The Criminalization Of Misconduct
When you bring an officer onto campus, you undermine [the teachings of inclusion and full adult control]. Rather than sending the message to kids that adults expect your best and are fully in control of the school environment, the patrolling presence of police sends the message that we expect your worse and are not in control. Rather than sending the message that you will do the right thing because strong, successful people do so naturally, we are sending the message that you will do the right because we will punish you otherwise. We once used the phrase family to describe the school environment we sought to create. External controlling agents are no part of any family I know. Instead of kids hearing a message of inclusion and warmth, one that softens that self-defeating mantle of hard so many reach for, we are sending a hardening message that this is a place for thugs, a ghetto place where the kids are so bad actual armed police officers are needed to ensure control.
Every word of that has been born out and proved accurate this year. Every word has been driven home not only by the presence of the police, but through the actions of an unsettled first-year administrator, who has consistently and obstinately brought a police presence into areas of school function in which they can serve no beneficial purpose. This isn't even about the absurd rate of suspension, the removal of dignity in discipline situations, or just the daily unpleasantness that has arisen on campus. This is about how the police have been used to undermine and chip away at the very core of what it was that made our school a successful and special place.
This year, officers have been brought into discipline scenarios time and time again in defiance of our norms, understandings, and wishes, but apparently in compliance with the wishes of district leadership. The inclusion of police represents a continued gross escalation and over-reaction. We're not talking about a kid selling drugs or using a weapon in an assault. Those are crimes. Our kids are being put into the system, cited and arrested over actions that, while unacceptable, are nevertheless not criminal. A playground fight is not a crime. Yelling things at someone is not a crime. Being a jerk to a 6th grader is not a crime. Having a Sharpie in your posession is not a crime.
Students at my school have received citations and court dates for all these actions.
It's awful. We do not need more black and brown kids in the criminal justice system. We do not need kids with booby-trapped cumulative files, rigged for explosion the first time they step out of line, because suddenly it's a pattern and a repeat offense. We do not need to set so many kids up for failure in navigating legal whitewater (as if it's so out of the realm of possibility that we're handing out court dates to families who lack the money, social capital, immigration status, or plain with-it-ness to get themselves through something like that in an acceptable way). We do not need to function this way to have an orderly, safe campus.
This is what we do now. Kid gets sent to the office, there's almost no chance they escape interaction with a police officer, no matter how piddling the offense. Citations are written at such a mind-boggling rate that teachers have been told officers are too encumbered with paperwork to remove trespassers from campus. I hate it. I see the reliance on, and the acceptance of, a police role in routine matters of discipline and I want to vomit. But this is what we do now.
This is never what we have done.
We moved from a state-rank of 1 to 5, obtained a like-schools rank of 10, quadrupled the number of proficient students, advanced from the worst middle school in the county to the best in the District, and at no time did we need a daily police presence handing out citations, threatening students with a harassment charge if they continued to make animal noises, or entering classrooms to support an otherwise ineffectual and weak administrator in matters of minor discipline. We've presented our success in two states, to numerous county and district officials, received visits from dozens of schools, and every time they want to hear about the instruction, about the scheduling, about the professional development attended, about the extended school day. They want to hear about the mechanics of structural and instructional reform, but the thing that really made the difference, the thing that enabled all those other reforms to take root and be effective is much more simple and direct: We agreed to see in our kids their best, and demand it from them, daily.
This is what Defy The Myth meant. These kids can learn, they want to learn, and it's our job to take the learning to them. We must take our teachings to them and not demand, ever, that they come to us. We will not scream at kids from across a chasm of misunderstanding; we will use our powerful minds and hands to build a big-ass bridge to bring them over. When you defy this myth, you are able to differentiate between esthetic and personality, between a front and a reality, between an annoyance and a disruption, between misconduct and a criminal act. When you defy this myth, you are able to see misbehavior as something unfortunate that contradicts, rather than confirms, your expectations.
The myth is on its way back, and let's be clear about what this means: We have placed our feet upon a path that will pull us back into the bucket, pull us back down into that dank place where there is no unity, no sense of purpose, no common goal, no pursuit of excellence, just a fractured group of individuals, some getting by, some making it worse, some fighting every minute to push out the darkness that once seemed so small and far away.
I feel the slip, and wait for the rupture.