Student Rights and Moments of Silence

I had a series of conversations today with students at my school about student rights. I’m deeply passionate about this subject. In fact, one of my projects in grad school (specifically, the fourth time in grad school, LOL) was the development of a student “code of conduct” that was exclusively based upon legal precedent, especially Supreme Court precedent. Because my education nerdliness is known far and wide – Hi, Whoopi! – several different colleagues sought my insight with their kids for relevant projects, and today was just sort of a culminating day of education law.

So. Cool. I just adore working with sharp kids asking cutting questions!

I took kids through a few of the major highlights I think are relevant, starting with the early establishment of “In Loco Parentis,” or “in the place of the parent.” The landmark Lander v. Seaver was basically about a kid cutting across school grounds, and getting disciplined by the schoolmaster. The family sued, as they didn’t believe the schoolmaster had a right to discipline the kid outside of the school day, on school grounds. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school, establishing the doctrine that schools have a compelling interest in the broad care of their children, in the stead of the parent.

Fast forward to 1969: It’s the Vietnam era, and student protests aren’t isolated to college campuses. Several students tie black armbands around their arms, devoid of slogans or logos, to protest, and are told to take them off. The parents sue, charging that the school violated the free speech rights of the students, and the Supreme Court agrees. The Tinker v. Des Moines ruling establishes the “Tinker Standard” or “Tinker Test,” which says that the school can prohibit student actions that “reasonably lead school authorities to forecast substantial disruption [of] or material interference with school activities” or “invasion on the rights of others.” Since the school could not have reasonably forecast any problem with the armbands, the school was found to be in the wrong.

Another leap to 1986: A student delivers a graduation speech laced with innuendo, and is sanctioned by the school. In Bethel v. Fraser, the Supreme Court held that “teachers and administrators must have the authority to do what they reasonably believe is in the best interest of their educational responsibilities.” This word “reasonable” appears throughout a survey of SCOTUS opinion and literature on the subject. The court held that the school DID have a right to limit student speech, thereby establishing the idea of “school speech” versus “free speech.”

A couple of years later, in 1988, the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier opinion (which dealt primarily with student publications), held that “educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control” … “so long as their activities are reasonably related to pedagogical concerns.” Again, the court sided with the school, finding that the administration did have a right to restrict student publications of inflammatory or controversial material, in order to preserve the educational mission and protect kids.

These benchmark tests – Tinker, Fraser, and Hazelwood – form the triumvirate of major student rights law where speech and expression is concerned, and are often-referenced in subsequent case law. The 9th Circuit court decision in LaVine v. Blaine, which found that a school can sanction students who describe abject acts of violence, including on homework, said “we review” … “with deference schools’ decisions in connection with the safety of their students even when freedom of expression is involved.”

The now-infamous 2007 “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” case – more properly known as Morse v. Frederick – once again reinforced the “school speech” doctrine, using a three-prong test for the curtailing of student speech: 1. the speech occurs at a school event, 2. the speech is “reasonably viewed as promoting” illicit or illegal activity, and 3. when the school has an “important, indeed perhaps compelling interest” in doing so to protect the educational mission and keep kids safe.

A 2014 ruling, Dariano v. Morgan Hill (better known as the “Live Oak” Decision), found that the school’s power in this regard is pretty significant, and might even seem outlandish to laypeople without all the facts. In the case of Live Oak, administrators told kids they couldn’t wear American flag T-shirts. Many were outraged at what they perceived as an egregious abuse of power, but in truth, the totality of evidence showed that administrators had credible reasons to reasonably believe the children wearing the shirts would be targets of ethnic violence at the hands of another group of students, and were acting to protect the wearers of said T-shirts. Because protecting kids is part of a school’s charge, and that charge has been upheld and reinforced by case law, the Supreme Court (rightly) held that the school acted within its scope.

I had to defer on a few questions during the school day, because I was operating as a school employee. Outside of my professional responsibilities, I’ve been recently asked about the Moment of Silence in Virginia. Virginia law requires a “minute of silence” to start the school day, despite the Supreme Court decision (Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985) that specifically prohibits such silence as Unconstitutional. (Engel v. Vitale, 1965, had already long ago decided that school prayer was Unconstitutional.) Despite this, appellate and district courts have found differently, most recently the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

So what’s a school leader to do?

Well, in the case of every Principal I know, they like being employed, so they do what they’re told, and the Superintendents and School Boards of Virginia obey the law. Until the law is challenged, it’s the law of the land. As I’m apt to say, a law is only as valid and strong as those willing and able to defend it.

Inevitably, I was asked… what do I think? Fortunately, being a lover of Constitutional law and precedent, I am happy to exercise my First Amendment free speech rights to share my opinion, with the caveat that as always, this is my opinion, and not representative of anybody I work with or for.

In the Treaty of Tripoli, Jacob Barlowe as Plenipotentiary wrote, “The government of the United States of America is in no way founded upon the Christian religion.” Signed into law by John Adams in 1796, and ratified unanimously by Congress, this, to me, provides as clear a statement as possible about the “Founder’s Intent” when it comes to the nature of this country. The Founders’ personal Judaeochristian tradition does not imply a national legal or philosophical Judaeochristian foundation. I have always found that to be a nonsensical position. It’s like saying that since I was raised in a Baptist church, clearly the foundation of the things I did in high school were Baptist by nature. That’s illogical, and not accurate. (I find it remarkable how few people I’ve heard cite that the Founding Fathers were “Christian” are able to historically discuss the religious demographics of the 1790s or Christianity versus Deism. As Aaron Sorkin wrote, “complexity is not a vice,” and none of these issues are definitively solved by throwing down quotes in isolation.) The predominance of Christianity makes it easy for some people to dismiss things like the moment of silence as “no big deal” or “whatever, get over it” or “it doesn’t matter” or “nobody’s forcing you to do anything.” The fact is, a Moment of Silence is, to any reasonable person (to use SCOTUS language) a spiritual enterprise, and as such, has no place in a school. Just because it doesn’t offend the majority doesn’t mean it doesn’t offend the First Amendment, which I argue that it does.

The Constitution is a remarkable idea and a remarkable piece of legal writing, rightly deserving of its place in history. However, like most major documents – The Bible, anyone? – abiding by it is harder than admiring it.

