5 Feel-Good School Programs With Horrifying Consequences
The road to a lifetime of employment at Costco is paved with good academic intentions. Figuring out the best way to teach children is complicated at the best of times. And sometimes, even ideas that sound like slam dunks end up backfiring worse than that rusted muscle car your uncle insists he's going to clean up one day. Everyone involved in the following initiatives meant well, but well-meaning bad ideas are still bad ideas.
Putting Cops In Schools Turns Everything Into a Criminal Complaint
It didn't take too many well-publicized school shootings to start a nationwide push to put police officers in every school. For parents, it seems like there's no downside other than the cost -- if there's even a tiny chance that an on-duty school cop will stop the next Sandy Hook massacre, isn't it worth it?
But the Problem Is ...
It turns out that there's a weird side effect to having armed police within shouting distance at any given moment: Suddenly, every little thing becomes a reason to call the cops. After all, they're right there. It's kind of like how 20 years ago, nobody could think of a single reason to have a cell phone ("Why would I need to call somebody while I'm in line at Subway?"), but now that you have one, you're on that shit all the time.
"Let me check with my Twitter followers."
So suddenly, schools view police officers as great tools for enforcing rules against petty kid crimes like schoolyard fights and minor vandalism. You know, stuff that used to be handled with detention or making the offender write "I will not start a fight in the cafeteria just because Chad threw shade on my girl" 100 times on the whiteboard. Once cops came onto the scene, the schools realized there was a new and exciting solution to their disciplinary problems available: handcuffs!
He'll think twice before peeking during a game of Grounders again.
On the plus side, arresting students lets teachers and staff wash their hands of troublesome kids and spend more time making mojitos in the lounge. On the negative side, there's pretty much everything else. Take the 2004-2005 school year in America's dong, Florida: There were 26,990 school-related referrals to Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice, and 76 percent of those referrals were for misdemeanors, including assault (read: throw down at the flagpole) and disorderly conduct (read: being a teenager).
Not ridiculous enough for you? Okay, take Jackson, Mississippi, where only four percent of students arrested were suspected of felonies. To give you an idea of the misdemeanors the other 96 percent were arrested for, the school district was sued for allegedly handcuffing students to railings for violating the dress code and not doing their homework. You've probably read about a student getting arrested for spraying perfume, or for not wearing a belt, or for belching in class.
Criminals are a superstitious, unable-to-spell-that-word lot.
Shockingly, it turns out that needlessly pushing kids into the criminal justice system for making dumb mistakes can backfire -- students who are arrested are more likely to drop out of high school, and that tends to encourage crimes that are more serious than pouring milk on someone. And lest we pretend this doesn't have a racial component, it totally does.
But aren't some sacrifices worth it if the safety of our children is on the line? Yeah, about that. A criminologist who specializes in school violence concluded that "There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety." But at least kids are safe from the perils of serial wet willying.
"We've got a hostile in the lunchroom spreading cooties everywhere. Bring that sonofabitch down, boy."
And while we're on the subject ...
Schools Are Fighting Truancy By Making Parents and Kids Criminals
As many a PSA taught us, cool kids stay in school. Truancy is a huge risk factor for drug abuse, the kind of crimes you should actually be arrested for, and pretty much everything else that will keep someone from becoming a big cog down at the business factory. Since literally nothing else a school does matters if they can't get the kid to show up, shouldn't they be doing anything and everything it takes to force the issue? Even if it means pressing it as a legal matter?
But the Problem Is ...
Some schools have turned to truancy courts to handle extreme absenteeism. But instead of encouraging attendance, they're producing misdemeanor convictions, thousands of dollars in frivolous fines, and jail time for students and their parents.
"Why aren't you in school right now, young lady?"
In Texas, students as young as 12 are hauled out of class in handcuffs and made to stand trial with no lawyer or knowledge of their rights, leading to legally dubious convictions. Hell, even North Korea will at least give you a sham defense. The most common outcome is a fine, and while you can fight to avoid it, you'll be charged with court fees even if you win. One parent managed to accrue an incredible $27,000 in fines because she couldn't afford to pay a $70 fee, finally allowing us to use "Kafkaesque" in an article. On rare occasions, parents are just sent off to jail for a couple of weeks, because nothing improves a child's behavior like sending Mommy to the slammer.
A 20-minute timeout in the corner suddenly sounds like a sweet, sweet reward.
And in case you're wondering: No, there isn't much evidence that any of this discourages truancy, especially since forcing kids to go to court and possibly jail keeps them out of school for even longer. There is evidence that it allows school board officials to make the money sign with their fingers and joke about how the plight of their children "moved" them ... to a bigger office. In 2012, Dallas collected $2.9 million from 36,000 truancy cases. Think of all the Perfect Attendance Awards they could buy with that money!
"Congratulations on your attendance record!"
And of course, truancy fines and jail time seem to mysteriously target poor, minority, and disabled kids. Are you disabled and your special bus didn't show up? Hope you can catch a bus to court! Disabled kids aren't technically supposed to be caught up in this nonsense, but they're so useful for fixing budget shortfalls!
