Making Sure They Behave

June 28, 2012

Ever notice that the most common thing anyone tells a child is “behave!”? Is he/she behaving? Are they being good? Are they doing as they are told?

Because that’s the single most important thing ever regarding children, of course! 🙄

The trouble there is the expectation that this person is going to descend into “insufferable little bastard” mode at any moment.

It goes beyond that, of course. The other day I saw this article in the Guardian about cops stationed in school, and how this – surprise, surprise! – leads to students being arrested for the tiniest offenses, such as putting on perfume or not picking something up off the floor fast enough. They’re stationed there over constant concerns that, even if unlikely, some student might shoot someone, and you just can’t be too careful!

So the cops are a good thing, right? They just need to exercise better discretion and not arrest students for drawing on a desk or other stupid shit like that?

Yeah… I don’t think so.

As long as the cops are there, any unruly behavior from the students is of course going to be passed to them. And as long as the cops are there for the purpose of calming the situation (LOL) and dealing with the troublemakers, they’ll see troublemakers everywhere! It is all they will see.

I became moderator for NYRA’s forums way back in 2005, when they were a lot more active and therefore had more flame wars. So I had to delete the flame wars and ban users who wouldn’t cut it out. But even I ended up falling into the school cop tendency, in that, since my duty was to watch out for troubling behavior, and especially to do so in a way that was fair and wasn’t excusing one user for what I banned another user for, there were times I was coming down hard on some people for even the mildest posts. And at times I felt like less a participant in the forum community and more like a constant monitor, and the users became less people who were in my organization with me and more problems waiting to happen. So it was a mindset I actively had to check myself for.

The school cops fall for this, too, and what’s worse is they feel no obligation to check themselves for this tendency, because we live in a culture that sees children and teenagers as problems waiting to happen and that therefore no treatment is too harsh or unfair.

And when the inevitable arrest of a student for not taking off his hat happens, we get this shit (from the above linked article):

“Just like anything else, sometimes mistakes are made.” [Chief Brian Allen] said. “Each circumstance is different and there’s no set guideline. There’s also something called officer discretion. If you take five auto mechanics and ask them to diagnose the problem of a vehicle, you’ll come up with five different solutions. If you ask five different doctors to diagnose a patient, a lot of times you’ll have five different diagnoses. Conversely, if you ask five different police officers if they would write a ticket or not for the same offence, you possibly have five different answers.”

In other words… “oops, oh well, mistakes are made! no biggie!” Funny, there’s that attitude for the cops but I don’t see that kind of leeway for the students themselves. It all comes back to the idea that if a kid is “bad” even in the mildest way, he must be punished and made to know that what he did was bad bad bad. Yet for the adult who must rein him in, anything he does it forgivable because the kid is “bad bad bad” and sometimes the situation is difficult. I mean, okay, that is true, but the thing is, it’s difficult for the kid, too, and usually no one gives a shit what things look like from his end. All anyone cares about is “he’s acting in a way adults don’t like, he must be made to pay dearly!”

And when your primary concern with a person is their behavior, and your job is to prevent or correct “bad” behavior, you will stop seeing them as people.

It’s certainly a parenting issue as well. Authoritarian parents who see their children as something to be controlled and kept in good behavior damage their relationship with their children, because the relationship is based primarily (if not entirely) on control and compliance, in a way that makes it more important than any personal issues or situations with the kids themselves. Parents can be so concerned with bad behavior that it turns out they only even pay any attention to their kids when they are misbehaving, so when the kids do something good (in whatever way) it gets ignored.

And the cops in school, and the inevitable arrests for issues that wouldn’t get someone arrested in any other setting, are just part of the whole idea that the single most important issue with kids is making sure they are well-behaved, that things like their quality of life, education, health, or (real) safety come later if at all.

Why? Well, because of commonly held beliefs like this:

“There’s this illusion that it’s just a few kids acting up; kids being kids. This is not the 50s. Too many parents today don’t control their children. Their fathers aren’t around. They’re in gangs. They come in to the classroom and they have no respect, no self-discipline. They’re doing badly, they don’t want to learn, they just want to disrupt. They can be very threatening,” [some unnamed teacher (how convenient)] says. “The police get called because that way the teacher can go on with teaching instead of wasting half the class dealing with one child, and it sends a message to the other kids.”

Yeah… anyone who says this just seriously needs to be whacked repeatedly with a golf club. I mean, it’s all there! Painting the 1950’s as some kind of utopia. Taking a shot at single-mother homes (with the implication that a father’s primary job is the maintain order, most likely with a belt). And as such, assuming this is the reason “they’re all in gangs! eeeek!” and have no self-discipline, all just an egregious version of “oh noes, kids these days are awful!” based on nothing but “common knowledge” and the fact that every single generation since the dawn of time has assumed the one after it is awful. But it’s apparently nothing a few school cops can’t fix by handcuffing a student for walking too slow! That’ll fix ’em!

Not to mention that if the “bad” kids are “bad” because of not-so-great home lives, you know, that isn’t their fault and that’s a problem in and of itself. It’s not something you fix by making their school life even more terrible!

Though it is if, as we know, the kids aren’t being seen as people, but as troublemakers the adults must keep quiet, whose needs are unimportant except where an adult’s reputation is at stake. And all of this is done with the insistent but patently false belief that all of this is for the kids’ own good.

This has been Day 36 of the 100 Days of Summer, Round 12.

One thought on “Making Sure They Behave”

  1. “if you ask five different police officers if they would write a ticket or not for the same offence, you possibly have five different answers.”
    How, out of two possible answers, will you get FIVE OF THEM?

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