When we say “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” we mean that totally and absolutely: No individual citizen ought to be compelled by his government, at any level and in any way, to do or not to do anything pertaining to religion and spirituality. No agency of the government or in any way funded by the people as an agency of governance should have the right or ability to say to you or anyone else in this country, “yes you can” or “no you can’t” where your personal beliefs are concerned. Moreover, you ought not to have the right to compel me in any way to abide by your beliefs, nor should I have the right to compel you in any way to abide by my beliefs.

I find this wholly applicable to student rights.

As such, when the school (a governmental agency) says to a child, “you must do this,” it ought to be (in my personal opinion) for one of two reasons, as established under the Tinker Standard: it’s directly related to the educational mission of the school, or it’s directly related to keeping students safe. Short of that, the most minimal application of force (of law) is appropriate and necessary. When the school says “you must be silent as a group,” when that silence is deeply, traditionally rooted in religion, the school establishes religiosity, and offends the First Amendment. School moments of silence are rooted in school prayer, and I find no provable and invariable pedagogical, organizational, governmental, psychological, or developmental reason to do it. Consequently, I’d prefer to be minimalist and not compel it.

However, one can find absolutely no fault with any Local Educational Agency (LEA) in the Commonwealth for abiding by the law of the land. These are issues of law, philosophy, and jurisprudence that aren’t the direct purview of the teacher or school-based administrator, and so until there is a challenge to the Virginia law, one can reasonably expect schools to continue to maintain moments of silence as policy. Why? As I said before, a law is only as valid and strong as those willing and able to defend it.

That doesn’t mean that’s right, of course. It just means that it “is.” These are great discussions, in my view, to have with other professionals and with students. After all, our Constitution once deemed a person of color was a fraction of a person. We know that to be wrong now, but it “was” for a good long while. (Indeed, one can make an argument that some Framers knew it to be wrong even then.) The Constitution is a living document, as are the arbiters charged to interpret its words and meaning. How very educational to debate such things!

I do like my facts, though… and I’ve yet to come across even a hint of research that intimates that 60 seconds of silence in the morning at a public school “does a body good,” and have no reason to suspect it would have any positive impact, qualitatively or quantitatively, on “respect” or “discipline.” The issue is not that the MOS is “open” to all people, it is that it is forced upon all people. An “optional” MOS is one thing, but that’s not the functional issue at hand. To say mere availability somehow avoids an Establishment offense is kind of akin to saying, “if you don’t want to pray with us, cover your ears.” (A silly example, but apt!)

I suggest that the power of government should never be used to enforce an idea that has merit for some upon all, within the milieu of Constitutionally protected rights. The freedom of and from established religion is one of those specifically-enumerated rights. Insofar as the Constitution and education is concerned, I believe that the government should be restricted from exercising the power of the majority over the minority, as Madison and Jefferson seemed to believe.

Moments of silence in schools may not offend the majority of the populace, but I believe quite fervently that they offend the Constitution and that the Constitution is designed to protect the minority (or the one; give it up for Spock!) from the majority. We Americans have a long tradition of standing up for the little guy when it suits us, and kicking him in the face when it doesn’t. I tend, whenever possible, to prefer first part of that tradition…

…as does, I believe, the Constitution.

Student rights are not discussed nearly often enough in schools, largely because despite a tradition of In Loco Parentis – eroded as that traditional may be – schools are often relegated to “speaking only when spoken to,” no longer appreciated to be the purview of sagacious experts in children. I, for one, would like to have meaningful conversations that lead to clear statements, transparency, and a belief that our individual students are individual intellectuals, worthy of our consideration as thinking rights-bearing citizens who should be empowered to discuss, debate, and decide for themselves.

I love children, and believe that part of being loving is being respectful of individualism, especially when those individuals are different from us.

Adult-on-Child Violence

I cannot claim to have originally said it, but I’m happy to repeat it, because it’s spot on: By definition, violence violates a person.

Both “violence” and “violate” have roots in the Middle English violentus (with the core word “viol“), by way of vis, meaning “force.” The two words are rooted in the same meaning, and bear a strong connotative resemblance.

Children are people. They are neither a homogenous class or unified group, nor are they things or property. Children are thinking, feeling, individual human beings. They are people. Violence against a child is – literally, practically, and figuratively – the violation of a person.

This is more than a semantic exercise.

A short time ago, I was pointedly asked to differentiate between occasional spanking and beating children. I was roundly rebuffed for categorizing spanking as “adult-on-child violence.” As a thinking person, there are obvious differences, even to me, between occasional spanking and regular HCP or “harsh corporal punishment” as it is known in child developmental circles. Some of those differences are illustrated simply in factual language: frequency, inferred strength of impact, inferred frequency of incident, and so forth.

These are (not so) nuanced qualitative differences describing two different acts, but both situations nonetheless describe acts of violence. Striking is by definition violent: it is the application of physical force, or “vis.” Hitting another person is violent, and is violence. The question is not whether or not spanking is adult-on-child violence. It is, by definition, one person being violent to another. Advocates of HCP seem to want me to give them credit for their intent. They seem to want credit or validation or affirmation in being violent. They would say selectively and infrequently violent, but I see no reason to make such a distinction in this context. Research shows us that care-taking adults who are violent to children damage those children. Be it neglect or corporal punishment, mistreating children hurts children.

Kids that get hit are getting hurt.

Hitting Never Teaches

Parents who embrace corporal punishment, of any kind, intend to use selective violence as a teaching tool. They seem to believe that it “toughens kids up” or “straightens them out” or “sets them right.” The truth of the matter is that violence is never a viable teaching method. It is never an effective teaching tool.

Ever.

It may induce a Pavlovian aversion dynamic, and instill even keen awareness of an antecedent-consequent action-outcome logical truism, but that’s not teaching. That’s training.

You may not differentiate, but I do not believe in “training” children. I am a teacher in part because I believe all people deserve to understand. Hitting is the action equivalent of the ubiquitous verbal “because I said so.” That’s not instructive; it’s dominating. “You must comply,” as the Borg might say, is not a valid form of engendering trust and bringing about understanding. Instead, it establishes a dominating power dynamic, and I find that undesirable in the context of love and compassion.

Yes, a parent has “authority,” but explaining why that is in a way that children truly understand will have far more valuable and extensive validity than any momentary pop-off, verbally or physically.

