I recently got an email asking me to sign a petition protesting the arrest of a six year old girl for throwing a temper tantrum in the principal's office. When I searched Google to find out more about the story (decent article here), I found out another six year old was arrested this week, for kicking and saying he was going to kill the principal (he had previously been suspended by biting and hitting a staff member).
Obviously, calling in the police to arrest a six year old child is absurd--and little Salecia Johnson's parents are right to demand that the arrest be removed from her record. But as someone who has worked with "at risk" children, I appreciate the difficulty that the school officials face.
I worked one year at a YMCA summer day camp in the mid-Wilshire area of L.A. During the training, we were asked what we thought we should do if a child was screaming, throwing things, breaking things, etc. The correct answer was: call the child's parents, keep trying to calm the child down, but whatever you do, NEVER TOUCH THE CHILD. NEVER. Because the YMCA did not want to get sued.
I absolutely loved the kids I got to work with in that job, but I really hated the way the program was run, because there was no disciplinary system. If a kid was really acting out, you could threaten to "write them up" and if you wrote them up three times, they would be suspended. But the only behavior a child could be written up for was hitting someone.
I was charged with getting the children do all kinds of things--line up and stand quietly in order, come in from the playground, walk in two straight rows, etc.--but there was no incentive for them to do what I told them, and no disincentive for misbehaving. So all I could do was tell them to do something, and if they didn't do it, just tell them again.
The way the other counselors kept the children in line was by shouting at them in a very loud, angry, threating voice, thus inducing an irrational fear. I was not willing to do the same. I am opposed, in principle, to treating children that way. It strikes me as abusive.
I have never been in an elementary school classroom myself, but I would imagine they probably have the same basic problem: an inadequate disciplinary system. I would guess that in most cases, if a classroom is well-ordered, it's probably because the children are quiet and obedient. But what do you do when a child gets "mood swings"? Or is in danger of hurting themselves or others? The parents can be called, but even if they are reached, they will not arrive on the scene immediately.
When I worked at a group home for children with emotional and behavioral disturbances, we received special training in how safely to physically restrain a child who had become a danger to self or others. It was a very necessary tool for restoring order when a child was really out of control.
Should all school employees be given similar training so that they won't have to call in the police when they're afraid of violence? Would that necessitate parents signing waivers before their children can be enrolled?
There don't seem to be any easy answers here. Just another of the myriad ways in which the public school system is woefully broken ...
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