There are some troubled kids who legitimately need to go through this system, but they're the exception. The rule seems to be kids like Brandon Jefferson, whose misdemeanor convictions and fines kept him out of the military. Because what good would a military career be in encouraging truants kids to stay out of trouble in the future? Did we mention that Brandon was truant because he was helping his disabled mom care for his two younger brothers?
"Eh, Norman Bates cared about his mother, too. Next!"
So to sum up, schools are trying to prevent truant students from becoming criminals by turning them into criminals to keep them from being truant. Or they're just taking a bunch of their money. We suppose that, in a very twisted way, these kids are learning something important about the adult world.
Schools Handle Obesity By Calling Kids Fat
Obese kids face all sorts of problems, not the least of which is that their parents usually underestimate their weight and thus don't recognize the problem. It's well-known that stopping the obesity epidemic means catching cases early, so why wouldn't schools handle it like any other health problem they spot?
Their approach to the problem has been two-fold: Feed the kids healthier food at school, and alert the parents of overweight kids using a school-based health program as the messenger, so they can continue the effort at home. Hell, if anything, our kids are going to be too fit.
"Don't you flex your abs at me, Timmy!"
But the Problem Is ...
Over the last few years, you've probably heard a lot of talk from the Obama administration (and first lady Michelle) about healthy school lunches. The federal government gives schools a lot of money to help pay for their lunch programs (since it would be impossible for poorer districts to offer affordable lunches otherwise), and they set new nutrition guidelines in 2012 in hopes of growing smaller children.
Under the old model, "sparingly" quickly turned into "spare tire."
The problem is that children are still human beings capable of making choices, and you can't cram the healthy food into their little children heads. So banning chocolate milk, for example, causes many kids to stop drinking milk completely, often replacing it with a soda from a vending machine. Get rid of the vending machines, and kids will get it from a fast food joint. Remove the cookies and such from the optional purchases in the cafeteria, and watch your budget dry up because those popular, high-profit items used to help fund the program. All told, about one million kids have thrown up their hands and stopped eating the government-funded school lunches altogether.
"There's fruit on top, it counts."
The problem, as lots of you have found out on your own, is that eating healthy is expensive as hell. Processed frozen bullshit is cheap, while fresh greens, fruits, and vegetables are expensive and require greater skill to turn into something resembling human food. Not easy to do when you're trying to create a meal for $2.98 per child. So the result is that the food is healthier, but so awful that, even if a kid accepts the school lunch, it gets left on the plate and thrown in the trash.
So the next step is to try to get the parents in on the act. Many schools have started calculating a child's BMI and sending a letter home reading, "Hey, math says your kid is fat." But these letters double as invitations to Wedgietown -- Massachusetts decided stamps were too expensive and simply stuffed the letters into backpacks, which led to "inadvertent disclosure" and presumably some very adverdent swirlies. A South Carolina school, in addition to sending letters, had students attend a lecture by a nutritionist. But instead of making every student attend, because that might have been helpful, they pulled out 40 students to attend a meeting that we assume ended with instructions on how to survive the endless barrage of uncreative nicknames they immediately received upon leaving Fat Class.
"Remember: No matter what they say out there, whales are beautiful and majestic creatures."
Even if this was done with the utmost subtlety and sensitivity, it wouldn't be much help. BMI doesn't distinguish between muscle and fat, making it about as useful as your attempt to calculate a tip on a cocktail napkin after eight drinks. A star volleyball player and an underweight wrestler were part of the one in four "overweight" kids who are normal but made the mistake of working out.
"Why can't you sit on your butts and watch ESPN like regular healthy folk?"
But even if that mistake is corrected for, a fat letter is still exactly what kids don't need. They don't lead to training montages -- they lead to unhealthy eating behavior and possibly even full-blown eating disorders. The best way to encourage weight loss is to frame it in the context of general knowledge on healthy eating. But how do you do that when a quick trip to the cafeteria teaches them the simple lesson that healthy food tastes like shit?
Making AP Classes Accessible to Everyone Drags Down the Whole Class
In theory, Advanced Poindexter classes are a hallmark of academic excellence. They're rigorous, can replace a college class, and help students graduate college early. Kids who take the AP track end up doing better academically, which is why many high schools are upping their number of AP classes and letting more students in. Start cranking out the geniuses, motherfuckers!
But the Problem Is ...
Think about the kids you knew in high school who succeeded in AP classes, or think about yourself if you were one of those nerds. They tend to be well-off, well-educated students who would succeed regardless. AP isn't making them better students -- they're taking AP because they're the better students.
"Fifteen hours later and I still don't get nuclear physics. Am I not staring at the page hard enough?"
