In what sane world does a mainstream public institution create a code of conduct that ranks, by degrees of severity, the possession of imaginary weapons? Weapons that don’t actually exist? Weapons that are only distinguishable in caliber by the shape a boy makes with his fingers?
As CNN tells us, this is exactly what is happening at an Ohio elementary school:
Ten-year-old Nathan Entingh doesn’t understand why he got suspended from school for three days. According to his father, Paul Entingh, one moment the boy was “goofing off” with his friends in fifth-grade science class, and the next the teacher was taking him out of the classroom, invoking Ohio’s zero-tolerance policy.
There’s those good ol’ zero-tolerance policies again. Making kids (boys, really) feel like criminals for engaging in non-criminal behavior since the 1990s.
The offense? Nathan was “making his fingers look like a gun, having the thumb up and the pointed finger sticking out,” said Entingh, describing the February 26 incident. “He was pointing it at a friend’s head and he said ‘boom.’ The kid didn’t see it. No other kids saw it. But the teacher saw it,” he said. “It wasn’t threatening. It wasn’t hostile. It was a 10-year-old kid playing.”
The next morning Paul Entingh escorted his son Nathan to the principal’s office, where they met with Devonshire Alternative Elementary School Principal Patricia Price. “She said if it happened again the suspension would be longer, if not permanent,” said Entingh, who also received a letter explaining the reason for Nathan’s suspension as a “level 2 look alike firearm.”
Let’s zoom out and look at the framework of what is going on. See the forest for the trees, so to speak.
These people are (in theory) in the profession of educating others. One of the key questions when educating youth (prepubescent youth especially) is this question:
What is a developmentally appropriate [education buzzword alert!] method of instructing a student of this particular age and maturity level?
Education professionals across the world ask this question when determining what type of instructional methods and content are appropriate for children. But what strikes me as particularly odd is that such a question rarely appears to be asked when it comes to school discipline.
So now I ask: what is a developmentally appropriate method of approaching the issue of rowdiness and imaginary weapons among 10 year-olds – children who are still learning basic notions of right and wrong, social norms, and so forth? Is it a scorched-earth mentality that demonizes boys as proto-criminals for childish behavior, casts them out (if only briefly), and alienates them from educational institutions?
Are the boys truly “celebrating violence” per se? And if so, what exactly is the nature of that “celebration”? Do we, as adults, not also celebrate the fact that police officers defend citizens under attack, go after thieves and murderers, and so forth? Are police officers wrong to apprehend others in this manner?
If not, then what is really wrong with boys playing Cops and Robbers (or a similar activity) so long as such an activity is mutually consensual and does not result in serious injury? Why do children so often seem to possess a greater eye for nuance than adults in this matter?
As I noted in a recent post, education administrators often rationalize their more extreme rulings against students by asserting that their actions are not punitive per se, but “educational.” If so, it begs the question: what educational value do zero-tolerance policies provide students, other than educating them in the fact that adults are often high-strung people who are deeply out of touch with the lives of the children they manage?
And how did zero-tolerance policies educate Nathan Entingh in this case? As the CNN article starts off saying:
Ten-year-old Nathan Entingh doesn’t understand why he got suspended…
He doesn’t understand because zero-tolerance policies have zero educational value.
We need a change in this country regarding zero-tolerance policies. Some schools are starting to see the light. But we still have a long way to go.