Once upon a time, there existed a level of classroom discipline somewhere between "just ignore it" and "call the police and have the student arrested." Unfortunately that level has more or less gone the way of the dodo, and the erosion of the concept of proportionate response in discipline has never been more apparent than in a new viral video depicting a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina, as he bodily flings a student out of her desk, drags her across the classroom floor and handcuffs her — all over her checking a cellphone in class.
The other students in the class — including one with the presence of mind to take out his own cellphone and record the incident — described the situation that culminated in the officer's arrest of the student (and the arrest of another student who spoke up for her as well). The girl had been using her cellphone while using the computer for an assignment and refused to hand it over when asked, and though apologetic for the use of the cellphone, she declined to get out of her seat when asked by an administrator. So instead of de-escalating the situation with this nonviolent student, the adults on the scene made the decision to call in the school police officer, who, when the girl again would not get out of her chair, instigated an act of violence against her and arrested her on charges of disturbing the school. If I had to guess, I would say the other students in the room were probably a lot more disturbed by seeing one of their peers slammed to the floor than by her use of a cellphone during class time, but what do I know?
This case is far from the only instance of disproportionate response by school resource officers. The past months have seen students arrested for throwing vegetables or candy, having a cellphone or swearing. And before anyone comes in to vomit out apologia for the idea that a child who throws some Skittles deserves to be charged with a crime, tell me how you'd feel if your child was the one being arrested for such a thing.
It's no wonder this case is being sent to the FBI for further investigation.
Of course teachers don't deserve to be hit in the forehead with carrot-based projectiles or to be cursed at in the hallways of their place of employment. And this is not to say that there are never cases where students need to be arrested: Students attempt shootings, harass and molest their peers. But here's the thing: There are ways to deal with the cellphone and candy kinds of low-level misbehavior that do not involve derailing the next few years of a child's life. It's called "classroom management." It's called phone calls home, loss of school privileges, detention, suspension. It's called understanding that teenagers' brains are not fully matured yet, and that means they do obnoxious things and that obnoxious things aren't worth knocking a child's education off track over. It's called treating kids like kids — annoying, bad decision-making, pain-in-the-neck kids — instead of like criminals. It's called remembering what the point of discipline is, or is supposed to be: to help kids grow into responsible adults. Not to strip the classroom of any students who are challenging, troubled, angry, sad. It's just that easy, which is to say it isn't very easy at all. I should know; I taught for three years, and that was enough for me.
Of course, it might be easier if we started spending our money on schools in a different way. Instead of money going toward school resource officers and lawsuits, what about more guidance counselors, more school social workers, free breakfasts, places to play and gather outside school hours?
Or, you know, we can keep arresting kids over food and phones. It's only their lives in the balance, after all.
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