“Hitting to teach” does not accomplish the goal at hand, regardless of intent. The outcome of violence is neurobiological trauma to the child. This action fails to address the real issue at hand, whatever issue that may be, and instead replaces meaningful relevant consequences imparted by a caretaker with the “action shorthand” of causing hurt to another person as a dissuading influence. Corporal punishment is by definition an extrinsic motivator, and serves only to deter one specific behavior again the consequence of violence in return, but it does not serve as a method for addressing the underlying cause of whatever the erroneous behavior may have been. Indeed, it makes an assumption that the behavior was erroneous to begin with, without ascertaining the reasons behind and the causes of the behavior to begin with, or why a child said or perceived a thing, and instead utilizes what to me is obviously action shorthand.

Before one even need study the ample evidence that striking children harms them psychologically and neurobiologically, one need only examine the pedagogical inefficacy of violence as a relevant consequent to child antecedent action to recognize hitting children as ineffective and counterproductive.

To view children as empty-headed little know-nothings with no thoughts of their own, no beliefs of their own, no experiences, no unique qualities, no personal observations, no individual characteristics, to fail to see them as individuals is bad enough, but to see them as objects is entirely inhumane. A child who has misbehaved – first of all, misbehavior requires a significant analysis of the rules: What is the child doing and why? Frequently I find people who are supportive of spanking or HCP adult-on-child violence will speak at length about hypothetical conditions in which they may nee dot coerce the child’s behavior to a specific conduct: “the child is crying in public, and its embarrassing, so sometimes you’ve gotta smack the kid to straighten him up. The child took something without permission, and he’s gotta learn.”

That’s not a teaching tool.

You haven’t shown me, in this hypothetical, any effort to understand the origins of the behavior. You need to understand that child that action that situation, and not paint with some over broad brush, but significantly and seriously ask: “why is this happening?” What’s going on. Only then, only by truly understanding that child in that situation, can you create some kind of intervention if appropriate. Kid took something without asking: Why? What if it was born out of a deep seated injustice that some other child had less? Is that something we should punish? Does the child developmentally understand the situation? Is the rule you have or the social convention that you’re objecting to not being followed, is that appropriate developmentally? Was the child put into a circumstance that set him/her up for failure that s/he didn’t choose and may falsify type (Jung) or be contrary to the child’s natural modality? (Benziger.) These are questions of child development, and to suggest that as part of child rearing, violence is a useful and thoughtful tool, is patently absurd. It’s not going to teach the child anything. Providing an extrinsic motivator of relevance maybe developmentally appropriate, but the aversion to violence is not an effective teaching tool. You are instilling fear, terror of violence, in a child. Have you not seen what goes on in Gaza? Parents who are advocates of spanking see absolutely no similarity, but psychologically violence light is still violence. Even violent words can be extraordinarily damaging to a child. I’m not suggesting that we wrap kids in bubble wrap, because certainly children nee to learn relevant lesson sir they are to develop their own understanding and identity, which is something every individual ought to have, and certainly there’s difference between the thoughtful compassionate restraint of a child from self-harm and abject violence.

Parents who are tired or exhausted or frustrated may not take the necessary time, not invest the necessary energy, to fully ascertain and understand the conduct and the child, and instead may simply want the behavior to stop, no matter what no matter why, and resort to violence. If a child does something undesirable, striking the child as a consequence may serve as a momentary deterrent, but it does not address the underlying cause nor does it act in a loving or compassionate manner in understanding the situation, communicating the situation, helping the child to understand the situation in a relevant and meaningful way, and assist the child in building personal meaning so that s/he will can better decisions in the future. Adult on child violence does not seek to teach the child. It says, intentionally or not, simply, “I’m bigger and stronger than you, so you better listen to me, or I will hurt you.” For violence to aid a child’s learning, the method must be meaningful and relevant, and that means violence must become relevant to the child. Children are not developmentally equipped to handle violence. Indeed, humans are not intended to experience violence. We’re not built for it. Exposure to violence leads to hyper vigilance, post-traumatic stress responses of a variety of fashions, and ultimately may lead to antisocial or pathologic behavior, given the significant neurobiological impact that violence has on the brain. Children, while neuroplastic, are especially susceptible to neurobiological damage, and violence will force the child brain to “develop around” perceptions and understandings of violence.

Do I feel empathy for tired parents, beleaguered by life circumstance or a grueling day, who then come home to face energetic children who, by developmental necessity, are pushing buttons, challenging boundaries, and learning new ways of doing that may be problematic or frustrating? I absolutely do. Folks, I’ve taught kindergarten, I’ve taught self-contained special education classes, I’ve taught middle school… I’ve taught sixth grade percussion, and if you wanna see kids push buttons, come hang out with eleven and twelve year old drummers. I get it: Kids can be tiring. Kids can be challenging. Kids can really frustrate you.

You’re an adult. Grow up. There is never a valid reason to strike a child because you’re annoyed.

In instances in which parents are more thoughtful, and selectively apply hitting their kids after all other instructive avenues have been exhausted are almost always skipping the next steps: ask for help, do research, look for other strategies, and so so often, are compromising on other consequences.

Once, a mother told me, “it was easier to spank her than to go through the trouble of taking away her iPhone.” That is the laziest parental argument I have ever heard. If you’re not willing to parent, do not complain about the challenges of parenting.

Hitting a child is “shorthand.” It skips the compassionate care and nurturing instruction the developing child needs and requires in favor of simple situational modification at the hands of superior force. It is not only discompassionate, but ultimately counterproductive, and has no place in any child’s life, let alone in the context of a caretaker relationship.

Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes kids are pains in the ass. Guess what? They’re hardwired to be that way. Learn about your kid’s head, don’t strike it.

They’re kids.

Real Harm

The use of violence is not an effective adult skill for enhancing child understanding or for addressing perceptions of the child mind. I don’t doubt that many parents are well intentioned in their use of corporal punishment, but it strikes me as extraordinarily arrogant for a person who has not studied child development, who has not invested time and energy to study the child mind, and who are not experts in learning, to say “I know better” for logically-fallacious reasons, and that they are uncompelled and unswayed by the evidence presented to the contrary. Recently, during a particularly unexpected and volatile interaction, I was accused of utilizing “junk science,” because the studies in question had not been replicated on the billion-person scale. In short, the counterargument presented justifying the use of selective violence with children was that billions of people evident all around “turned out just fine” hitting each other.

