Monday, October 26, 2015

Leave Them Kids Alone

As many of you know, I am spending this fall and winter studying in Europe. Obviously, my car couldn’t come abroad with me. This means that my little brother has a car to drive for his senior year of high school. Which is great, of course, but I went with my mom to pick up the forms from his school, and it honestly made me feel a little sick.

First of all, forms? You have a license. You have a car. You drive the car into the parking lot and park it. A few hours later you drive it home again. It’s not that complicated. Why would you need paperwork?

But you know, whatever. He had to pay for a parking pass, so maybe it’s just receipts or something.

Nope. You put your parking sticker on your car. You can only drive that car. No one but you can drive that car. If your car is broken down one day so you drive your dad’s, bam. No more parking. If you’re home sick but you let a friend or a sibling take your car to school, bam. No more parking.

No picking people up or dropping them off at the door, never mind that parents and school buses do that every day. No loitering in the parking lot. No leaving in your car, under any circumstances, during school hours. You got a dentist appointment? Your parents are at work and your little brother needs to go home sick? You just finished literally puking your guts out, your parents are at a retreat up north for the weekend, and you need to go home sick? Too bad. Say goodbye to that parking spot, kid. And say bye to your locker and your friends while you’re at it—you just might get expelled.

This is what I hate—what I have always hated—about schools. When I was in fifth grade, one of the boys decided to decorate the bathroom. For the rest of the year, any time a kid wanted to pee, he had to bring along a teacher to supervise. When I was in eighth grade, all the teachers defaulted to considering us bad kids, because eighth grade had been a rough year for the class above us. When I was in ninth grade, you could get expelled, and possibly arrested, for bringing in a plastic butter knife. My high school used to have microwaves, but we all lost them because a couple kids left messes in them.

So here’s a helpful tip for all you educators out there: Students, kids? We are human beings. We are smaller and less experienced than you, but we are all complex individuals with our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and if you think you can invalidate that by treating us like one collective mass of mindless mess-makers, honey, you are in the wrong business. Go work at a zoo or something.

Two forms of discipline that have never once been actually successful: 1) Punishing an entire group for the crimes of a few. 2) Rewarding one person for doing something that everyone else is expected to do every day.

These are both things that schools thrive on. Three kids don’t do their homework? Whole class has extra reading tonight. Once I had a teacher who told us we didn’t have to turn any homework in until the end of the semester. The one time I actually put my work off, having been told it was okay, everyone else had the same idea for that assignment, and suddenly it wasn’t okay anymore. She singled me out, and she made me cry. One kid never does his homework? Offer him a nice dinner or something from the vending machine, and he might come through for once. But the people who always do their homework? We get nothing, except maybe yelled at for one little failure. I missed one assignment between sixth and twelfth grade. The guy across from me finished one. So where’s my free ice cream, huh?

Schools don’t treat students like people. Not usually. They only notice us if we do something spectacular, whether it’s good or bad. And if it’s good you get singled out, maybe, but if it’s bad you’re all lumped together, and everyone suffers. So you know what? Run through the hallways. Scream at the top of your lungs. Homework? Forget about it. Go ahead and decorate the bathroom however you like, and leave all your food in the running microwave until it explodes. I mean, why not? If you’re getting punished either way, you might as well have some fun first.

Okay, don’t do that. But seriously. If you’re an adult in a position of authority, especially over children, let them commit the crime before you make them do the time. If people are going to get blamed for something no matter what, they’re gonna be a lot more inclined to actually do the thing. And we’re children, not terrorists. Just chill, okay? If you don’t treat me like a monkey, I won’t throw poop in the bathrooms. If you stop rewarding kids for rare displays of homework, I’ll stop doing mine so rarely. I’m not going to slit your throat with plastic cutlery, and who on earth is going to suffer if I drive my mom’s car to school one morning?

I’m a person. My needs are just as important as yours, and my thoughts are just as valid. But if you want to treat me like some kind of chaos demon, you can bet I’m going to retaliate by acting like one. Sometimes I think teachers get so caught up in things that they forget they’re dealing with fellow human beings. Don’t forget that, okay? Because I’m really sick of seeing kids treated like prisoners instead of students. Don’t treat us like that. Please.

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