Petty Tyranny

| 1 Comment

Via Pandagon, I recently learned that a school in upstate New York has banned all student from carrying bags. This has led, naturally, to school officials inquiring about the state of their teenage students's menstrual cycles:

The girl was called out of class by a security guard during a school sweep last week to make sure no kids had backpacks or other banned bags.

Samantha Martin had a small purse with her that day.

That's why the security guard, ex-Monticello cop Mike Bunce, asked her The Question.

She says he told her she couldn't have a purse unless she had her period. Then he asked, "Do you have your period?"

The school has offered two justifications for the policy. One is clearly nonsensical: Students are developing back problems from carrying around heavy backpacks laden with books. The answer, naturally, is to ban the backpacks and make them carry their books in their arms. Problem solved! The other justification is also clearly nonsensical, but is far more likely to be the impetus for the policy. School officials are worried that students will conceal weapons in their bags, bring them to school, and start shooting up the place. Banning bags probably won't stop a shooting, but it does demonstrate to parents that the school cares deeply about the issue of school safety and is willing to force students to make any sacrifice and bear any burden to create the appearance of security.

The reasoning behind the no bags policy is pretty poor. But of course, no school official has ever met a stupid policy that they couldn't implement in an utterly asinine way. Once you implement any sort of rule you run into all sorts of inconvenient edge questions. Exactly how large can a bag be before it fits under the ambit of the ban? As anyone who's gone to an American public school in the last 20 years knows, the answer is to remove all discretion or thought from the hands of the enforcers and implement a zero tolerance policy. All bags, of any size or form, are banned, from luggage to back packs to clutches.

This is problematic for female students, who kind of need to carry bags to hold tampons, pads, and other devices to control menstruation. This has led to a slight policy modification that allows female students to carry small bags if they're having their period. Which led to the scene above.

Parents are outraged. Students have begun protesting by taping tampon boxes and pads to their clothes, which led to this fascinating exchange:

After hearing that someone might have been suspended for the protest, freshman Hannah Lindquist, 14, went to talk to [Principal Robert] Worden. She wore her protest necklace, an OB tampon box on a piece of yarn. She said Worden confiscated it, talked to her about the code of conduct and the backpack rule — and told her she was now “part of the problem.”

There's no resolution to the issue yet. The school and district administration have dug in and aren't talking to reports. My guess is that they'll ritually fire the guards who asked the question, blame the whole controversy on rogue enforcers, declare that they, of course, were right all along and that the policy is sound, then quietly stop enforcing the rule. Anything to avoid admitting that they may have been overzealous and open a dialog on the proper balance between security and freedom for students at the school; to do so would violate the canon of Administrator Infallibility.

I wonder if schools aren't having a greater effect than they realize on the political ideologies of then younger generations in America. I've read (and I can't remember where, so please feel free to dispute me if there is contradictory evidene out there) that most people's political opinions are largely set by the time they graduate high school. That is, for all the conservative hand-wringing about the liberal academy, very few students actually change their politics in college. But high school is different, because students are only then beginning to become politically aware and to develop the frameworks of belief through which they will interpret political events throughout their lives.

In that context, I wonder what effect zero tolerance policies have had the generations that went to high school in the 80s, 90s, and the present decase? A generation of students has grown up subject to a totalitarian and petty-minded bureaucracy, in which they essentialy have no rights and no voice. The Supreme Court has granted schools essentially unlimited power over the administration of the details of students's lives without regards to their freedom, based on the doctrine of in loco parentis, which holds that, because the schools are performing functions largely similar to those of parents, they should be granted nearly the full rights and powers that parents have over their children. Because the courts are loathe to interfere with family relations, they are therefore loathe to interfere with schools's exercise of power over their students. Student rights are of secondary concern.

Because the Supreme Court has eliminated most rights-based constraints on school policies, schools have reacted by enacting policies that are entirely unconcerned with the rights of students. Hence, the bag regulation. The school didn't weigh the slight increase in security against the constant inconvenience that banning bags would cause to all students and decide that the bag ban was worth it. It weighed the slight increase in security against . . . nothing at all, because the concerns of students are so insignificant that the don't matter. Of course they banned bags. The ban marginally increases security, and it does so at absolutely no cost to anyone of significance.

I wonder if zero tolerance and the idiocy it enables isn't teaching kids that authority is to be distrusted and despised. Students learn that if you grant anyone authority over someone else without placing any meaningful outside limits on it, it leads to ill-conceived policies and petty dictatorship.

1 Comment

Or maybe they're just getting used to the idea that they have no control over their own lives and complaining about it - however valid their arguments - will get only get them in trouble.


February 2012
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29      

Contact Zach


Webcomics of Which I am a Fan

Sites I Read Daily: Politics

Sites I Read Daily: Video Gaming

Sites I Read Daily: General Miscellany

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Zach published on September 29, 2007 11:38 AM.

Anthropology was the previous entry in this blog.

False Dichotomy is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 5.04