The truth is that they did not “turn out just fine.” Instead, they had to develop around instances of violence. This is not to say this is not possible. Shonkoff & Phillips showed in 2000 that proper brain development is promoted through occasional, infrequent experiences of moderate stress. However, there is no compelling research to support the use of violence as a form of this stress. I do not advocate a “parentless parenting” technique in which one does not establish boundaries and consequences within reason to establish safety for the child and encourage alignment with general expectations – learning not to hit other people, for example! – but find no compelling reason in the literature to use violence as a teaching method. To the contrary, I find compelling, overwhelming evidence that suggests doing so is deleterious to development. (If you read the collected works of Alice Miller, and still attempt to make a rational argument that treating children so is good for them, I’ll gladly take on that debate.)

Strikes to the head are the most problematic for developing child brains, by far, and the recent emphasis on traumatic brain injury has only served to reinforce this. Miller’s work suggested that children of single digit ages are especially susceptible to damage when struck. Several major studies have recently shown that abusive head trauma (AHT) causes massive damage to children up to age five. However, violence is not merely a matter of the immediate imparting of hurt, but also of the lasting consequences of violence-induced stress, such as the hormonal response. Striking a child as a parenting technique is, usually, designed to induce embarrassment and/or terror, responses which have significant biochemical consequences. As the child brain is susceptible to hormone and neurotransmitter influences, this is not an inconsequential consideration. All the more disturbing is the 2011 finding (Berger, et al) that during times of stress for adults, like the recession, incidents of AHT resulting from HCP rise, underscoring the issue at hand: adults hit kids for the wrong reasons, and adults who think hitting kids is a good thing are justifying their mistakes in judgment and decision making.

Many adults to whom I speak say that they are not trying to injure the child, but rather use a “last resort” consequence when verbal, temporal, or material admonishments fail. They describe a “gentle swat” or an “uninjuring smack” or a “light tap on the bottom.” If there is no injury caused, no harm or physical discomfort intended, then the argument as a consequence is dismantled from the start. If there is no extrinsic motivation, the act serves no purpose. The only purpose of striking is to induce harm, so if one does not seek to induce harm, there is no purpose in the action. I have heard the follow-up, “well it’s embarrassing and makes the child feel bad about themselves.”

When that is the motivation, you are now squarely in Miller’s research and must begin to explore the nightmare of psychological trauma induced through humiliation ritual and personal denigration as a parent method, and that is the subject of another equally-excoriating blog post. Shaming an humiliation rituals are also psychologically damaging and counterproductive, and there is still the inclusion of the threat of violence in the act, as an amalgam it is still violent. I believe very fervently, based on the psychological work done in the field, based on a career’s worth of experience with children and child development, intense recent study of these subjects in my work, and my own experiences as a child and with children, that there is no room for any form of violence with children. In short, if you hit to injure, you’re causing injury, and if you hit not to injure, you have no reason to do so.

Neuroplasticity, Intent, and Outcome

I have never made the claim that children are totally destroyed by being hit once. I was struck as a child. I can recall four, perhaps five times I was struck as a child. Spanking was not a way of life in my household, and I was never beaten. However, I was hit a few times. Do I resent my parents for it? No I do not. Do I blame my parents? No I do not. Do I believe my parents were bad parents? No I do not. Do I believe that my parents’ belief at the time that an occasional spanking was good for their kids is a damnable and unforgivable offense? No I do not. But the fact of the matter remains, yes, every time I was hit, my development was impaired. In a minuscule way? Perhaps. Insignificant in the grand scheme? Perhaps. But just as likely is that something significant – relative to being child – happened in my brain that I had to “grow around.” I use the phrase “selectively brittle” in my work to describe the fact that children are extraordinarily neuroplastic, with up to three times more neural connections than the healthy adult. However, my ability to grow up neurotypically does not change the fact that I was subjected to unnecessary harm through selective, infrequent, well-intended violence. I am not afraid to use the correct term to describe what something is, and striking another person is violent. A caretaker striking their child is adult-on-child violence, by definition. If you are uncomfortable with that language, then your argument is with Merriam-Webster and the development of Germanic languages, not with me, because I cannot help you with that. This isn’t a matter of semantics: violence hurts kids. It causes irreparable harm, though not irrecoverable harm. You can grow up to be healthy and happy after having been hit, it’s true. But that doesn’t change the fact that your brain will have to do something it ought not to have had to do to adapt unnecessary trauma. While occasional moderate situational stress may be productive, I find no compelling evidence to suggest that being struck by a caretaker is a valid or healthful form of such stress. You may consider this no big deal and totally absurd, but the bottom line is that once you have seen the neurobiological evidence as to the significant harm that striking a child does to that child, if you care about children, if you believe that adults in care taking roles have a responsibility to truly care for those children, then as I say in pedagogy, so I say for child behavior: intent doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter if you meant well if what you did was harmful. Thinking people who want to do right by children cannot roundly ignore the evidence that hitting children hurts them. That, to me, is far more compelling, far more important, valuable, has far more veracity than any layperson’s opinion or casual observation, than any logical fallacy, and I’m not interested that it’s inconvenient for people. I don’t care that it gets people riled up. It’s good to be challenged, to be set back on your heels, and to seriously question: is this best for my child? Is this right? Is this healthy? Is this good for my child, not just not bad? Is this achieving the aim of compassionately caring for and teaching the child? The evidence says that it is not.

If you are uncomfortable with the word “violent” in the context of the adult-child relationship, you ought to be seriously circumspect about being violent, and question why you are willing to be so to a little kid. Some of the people to whom I speak, who are most angered when I challenge a parent’s right to as if we’re on a playground and that I said something mean about your dad. The truth of the matter is that if your dad hit you, I have absolutely no judgment about your dad’s intent or mindset or philosophy or character, because I don’t know your father. I’m not interested in making such a judgment, nor am I interested in judging people. I’m not talking about people; I’m talking about behavior. I’m not talking about a person when I say “corporal punishment is adult-on-child violence that results in significant often-unseen harm to the child.” I’m talking about an action. Now, your dad may have had all the positive intentions in the world, and was a loving, compassionate person who would have done anything in the world for you, and believed fervently that what he was doing was the right thing for you and good for you. That may be the case. You may also have simply rationalized away the fact that your father engaged in regular violence and might have been abusive. At least one of these two sentences probably gets your blood running. Good: it’s good to have passions. But your passions running hot can never be sufficient justification for an action, and very frequently, we do exactly that. the fact is that when an adult is physically violent for the child they are responsible for taking care of, they do significant, often invisible harm to the child.