Conversely, opening up AP to their less successful peers produces a greater proportion of failing students, not a new population of success stories. In one AP physics class, all 20 students failed, proving that a drive to crush the odds doesn't replace the ability to do calculus. Filling classes with unprepared students can drag down the pace of the class and displace qualified students -- there are only so many seats in a classroom, and "We don't know, lottery?" isn't the best way of filling them. Worst of all, unprepared kids can trash their GPA enough to keep them out of college, which is either the exact opposite of the program's goal or proof of an elaborate conspiracy.
Even if some of these students managed to buckle the hell down and get results, the classes don't live up to their promises. Dartmouth College gave a Psych 101 test to AP students who were supposedly qualified for it, but instead of crushing the exam like a beer can on their intellectually-fortified brains, 90 percent of them failed. The disconnect between the sales pitch and the reality is why many colleges have stopped giving credit for AP courses. Apparently "as rigorous as a college class" really means "as rigorous as we feel like."
"What color is the third folder down? Don't worry, I'm grading on a curve."
High schools keep offering AP anyway because it boosts their national ranking. The mere presence of AP classes makes a school look good, regardless of how students perform. Even if your entire AP English class fails because all you did was analyze The Hunger Games, your school is still considered better than one that eliminated AP classes to focus on classes that will actually be useful. Did we mention that it's all ludicrously expensive? California spent $2.8 million in a year to subsidize AP exams that 41 percent of students failed. We'd say do the math but, well, maybe you can't.
But bird-based symbolism? You are the fucking master of that.
But there is one group that is definitely getting screwed even more ...
Related: So You Want to Take an Improv Class?
Schools Have No Idea What to Do With Disabled Kids
For the longest time, schools dealt with disabled kids by just ... hiding them away. They put them in their own special class, maybe in the basement somewhere, so that they couldn't bother the "normal" kids. And so what if one kid has high intelligence but some issues with reading, and the one next to him is so severely handicapped that he's incapable of even feeding himself? Stick 'em both in the same place -- what matters is that they don't disrupt everybody else, damn it! Who cares if they're separated and ostracized from the rest of the school, never get the chance to socialize with other kids, and are stuck in a tiny room with peers who are at massively different education levels?
"We already gave them their own bus system -- what the else could they possibly want?"
Obviously, this was horrible, so a few decades ago, a law was passed that included the "Inclusion Mandate," which said that every child has a right to a "free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment." Ultimately, this meant the schools were required to put these kids in regular classrooms along with everyone else, unless there was something that made it impossible, such as physical danger to other students (say, the kid has a disability that causes him to shoot lasers from his eyes like Scott Summers).
"I'd say this answer's close enough. Don't you??"
It just makes sense -- it comes down to, "You're required to treat these kids like human beings."
But the Problem Is ...
Students with minor disabilities can be put into a regular classroom with no issues, and in a perfect world with ample time and money, it would work with any student. But we don't live in a perfect world, as the fact that we arrived at the office in a used Honda Civic instead of on unicorn painfully reminds us. Autistic students are being dropped into classrooms that aren't ready for them in the name of inclusion, and that benefits precisely no one. Their teacher won't have the training required to effectively teach or even control the student, the student suffers because they've been forced into an environment they can't handle, and together they keep all the other students from getting as much attention as they should.
And when the student has more severe disabilities, well, that's even harder on everybody. They can be included successfully, if the classroom is small. And if the teacher receives proper training. And if the other students and their parents are prepared, too. And if a full-time educational aide is available to help the disabled student. And if a full-time "inclusion specialist" is available to help the student, their peers and the teacher. And if the school can somehow afford all of this, despite one of the less-discussed goals of inclusion being to save money on expensive special education classes.
Translated into Corporate Asshole: "So it's doable."
"What, so you're saying these kids should be stuck back down in the boiler room so that they won't spread their impurities to the master race?" No! What we're saying is that it costs way more money to educate some kids than it does others, through absolutely no fault of their own, and the heart of the problem is that society doesn't want to fork over the cash. Treating the disabled as equals doesn't mean that we graciously allow the kid in a wheelchair to climb the same spiral staircase as the rest of us. It means doing what it takes to give them the same chance to succeed as everyone else. And here, "doing what it takes" means spending the money to educate each kid in whatever way they need it. But you can't win an election on that, because nobody cares.
This dejected Washington exile is why your leaders promise a society run on free money made by magical hope fairies.
After all, consider society's record in dealing with these kids thus far: Someone with a learning disability is far, far more likely than the average person to wind up in prison (in fact, about 66 percent of prisoners have some kind of learning disability) or homeless. But start talking about raising taxes to pay for more facilities/staff, and even your kindly grandma will start sounding like a eugenicist ("But shouldn't we, you know, spend the money on the kids who can actually contribute to society?"). And the next time there's a school shooting, you can start counting down the moments until they blame the shooter's autism for the crime. Then they decide the answer is more cops in the schools and ... you know the rest.
For more good intentions gone bad, check out 5 Horribly Misguided Attempts at Teaching Lessons Creatively and 7 Spectacularly Crazy Lessons Taught by Real Teachers.
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