By Alice Dubenetsky
Common sense appears to be fleeing America’s school systems as rapidly as the students who are rushing out their doors for summer vacation. A host of one size fits all policies and politically correct rules and regulations are invading classrooms nationwide. Innocent children are being snagged in inane attempts to police and punish normal childhood behaviors.
In Chicago, one school district has banned home-made lunches unless the student has a medical excuse. A school in North Carolina recently confiscated a little girls turkey and cheese sandwich, chips, a banana and apple juice, saying it didn’t meet the state’s health guidelines. They replaced it with chicken nuggets.
Massachusetts started a firestorm with a (failed) state-wide initiative to ban bakes sales, under the guise of encouraging public schools to enforce nutrition standards. It didn’t matter to the bureaucrats that bake sales are about more than cupcakes and brownies. Bake sales actually encourage young people to raise money on their own for the things the want or need, teach organizational skills and even a bit of entrepreneurship – real world skills that they don’t necessarily learn in the classroom.
New York City recently attempted to ban certain words from city issued tests in an absurd endeavor to prevent students from feeling uncomfortable and not to “appear biased.” A total of 50 words were considered too controversial for children to confront. On the list were terrifying expressions such as: Birthday, junk food, Halloween, hunting, loss of employment, poverty, dinosaur, Christmas, Yom Kippur and Ramaden. There is no mention of the truly offensive language that is ubiquitous in many school setting these days. This particular attempt at mind control has been met with the scorn and ridicule it so richly deserves.
Bans on birthday celebrations, hugging, prayer, American flags and even best friends (in the U.K.) and Father’s Day are cropping everywhere up in an absurd wave of political correctness.
In our own state a group of fifth grade boys were recently ensnared in a strange situation involving a mindless interpretation of the local school board’s weapons policy. The intent of the policy is to provide safe and secure schools and a zero tolerance for weapons and drugs – a perfectly reasonable policy to maintain a safe and comfortable environment in which students and teachers alike can learn and work. Security in the classroom is crucial and in this age of random violence, and it’s more than reasonable to establish policies that protect our schoolchildren. The problem with such policies is that they can be misinterpreted by staff members and ensnare unsuspecting children for the wrong reasons. Instead of using common sense to determine the scope of a situation, some staff members seem more comfortable relying only on the black and white wording of the policy itself.
In the Vermont school’s situation, the fifth graders in question were occupying themselves during an indoor recess period, and they decided to play with some unifix cubes, which are colorful plastic cubes used as mathematics aids. They can be fitted together much like Legos. Instead of doing complicated math problems in their free time, they decided to build toy guns (gasp). Worse yet, they played with the guns, and also involved a girl who, apparently willingly, became their “hostage.” That was when the heavy hand of the law came down on the hapless villains and the weapons policy book was thrown at them. Their parents were called at work and the students were immediately suspended. A letter was also sent home informing the parents that their children had been suspended in accordance with the districts strict zero tolerance weapons policy.
When the mother of one of the boys met with school officials, she pointed out that such behavior was developmentally appropriate, although probably not in a school setting. She does not agree that unifix cubes can be construed as a weapon or even a hoax weapon under the policy because they were not used to intimidate or create fear in anyone. They were simply part of a game being played in a small group. “What a waste of time,” said the boys mother. ‘This should have been treated as a behavioral matter. What our son did doesn’t fit.”
Certainly no one can argue with weapons bans in schools. Such policies are reasonable, practical and wise. It’s the interpretation of this type of one-size-fits-all policies that creates the problems. Teachers and staff members should, perhaps, be allowed to exercise a little discretion and deal with situations like this one-on-one with the offenders – a perfectly reasonable expectation – a teachable moment. What happened to normal student-teacher interaction? In this case, one might have expected a responsible teacher to talk with the boys, insist they stop the game and dismantle the “guns”, and explain that such behavior is not classroom appropriate, and why. Then the students would actually have learned something valuable to take forward in their academic lives.
Simple common sense.