If knowing that, you still say, “I know that when I strike my child it is an act of violence that will damage him/her in a way that they will have to effectively grow around,” then you and I stand at philosophical odds in terms of how people treat one another, not just how parents parent their children, but in terms of what is appropriate and healthy behavior of how one person treats another. Selective violence against women by men who feel it is difficult to reason with them, and in order to teach them desirable behavior, is decried by mature thinking people. Selective violence against one race by another, which feels it is difficult to reason with members of that other race, and in order to teach them desirable behavior, is so reprehensible to our society that it is illegal and the subject of constant social awareness campaigns and reparation efforts. Selective violence against one age group by another is, however, “a right” in the minds of those who support spanking, HCP, and other forms of child mistreatment. I find it selective and silly to allow for violence against the group most susceptible to its ravages, and to claim moral righteousness and superiority in doing so.

Children are People

To treat children in a lesser way because one feels children are incapable of understanding betrays ignorance of the child mind as well as demonstrates a misunderstanding of the pedagogy of actions and consequence. The developing child mind certainly will have a challenging time understanding certain concepts. It may, in fact, have an extraordinarily difficult time, and require simplification or allegory, with more developed nuance being introduced into the child’s understanding at a later time. However, children deserve understanding. They deserve to be explained to. Simply by virtue of being, they deserve to be free of violence, and to be explained to, because that’s what caring adults do: they patiently explain.

Adult on child violence betrays the adult responsibility to the child, especially when that adult is a caretaker. It is unacceptable to me for a care taking adult to say I cannot, will not, do not invest the time and energy necessary to help the child understand healthfully, and will instead resort to violence.

Violence is not an acceptable or valid way to treat a person.

If you believe in harming a child, in striking a child, if you believe that adults should occasionally strike children, then you believe that your perception is more important than their outcome. You believe that your opinion and your expedience has more validity than substantive reproducible research, and you believe that an ineffective way of doing something for the sake efficiency for the adult is acceptable parenting.

I fail totally to see a pedagogically-appropriate context for teaching by hitting.

Here comes Adrian Peterson in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal: We have a national outcry that Ray Rice physically battered his girlfriend. There was significant outcry (as there should be) at so heinous an assault. It is not acceptable for a person, regardless of their size or gender, to physically attack another person. There are no situations in which physically striking someone is an appropriate solution to your problems, is an acceptable expression of anger or frustration or sadness. It is not an effective teaching tool. It is not an appropriate or effective thing for a police officer or teacher to do. Why is there, then, any shred of difference when we’re talking about a child? In order for a person to accept that these rules that we would apply to any other person do not apply to children, one must suspend the believe that children are people. This is a prevailing view of certain sociopolitical groups that espouse extremist ideology: That children are in fact not people, but are property.

It is an inhumane, despicable, disgusting attitude that, to me, is indicative of either some significant pathology or psychology, or some kind of social or institutional co-opting or damage, such is its significant departure from essential humanity.

Children are people, and each child is an individual person. To treat them as anything less is, by definition, inhumane, and I have absolutely no tolerance for those that purport to value humanity but do not value each human.

You say “don’t hit people,” and yet we’ll hit a child. You cannot teach that lesson. If you expect the lesson to be learned as an adult don’t hit people, then why would you violate that principle for the child. Well because he’s a child. You view him as different than a person, and I do not accept any situation in which a child is not understood to be, seen as, a unique individual person. It is discompassionate, inhumane, unloving, anti child, and I reject it out of hand. Stirking a child does not teach a child, does not help a child. Parents who are such strong advocates of spanking often say “I myself was hit, and I turned out just fine.” While you may have turned out “fine” in the macro, that does not mitigate the fact that there is strong evidence that every time you were struck, your development was in some way impaired or affected. Children being extraordinarily neuroplastic is insufficient justification for the application of violence as a teaching tool. It is not a teaching tool. Teaching is the b ringing about of learning, and learning is auto generative: it comes from within, and it must come from relevance. For violence to be effective, you’d have to make violence relevant to children, and violence ought not to be relevant to children. Children are not developmentally equipped to deal with violence; I daresay no person is. Violence damages the human being. Violence damages the human entity. When we are exposed to violence, we become hyper vigilant, develop post traumatic stress, develop neurological, biological, measurable damage psychologic, because violence is damaging. A smaller, less physically robust human will be more significantly damaged by less robust forms of violence. It’s relative. you say, it’s just a smack, it’s a thoughtful and occasional smack, relative to the little child condition you’re still imposing abject violence on another person to no productive or useful end. One must separate in their minds, fundamentally, the difference between consequences and violence.

Contradiction in Terms

I find it so entirely strange that we can generally acknowledge it is normal and healthy for an adult to be averse to pain, but to be so willing to inflict it upon a person when they are most vulnerable to its most damaging effects, instead of doing what we can to shield children from that pain.

Parents who say I would only ever hit my child on the bottom I would never slap my child across the face, that kind of mitigation it seems to me indicates that you know that what you’re doing is wrong. You bring about crying and shame and hurt and believe that associating these deeply damaging feelings with behaviors will dissuade the child’s behavior. But do you understand the development stage, what he will and will not associate. At what point od you decide to start seeing that person as a person, and shift away from violence? Does my 60 year old father have a right to hit me, his 35 year old son? No? Why not? When did I cease to become something less than a person, and became a person, to you? Is boyhood a subhuman condition? Can it be so defined as to separate those who are to be kept safe, and those who are to be left out to be harmed for their own good? If either animal was to be subjected to harm, ought it not be the one who is better equipped and less developmentally damaged? The logic alone fails. You reserve the right to escalate your violence as the child grows and becomes more resilient to your physical duress. Do you eventually get to the point where you’re systematically escalated violence over years, built up a tolerance to the point you’ll crack your daughter across the face?

I find nothing laudable about this sort of pattern. Nothing desirable about this dynamic. Nothing loving about this kind of relationship. It is essentially flawed, essentially missing something. It is damaged.

