Where do you prefer that your kids spend their days? How should their youthful time be spent as they bound from stage to adolescent stage until they are able to blunder through adulthood like the rest of us? With all self-disclosure of bias, I, a teacher as well as parent answer, “in school.” This is not a discussion over the current quality of the school system. There is no debate that the United States school system is in extreme need of total overhaul. I write today to expose a disturbing trend I have personally witnessed. A crime against our youth being committed by school officials all over. The old world is gone. The “bad kid” of yesterday is today a registered, quantified, and mentally dissected number. And the detention hall of old is closed, rapidly giving way to police officers and jail cells.
As an educator I see and hear of far too many instances of students being arrested from our own halls. And not for violent acts (for which is much more justifiable), but rather in many cases simply just for offenses involving controlled substances. Commonly this defaults to marijuana, and extends to the buying, selling, or even just the smoking up of weed in the bathroom. Is marijuana still (mostly) illegal in the United States? Yes. But Kansas (where I teach) tends to fall on the side of the harshest and most draconian policies regarding marijuana use, the proverbial ying to Colorado’s free-swinging yang. Regardless, it is true that students who buy, sell, or simply smoke pot are breaking the law. I question not the legality of actions but rather the state or district policy of the punishment of minors for such offenses. There may be many districts across the country that simply snatch the bag of Cheetos and reefer and make a kid clean chalk boards, but here in Kansas, we cuff them up and parade them to a cell. What punishment befits the hardened criminal mind of a young adult that dared to puff a joint?
How about right back to the classroom.
What good does it serve to send teenagers to jail for their mistakes when an institution already exists to educate and rehabilitate them far better than any room filled with bars? Even if a teenager can avoid adult jail in this city, the juvenile detention center here is almost worse. It is an adolescent black hole that swallows up any remaining chance of a fresh start and delivers a dose of stigma like poison until its pen of cattled children are ready to graduate to big-people prison. Even if they get out, they are known as one of “those” kids.
There are days when I swear that it seems over half my students are “those” kids, with parole officers and records longer than the books we read. And what are their usual offenses? Mostly smoking, getting caught drinking, or as expected, marijuana use. Let me take a moment to label these dastardly activities as: WHAT HIGH SCHOOL KIDS DO. Kids experiment. They drink. They smoke cigarettes smuggled from siblings under bleachers. They sip whiskey and throw up on the kitchen room floor. They suffer through family dinners convinced everyone knows they are high. They also speed around in barely maintained vehicles, text while driving, and find a billion other ways to probably kill themselves that they call, “having a good time,” We put in place legal ages for a reason. We create all sorts of laws in the pursuit of protecting our children. But when protection becomes prosecution and by proxy persecution for actions we have missed the mark. A kid doesn’t need handcuffs if gets caught with aforementioned vices. Take the beer, the weed, or the smokes and then send them safely home. Make them write a paper. Give them a detention if you have to, but for god sakes, stop sending my students and our children off to jail or juvenile detention for being dumb kids and doing dumb kid things.
Doctors take a vow to “Do no harm,” and as teachers or school administrators we must vow nothing less. A child in class has at the very least a chance to learn. Worried about “gateway drugs” and other such spirals into deviant behavior? Stop putting kids into locked proximity with actual criminals. This little Kansas city even arrests and locks up kids for being caught out after curfew, and an aging populace applauds. A strict and early curfew that doesn’t give a damn about your rules as a parent. Out after 11 on a school night? Your ass is in the slammer. That’ll teach ‘em. Kids are not adults. They do not make adult decisions nor do they have even the slightest concept of adult consequences or responsibilities. The punishment should teach, not fit that which is no more than a crime of being a curious teenager.
And This drug war, which we may well soon call it a civil war – has front lines that have spilled over into our front yards. Kids are casualties now too, ripe pickens for bloated “prison for profit” legal systems and continuing to tally up or insane level of incarcerated populace.
And what’s the point, what does our recent history tell us. Pot may have created some criminals, but it also creates Presidents.
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