Sunday, January 8, 2012

Another Story about Education in Georgia. It Ain't Pretty.

So, Jack Marshall, whose Ethics Alarms blog is linked frequently here, read my piece on the idiot teacher(s) in Georgia who thought that references to slavery, beatings, and baskets of cotton would be appropriate to include in math homework for 3rd graders. And his response:
If your child is taught by a moron—and technical definitions aside, that is not an unfair or uncivil description of a teacher who thinks it’s reasonable to give the question, “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” to a third-grader, your child’s likelihood of growing up moronic is vastly increased.

And yet, as Richard Dreyfus’s character says to Quint the shark-hunter as they compare scars in “Jaws,” “I got that beat.” In fact, Rick, I got that beat in Georgia.
Trouble is, he’s probably right (although there’s a good chance that both will be Curmie nominees and you’ll get to decide).

Thirteen-year-old Jack Persyn is a student at Lanier Middle School in Sugar Hill, GA. He was at Chess Club before classes started a couple of days ago (obviously, he’s a threat to society—you know those Chess Club types) when he noticed that there was a 1 ½” jackknife in a bag his aunt had given him for Christmas; she’d bought it at a yard sale. So, knowing that there was school rule against having a “weapon” (a knife that size is a weapon?), Jack took it to a teacher. For his honesty, he was rewarded with a four-day in-school suspension.

School officials acknowledged that his possession of the knife on school property was an accident. The official disciplinary report says that he “immediately self-reported.” They punished him anyway. That makes them morons. They claim they don’t have a zero-tolerance policy. That makes them lying morons.

OK. Like most people who have travelled at all extensively, I have inadvertently taken something I shouldn’t have through airport security. No, not something really dumb like a loaded gun (I’m not a football coach or a Tea Party leader, after all). But I remember looking through a pocket in my carry-on bag while waiting for a connecting flight in the St. Louis airport a few years ago and finding… wait for it… a 2 ½” knife. I quickly realized that this was the knife I hadn’t been able to find for several weeks. And that meant I’d taken it through airport security not once but three times, including twice when I’d been singled out for a special search by the hopeless incompetents known as the TSA.

But I digress. The point is that I’m not as honorable as Jack Persyn: I didn’t run scurrying to the authorities to turn myself in. I just threw the knife back in the bag, vowed to remember to take it out when I got home, and went back to reading my book. That’s because I’m old enough and cynical enough to suspect that the powers-that-be would cause me more hassle than the situation merited. Besides, I didn’t want to have that knife confiscated: it was a Christmas present from my (now) brother-in-law before I married his sister. (We’re now four months away from our 30th anniversary.)

Young Mr. Persyn, however, is a better and/or more naïve person than I. He could easily have done precisely what I did. He could have tossed the knife back in his bag and made a mental note to take it out when he got home. But he did the right thing. No good deed goes unpunished.

I’m not sure who the school’s talking head in the TV spot link might be: system spokesperson Jore Quintana, perhaps? Whoever he is, he was tasked with defending the indefensible. A reporter asks, “Isn’t that telling them that you’re doing the right thing by reporting it, but you’re still going to be punished?” His self-righteous response: “That is telling other students that we are trying to keep their school safe, and that we’re trying to keep them safe at school.”

I’m going to say this once: No. It. Freaking. Isn’t.

What this absurd enforcement of an absurd zero-tolerance policy (call it what you will, that’s precisely what it is, and it’s fully as reprehensible as all the others—more so, probably, because of the craven denial of reality), students learn the following:
• if you make a mistake, whatever you do, don’t admit it. We didn’t admit ours, and we punished a 13-year-old for admitting his.
• exercise of discretion or thought is expressly forbidden.
• when you’ve made a really stupid decision, make sure that no one knows it was you. Send a minion out to take the heat.
• if you have a “weapon,” make sure it stays concealed.
• never trust a person in authority to do the right thing, just because you did.
Forgive me for not applauding the fact that the status quo, unlike the previous policy, allows for discretion. Discretion only matters when it’s applied.

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