I cannot help but wonder what happened to a person that led to such willingness to damage the ones they purport to love.

Learn more about the child mind, understand what works and want doesn’t, and step back from violence. There is no room for violence in any caretaker relationship. None.

None.


No views expressed anywhere on this website are or should be construed to be representative of the positions, endorsements, or views of any organization, institution, or group. The author is solely responsible for the content of this privately-maintained blog.

Make Sense: Fight the Real Common Core Fight

It’s called “number sense.”

In mathematics, one of the core numeracy concepts is “number sense,” which is the perception and understanding of numbers and their relation to one another. For example, we know that 10 is different than 1, and 100 is different than 10. In our base-ten (decimal) counting system, we add a “place” to the left of a number once it reaches the next multiple of ten. When we were kids, we called them by name: “the ones place,” “the tens place,” “the hundreds place.”

However, this sense of “tens-ness” gets thoroughly lost when we start doing things like long-form subtraction. Modern mathematics pedagogues have developed new methods of teaching children how to compute algebraically while preserving and reinforcing number sense in a way that older, more traditional methods do not.

I watch meme after social media meme sail by these days, sometimes conflating 2010s-era “New Math” (sometimes called “New New Math”) with the the 1990s-era Reform Mathematics movement (also sometimes called “New New Math”) and the 1960s-era “New Math” movement, illustrated in a humorous half-parody by Tom Lehrer:

I see pictures like this posted all over Facebook all the time:

New Math Meme

The picture is idiotic, as is the sentiment. One attempts to illustrate a process (on the right) and one attempts to show the basic idea without process (on the left). If I showed you a picture of a flat tire and a picture of a changed tire beneath it, it would invariably look simpler than a series of step-by-step photographs illustrating the process of changing a tire. But that isn’t “the basics;” it’s a faulty comparison.

See, adults often have trouble realizing that the universe doesn’t revolve around them. They like to see learning as a process that mirrors the way they learned, and to see children as prototypes of them, instead of as the unique, capable individuals that we critical pedagogues insist (and rightly, truly know) that they are. I wouldn’t ask an adult to unlearn 30 years of understanding how to add and subtract and change an efficacious process to a new, foreign process, if the skill mastery is already there. Can you add? Yes. Does it matter how? No, not especially, so long as it works. Did you learn in a way that provided the best opportunities for you to have the best possible conceptual understanding of number sense?

Probably not. I didn’t.

Does that mean I don’t have number sense? No. Does that mean I do not or cannot have ever-better understanding of number sense? No. But modern mathematical pedagogues (who are rooted in good work, at least) don’t accept as a maxim that all mathematical understanding is or must be the same. There are many ways to approach computation and numeracy, and I find it absurd that Badass Teachers and educational revolutionaries would waste one breath of their time trying to fight against sound teaching methodology. I’m not taking a position that one way is better than another way, but I am suggesting that pedantic adherence to “your way” of understanding numeracy and computation may do your children a grave disservice.

I would much rather people who oppose the Common Core State Standards – and make no mistake, I do, because CCSS is irrefutably married to the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex, and is a recipe for the corporatizing of classrooms not the establishment of effective content standards – spend their time and energy fighting against the real problems of CCSS instead of perpetuating this nonsensical distraction.

Just my two cents. Maybe three, ’cause I really do know what I’m talking about. ;) (If you’re a math teacher, you get a nickel’s worth LOL)

The Cycle of Misunderstanding Children

It was a joy to be a featured guest today on We Act Radio’s Education Town Hall (www.educationtownhall.org) with Thomas Byrd, alongside feature DC reporter Virginia Spatz and fellow pedagogue and guest David Greene.

Here’s a link to the MixCloud archive if you missed it: http://www.mixcloud.com/education_town_hall/doing-the-right-thing-for-students-and-teachers-on-the-education-town-hall-august-7-2014/

One of the things I touched upon is the cycle of misunderstanding that exists at the heart of the discussion about assessment and evaluation. Make no mistake, our misperception and misunderstanding of the individual child is at the heart of our misunderstanding of effective teacher evaluation.

The cycle is vicious:


cycle

1. Inappropriate Learning: Students experience irrelevant, disengaged, homogenized, generalized “learning” experiences, based on false perceptions and deep misunderstandings of children, based largely on leaders insisting that teachers use nonsensical data and ill-advised, often non-educator-influenced ideas about teaching and learning.

2. Inappropriate Formative Assessment: We use standardized, unidimensional, homogenized “measurements” to determine “mastery.” However, these formative assessment “systems” and “programs” absolutely fail to consider all factors, and do not at all engage students where they are, neurocognitively and psychosocially, leading to deepening feelings of irrelevancy and a set of data that does not reflect what non-educators think it does.

3. Inappropriate Remediation: Because our assessment method stinks, we don’t know what a kid does and doesn’t know, what s/he can and can’t do… So how the heck can we help them?

4. Inappropriate Summative Assessment: Again, using standardized, unidimensional, homogenized “measurements” of “mastery,” we know jack about what a kid really knows and can do, only this time, we’re using very high-stakes, high-stress vehicles that are totally removed from the real world and reflect more of an ability to navigate a system of hoops than actual mastery.

5. Inappropriate Outcomes: Because we never understood the kid to begin with, don’t listen to the kid, don’t know what the kid can and can’t do and knows and doesn’t know, we failed the kid all the way down the line, and the results weren’t great. So we blame the teacher, or the school, or worst of all the kid, and then make policy and strategic decisions based on all of this inaccurate nonsense, and begin the cycle all over again: We put the kid right back into irrelevant, meaningless industrialized rote learning without ever having addressed some of the root problems that may exist.

Until we wrestle the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex to the ground and stop misperceiving children and inaccurately believing that they can be oversimplified into single quantifiable integers, we cannot break free of the gravity of the effort to objectify and commodify children and their learning.

Responding to Whoopi Goldberg

Recently, teacher tenure was the subject of discussion on ABC’s “The View.” The prevailing sentiment was that tenure was a mechanism for insulating teachers from being fired, and that everyone should be in favor of getting rid of bad teachers… by getting rid of tenure.

On August 4, I watched the video response Whoopi Goldberg posted a brief video reply on YouTube, defending her statements.

Later on August 4, I replied with my own video message.

