK-12 Schools: A Critical Race Theory Perspective," 2008. (Executive Summary, fee for full text.)
Howard makes the point that we really don't know what the African American male is experiencing in school. Research perspectives ought, he writes, to include interviewing the youngsters in order to allow them to "offer counterstorytelling accounts of their schooling experiences." The information already gathered in this way, he asserts, shows a dramatic amount of racial prejudice evidenced in the lives of the African American males which is going unnoticed in mass media and educational research.
I am suggesting the same kind of research is necessary to determine whether the statement quoted in the article in the February 23rd issue of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, is true.
"... the district's spokesman, called law enforcement a "tremendous ally"..."... in the education of our young people."
I think we need some "counterstorytelling accounts" from the ones who know the real inside skinny before we understand whether that statement is true.
A personal note: I cannot look at the documentary without sobbing during the last clip before the credits. We see a young African American girl of maybe 7 or 8 years old sitting in what seems to be outside the principal’s office. She is dressed nicely and has lovely bows on her pigtails, but is not happy. Her eyes are cast down, her lower lip protruding. As we watch, two police officers come from either side of the camera and begin to move the child in a way as to allow them to pull her arms behind her back so they can put the handcuffs, we can now see they have, on her wrists. The child struggles a bit at first and then screams...a bloodcurdling scream. I cannot get that scream out of my mind. It hurts and that comes from an old lady who has watched ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ at least 20 times. Danny Boyle’s tale is pretend; this is not.
Of the "Lessons" in the documentary, as the film’s segments are called, the first three of importance to this discussion are "Zero Tolerance," "School Security," and the "War on Drugs." Other lessons might be topics for other another time: Pharmaceutical Drugs; Public Education; Homework; and Socialization.
I see on the ‘The War On Kids’ website that the documentary will be shown at Tufts University in Medford, MA on April 7th and Cevin Soling and the documentary will be featured at the AERO Conference in Albany, NY on June 25th.