If you're like most adults, you probably don't have the fondest memories of your first thirteen years of school. If you're fortunate, you had one or two teachers who inspired you, awakened your curiosity, challenged you, understood you and generally succeeded in making learning fun. But these teachers were more the exception than the norm. Chances are that you remember school as boring and tedious, where you counted the minutes until it was over, your homework was finished, and you could finally feel free. Teachers were out of touch with the students and curricula refused to tell you the truth about the world or adequately prepare you for it. Your happiest memories of that time probably had little to do with school and even less to do with what you learned in class. For the most part, school sucked.
So would it surprise you to learn that school probably sucks more now than it ever has before? Cevin Soling's must-see documentary the War On Kids makes a pretty persuasive argument that it does, as public schools have essentially been turned into prisons with constant surveillance and harsh, often absurd zero tolerance policies towards drugs, alcohol, weapons, violence and other forms of misbehavior. Things that would've earned you a visit with a counselor or the principal can now get you expelled or, in too many cases, dosed with powerful psychotropic drugs that can have serious long-term effects on developing minds and bodies. All this has been piled onto a public school system that is being starved of funds and, in many ways, wasn't terribly well designed at the outset.
Watch my ReThink Review of the War On Kids below.
I feel like I didn't adequately address Cenk's question of how to keep guns out of schools, so I thought I'd do it here.
I agree that there should be serious punishment for kids who bring guns to schools (though probably not permanent expulsion, which has been shown to increase the likelihood of kids dropping out of school altogether). But while the threat of school shootings is real and serious, I don't believe it's worth turning America's public schools into prisons, just as I believe that the real and serious threat of terrorism does not justify the warrantless wiretapping/e-surveillance of every American citizen. By choosing to live in an open, non-police state where people are innocent until proven guilty, we accept risks that we believe are far outweighed by the benefits of the freedoms and privacy we enjoy. Besides, of the 70 million or so children under 18 years of age in America, how many of them are potential school shooters? Is stopping that miniscule percentage worth treating all kids as suspects and educating them in lockdown?
There are many who feel that the risk of school shootings, even a statistically tiny one, is worth sacrificing our children's freedoms. First, I'd say that's a pretty disturbing notion to be teaching children, summed up by Benjamin Franklin's quote: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Second, there have been dozens of workplace shootings over the years (including two recent ones in St. Louis and Atlanta), yet there are no similar calls for the kinds of security measures in workplaces we're placing in schools. Why not? Probably because no adult would tolerate constant surveillance, random searches and heavy-handed punishments for minor infractions. When you consider the fact that adults can legally purchase firearms and, in some states, legally conceal them, it makes schools' harsh security measures a lot harder to justify. And while we do accept tight security at our airports, we don't send our kids to airports for 30 hours a week to be educated.
Something else I didn't get to talk about was the roots of America's compulsory education system, which is quite fascinating. Turns out our system is largely based on a Prussian system, which was largely designed to create obedient/subservient workers, soldiers, civil servants, etc. and make them devout followers of the king. You can read a good summary of this here (though I should note that I don't agree with many of the author's other assertions.)
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