A probationary teacher can be, in many jurisdictions, summarily dismissed without due process. Tenure is the mechanism by which schools BEGIN to afford teachers due process rights. It is not the end of a process; it is the beginning. In places where this basic concept is misunderstood or misapplied, certainly we can agree there is a problem. However, the solution to getting rid of bad teachers is not eliminating tenure. The entirety of the way we employ and evaluate teachers is worthy of consideration.

While I don’t want to give away the farm as I continue to work on finishing my manuscript, I will say that I believe assessment is at the very heart of this issue, and that reducing teachers to “good” and “bad,” and the debate over teacher evaluation to “tenure” or “no tenure” is dangerously oversimplified.

I sincerely hope I can have an impact on this debate, and that together, perhaps we can all shine a spotlight on the complexity of the problems and solutions. As Allison Janney’s marvelous C.J. Cregg said in Sorkin’s The West Wing, “Complexity isn’t a vice.”

To those who have shared my message and have left such wonderful messages of encouragement and support, my thanks. I am but one voice among the many, and I am humbly grateful if anything I ever do is a help to you, in my quest to serve kids.

Banning Devices in Your Classroom is a Stupid Idea

Cell phones are not a distraction to learning. Period.

If a child in your class is using a cell phone unrelated to what you’re teaching, that fact has nothing to do with a cell phone. The child does not find the learning opportunity relevant, meaningful, and/or accessible, and that is the problem. There are a litany of reasons why this might be, many of which are outside of the control of the teacher, but no assessment that one can do better on because of having a picture of it is a worthwhile authentic assessment of skill mastery anyway.

If you can copy it down from a phone or your hand or a note, it’s not an authentic performance-based assessment, and that’s the thing to change, not the cell phone policy.

A modern smart phone’s purpose is to provide the user with connectivity that s/he desires. Period. It’s not “for use outside of class.” It’s to be connected. We want students connected. We want students using every tool at their disposal to access, search, sort, collaborate, and create. The policy is flawed because the pedagogy and the educational philosophy is flawed. I guaran-damn-tee that nobody consulted one of us who actually lead schools and integrate technology into public school classrooms for a living. We have got to, as a field, stop trying to prevent people from being people and start changing our practices and policies to reflect the realities of 2014, lest we continue to disregard the contemporary individual child as s/he is in favor of the backward-looking children we think we were. Ed tech best practices do not support banning cell phones.

Think of it this way: If you like taking notes by hand, do you want to be told you have to use an iPad? If you take notes on an iPad, do you want to be told you have to use a pencil? If you like setting your book down and making eye contact with a speaker, do you want to be told you must follow along? If you need to follow along with a text to understand it completely, do you want to be told you must put your book down?

Those that advocate the wholesale removal of personal electronic devices from classrooms both fundamentally misunderstand the role of the device in the classroom and demonstrate bias against some kinds of learning modalities, even if that bias is unconscious. I, as a learner, benefit from using my device in learning. You, as a teacher, cannot reasonably or meaningfully demonstrate evidence to the contrary. Therefore, the wholesale “ban” of personal electronic devices from the hands of students during learning is intrinsically ANTI-CHILD and ANTI-LEARNING for some children.

We must be more precise and more individualized in our application of pedagogy and policy in our classrooms. A haughty “whatever, I’ve seen it” or a dismissive “whatever, I disagree” betrays an elitist attitude that is unbecoming of progressives and radicals. Don’t try to micromanage the methods by which your students integrate technology into their learning and their lives; they will inevitably utilize those devices in ways inconsistent with and outside of your understanding of both the technology and the child, because you are not that child.

Instead, focus on creating learning opportunities and methods of assessment that are meaningful and relevant, and let everything else go. One must be far more anarchistic than authoritarian in the design of a meaningful learning situation if one has any hope to include those learners who have fundamentally different psychosocial ways of being than their teachers.

Unless you think all of your kids are just like you, you shouldn’t even think about banning cell phones. Just ask the kids to silence them, and be done with it.

If a kid does poorly in demonstrating knowledge and skill on an assessment, it should be because that is an accurate reflection of that child’s knowledge and skill, not because s/he was doing or not doing any one particular thing at any one particular moment.

Cell phones are not a problem. Kids are not a problem. Misperception of children, micromanagement of learning, and pedantic insistence that our children emulate OUR behavior, is.

American Education Is, In Fact, Broken

Diane Ravitch wrote, “Bill Gates is wrong. American education is not ‘broken.’ Federal education policy is broken. Testing children until they cry is a bad idea. It is educational malpractice.”

Diane and I agree on a lot. We agree that Federal education policy is broken. We agree that testing children until they cry is a bad idea and that it is educational malpractice. I go so far as to call it systematized child abuse, the intellectual brutalization of a generation.

How can anyone say such a system is not a failure? I do not understand Diane’s position that a system that abuses children is not a failure. I’m not indicting every individual in that system, but I am indicting the system, and rendering the most vehement judgment.

Where Diane and I fundamentally disagree, as I’ll outline in the book, is that we have a national public education system, and Federal policy is woven into every cell of that system. Consequently, I contend American public education IS broken, and broken beyond repair. Does this mean teachers are to blame? Categorically, no. Does this mean children cannot learn? Categorically, no. Does this mean we should not have public education in America? Categorically, no. But one cannot fix this system. One must end it, and start anew, not with the reparation of policy, but with its wholesale replacement. Our system is not “only” broken because of utterly failed legislation. It is a catastrophic and complex failure of societal values, agrarian calendars, misperceived roles and responsibilities, flawed social science, self-defeating corporate interest, inhumane attitudes toward and treatment of children, and damned bad math. That’s not a failure of policy; that’s a total failure of a system. Diane, I find the vast majority of your insight absolutely correct and consider you one of the foremost leaders and voices in favor of doing right by children and schools, but can’t the system be a failure without the people in it being failures? How can we say, as pro – child educational leaders, that a system that regularly and systematically intellectually, emotionally, and psychosocially abuses children, is not broken? 

The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one: The American public education system has failed, past tense.

I haven’t given up on it. I haven’t given up on kids. I’m an idealist that isn’t quitting: we can fix the problem, but the solution isn’t repairing the disaster that’s beyond repair. It’s clearing away the wreckage and building a new structure, correctly, right from the start. Let’s stop using duct tape on the hoses of the blown-up Yugo and consider our smart options for a new car. Sometimes it’s less costly and better for the family, right?

