"I found one day in school a boy of medium size ill-treating a smaller boy. I expostulated, but he replied: 'The bigs hit me, so I hit the babies; that's fair.' In these words he epitomized the history of the human race."
- From "Education and the Social Order" by Bertrand Russell
"When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children anyway they could
by pouring their derision upon anything we did
exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kids."
- From "Another Brick in the Wall" by Pink Floyd.
Bullying is major problem in many of our schools. Sometimes, the worst bullies are the grown-ups. A case in point is a novel form of discipline now practiced in several Texas school systems, including Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Dallas. Instead of detention to punish misbehaving students, the school system is using the criminal justice system. A student who disobeys a school rule is given a ticket that his or her family has to pay. Last year, more than 275,000 Texas juveniles were ticketed for such offenses as disrupting class, disorderly conduct or curfew violations (i.e. leaving campus without permission). These tickets are not cheap; when school officials searched a girl's purse and found a cigarette butt, she got a ticket for $200! Some troubled students can rack up several tickets, placing a substantial financial burden on their family.
These tickets have to be taken seriously. These violations are class C misdemeanors, which is serious enough to show up on a criminal record. Of course, a Texas child's criminal record should be wiped clean of these offenses once he or she turns 18, but due to the sheer volume of these tickets, this often isn't done. It gives a whole new meaning to the term "permanent record", doesn't it? Moreover, once a student turns 17, he / she can be arrested for failure to pay the ticket. This actually happened to a 17 year old student from Hidalgo county last year.
The public interest group Texas Appleseed has studied the ticketing of students. Among their findings were:
- tickets were given to children as young as six;
- racial minorities receive a disproportionate number of tickets; and
- a student is much more likely to get a ticket if he / she has a disability.
What is especially appalling about this ticketing is that frequently no allowances are made for when a misbehavior might be caused by a disability. Tickets for using profanity have been given to students suffering from Tourette Syndrome! The Appleseed report has a particularly callous citation of an autistic girl. In the interest of full disclosure, I have an autistic son who has his own blog, making this sort of abuse even more disturbing to me.
All in all, this ticketing system recalls the protest song "Another Brick in the Wall" from Pink Floyd's 1979 Rock opera "The Wall". This song condemns the British school system of enforcing mindless conformity by humiliating any student that deviates from the norm. What better anthem is there for school systems that punishes students for the crime of being born with a disability?
So what should be done to stop this legal harassment of Texas children? I have two proposals that I will present in follow-ups to this post. Stay tuned.
A bonus video: here's a version of "Another Brick in the Wall" that might be more appropriate for Texas.