I love children. I love education. I hate what’s happening, and we can do better. We can. Right from the start… anew.

The Test

I left my classroom to work for more kids. To help more teachers. To make a bigger difference. I wanted to be in more classrooms. To see more students. To change more lives. I thought “administration” would be different for me, that I’d be one of the good guys. That I’d support a cadre of thoughtful professionals, create conditions for thriving teaching and immersive, passionate, compassionate learning. I thought my days would be filled with “ah-ha moments” and laughter and effusiveness. I used to make music. I used to have a room, filled with a hundred young musicians. I used to have clarinets and saxophones and trumpets and tubas and cymbals and wind chimes. I had Rimsky-Korsakov. I had Kamen. I had Holst. I had art. I had moments. I made music. I made a difference. I had kids. How many kids do you see, now? How many smiles? How many ah-ha moments? How much positive change in the world do you see, from the floor underneath a table filled with the accouterments of the standardized testing industrial complex? What do you see? Where have we gone? What have we done? What are we doing? What the hell is going on…

( Emo though it may be, and bent though the meaning may be, my accompaniment for the day has been this Imogen Heap tune. )

IMG_20140516_140543_691 IMG_20140516_140535_288 IMG_20140516_115836_838 IMG_20140516_115823_985 IMG_20140516_115821_700 IMG_20140516_113922_139 IMG_20140516_113916_788 IMG_20140516_113904_469 IMG_20140516_113819_711 IMG_20140516_113813_333 IMG_20140516_113808_665 IMG_20140516_113748_924 IMG_20140516_113712_169 IMG_20140516_111411_624 IMG_20140516_104618_927 IMG_20140516_101738_598 IMG_20140516_101358_516 IMG_20140516_101311_306 IMG_20140516_101230_465 IMG_20140516_101215_637 IMG_20140516_101158_922 IMG_20140516_101129_907 IMG_20140516_101102_139 IMG_20140516_101045_837 IMG_20140516_095424_021 IMG_20140516_095417_368

Gender-Based Dress Codes Threats to Kids and Schools Alike

I have a difficult time understanding school districts that seem to invite having their names in potential Supreme Court decisions. It’s 2014. Wouldn’t you think that issues like “children and their gender” and “student First Amendment rights” would be worthy of at least a modicum of rational policy discussion? I would. But time and time again, elected officials and appointed administrators seem to believe that if they just bully children enough, they’ll go away, and everything can go back to being quiet.

Wouldn’t you think that bullying would be something a school would avoid? It’s 2014.

All the more surprising when things like this arise is the fact that nobody takes the time to even basically Google (or preferably DuckDuckGo) these things. Take for example a recent situation that crossed my desk in which a child was asked to wear the color of graduation gown opposite that child’s gender identity. Did you ask which gender? I bet not, because it doesn’t matter, does it? It matters that there’s a disparity between the child’s gender to the child and the child’s gender to the school. So let’s start with the most fundamental level, below the foundation of American Constitutional law, and start with fundamental inalienable human rights:

Who gets to say who you are: you or the government?

Conservatives and Liberals alike should love this issue, because as a public school is, by proxy of taxation, a government entity, Conservatives should adore saying “keep the government out of my personal life,” and Liberals should adore saying “treat all gender identities equally.” How is this even an issue? You know the reason why, perfectly well, but let’s move past that for a moment and get to the Law of the Land.

With my background in school administration and education law, I immediately thought that Tinker v. Des Moines might apply. It was Tinker after all that, over forty years ago, established in SCOTUS precedent that “[i]t can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

However, knowing Tinker was about peaceable protest and that I, as a reasonable school administrator (were I in a position that involved graduation management) would probably have decent latitude with reasonable restrictions at a major event, probably under Bethel v. Fraser(Note: I do not, personally, believe Bethel to apply to the case at hand and I think it’d be an absurd argument to suggest that a black robe instead of a white robe when both are officially approved is remotely the same as charged sexual innuendo in a graduation speech. Read the case law if any of that sounds interesting to you.) But other cases tried in Federal courts have recently shown that schools that participate in gender bias are, in fact, treading into the same Constitutional violations as Tinker used. Cases like Fricke v. Lynch that said a school can’t tell a boy he can’t have a boy date at the prom would seem to indicate that even at so-called “special occasions,” the school can’t participate in gender bias without violating student First Amendment rights. (If I were an attorney fighting for a student’s right to wear one color of gown and not another, I’d probably lead with Fricke, but I’m no attorney.) Flores v. Morgan Hill might also suggest that a school that knew that a student felt discriminated against on the basis of gender (in that case, specifically, sexual orientation) could be found liable.

However, I’m no attorney, so being unsure of the case law precedent, I fell back to a few other ideas. Would Title IX apply in any way? Probably not, but would it be worth getting an attorney to try the tactic? It might, and even if it provides no ultimately-compelling litigation legwork, it’s still damned compelling argument about how we don’t allow gender bias in our schools under Federal Law.

Taking another tack, I thought about the supportiveness of the parents. A parent could well claim Constitutional injury on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, having the right to raise the child as s/he sees fit. (Turns out, I’m not the only one wondering about that.)

In fact, these issues are in our courts – both legal and of opinion – right now. Last year in New Mexico, a transgender student was told he had to wear a “female” gown at a private school graduation. However, that was a private school, and therefore that school has more protection.

For two students named Alicia and Amber in Florida, I’m glad it didn’t come to litigation, but I do wish in 2002 we’d seen a court decision defending their right to wear graduation-appropriate clothing of the gender of their choosing, just like any other student of the opposite biological gender was being allowed to do. I’m also glad that the ACLU had prevailed twelve years ago when it fought this very fight and won. (I may not be an attorney, but the ACLU has them at the ready. If I were a student being bullied by administrators, I’d certainly consider talking to them. I bet Michelle Garcia agrees with me.)

All this is to say that I think it’s pretty shortsighted and self-defeating for a school to think it should just try to brush this stuff under the carpet by harassing the kid into “going away,” when there are replete examples of that backfiring big time.

Then again, I’m the sort of guy in schools that thinks kids should come first, and deserve our love and protection, not bullying for adult convenience.

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