Sunday, May 17, 2009

Daylight Curfew in Dallas

What is more irrational than an evening youth curfew to stem crime? We've just witnessed it passed by the Dallas City Counsel in a 12-2 vote, a daylight curfew prohibiting youth from walking city streets between 9am and 2:30pm on school days. The purpose of the ordinance is to stop crime and truancy by young people who should otherwise be in school.

Now, no one is arguing that youth should have the right or feel free to be truant or skip school without retribution. The arguments against such a curfew have more to do with the way it intends to go about combating the problem while recognizing that the problem still exists. Forget the fact that curfews based on age limits (meaning status offenses) lump all young people into the same boat regardless of whether they're committing crimes on the outside or not, and forget the fact that youth are the perpetrators behind fewer crimes than adults overall. Curfews have not been effective deterrents of crime in the past. There is no need to make being outside a crime for all young people and subsequently overcrowd the system with "school-skippers" when there are actual delinquents that the regular police force is more than capable of apprehending. But don't take my word for it, read the ACLU response to curfew ordinances.

Supporters of the curfew further hailed it as a critical tool in combating a rash of daytime property crime police in part attribute to kids skipping school, articularly in southern Dallas.

The key word here is "in part attribute..." meaning other people may be behind the property crime that aren't necessarily school skippers. The ordinance though doesn't target school-skippers, just anyone of a particular age that happens to be caught outside.

"To do nothing is to turn our back on the problem," Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said in support of the ordinance. "Kids are running rampant at this very moment. I have a problem, and my problem is that kids are not taking advantage of getting their education ... some are running the risk of ruining their lives."

Here's a very good example of the kind of thinking that goes into justifying something like a curfew as a response. The Deputy Mayor here makes the case that doing nothing would be turning one's back on the problem, so therefore, that entitles them to do anything (no matter how ineffective) to at least make it appear that they have a handle on the situation. That's politics for you, so I won't spend too much time laboring that point. In doing this though, they actually are turning their backs on the problem. Effecting a curfew to prevent crime is like locking a child in a dark basement to prevent sunburn. Sure it's easy now to say the child won't be sunburned based on the "action" that was taken to prevent it, but was that action absolutely necessary?--is the ultimate question. The only difference in this analogy is that locking a child up in a dark basement is guaranteed to prevent sunburn...enforcing a curfew on young people is never going to prevent crime.

Another major criticism of this ordinance is that even students who have a legitimate reason to be out of school will be under suspicion. Oftentimes doctor's appointments are scheduled during the school day (or at least during the school hours), but that's not a major problem. The question becomes more problematic when you wonder what they'll do on days when school is canceled due to bad weather, snow, or for other reasons. Do those count as "school days" too? I don't see a reason why not, so long as they are weekdays normally scheduled to be school days (and obviously not state or national holidays when school is not in session). Does this mean that in the event of a school cancellation, children and youth can be arrested while out sledding or building snowmen for no other reason?

Parents are once again a youth's greatest ally:

"We will find this will go the way of the panhandling ordinance. It will be ignored, and I think it will increase racial profiling," said Karen Eubank, a mother of a 12-year-old Dallas student.

"I believe we're going to fail our students with a curfew. I don't believe a curfew will truly help them get back in school," District 9 council member Sheffie Kadane told his colleagues before providing one of two votes against it.

Many Dallas parents and officials oppose the ordinance saying the answer lies more with schools dealing with particular truants and less with legislating against all young people. However, some disagree: "If children are not in school, they are not learning, and the people who are hurt most are people who like you and me." Yes, nothing keeps a kid in school like a nice suspension or a court date for skipping school.

For example, the council amended the ordinance to allow two warnings to any business that allows juveniles on their property during curfew hours. After those warnings, police have the discretion to ticket businesses.
Even doctor's offices? What about children who are home schooled? The ordinance does give young people "defenses to prosecution," which gives them the ability to protest against certain unreasonable prosecution for being outside on school days, including "medical appointments, work-study, and school-sanctioned functions." But these aren't helping sooth the naysayers, who rightfully argue that it will cause children to be detained, questioned, and potentially charged for being outdoors even if they have a legitimate excuse--a violation of a daytime curfew being a Class C misdemeanor and landing them a fine of 500 dollars. You can see why parents would be upset. There are more assurances, such as "community service" being the preferred sentence for prosecuting children and that these relatively minor charges won't affect their criminal records.

Curfew opponents had pushed the council to create "triage centers," or otherwise deal with daytime curfew violators outside the municipal court system. Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert acknowledged the idea, but said the city and school districts weren't yet prepared to make such an investment.

Once again, it comes down to money, time, and overall investment. Prosecuting young people is an easier and quicker alternative to dealing with the problem, and makes it look like the city counsel is really "doing something" about the problem. Once again, a simple bandaid solution to a complicated problem.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tyler Frost- Teen Prom Suspension

Tyler Frost's story has been all over the internet. The Ohio high school senior was told that if he attends his girlfriend's prom with an "intent to dance," he was facing suspension and would not be allowed to graduate. This comes after 13 years of a clean record with his Christian private school, where they have a strict "no dancing, rock and roll, and holding hands" policy.

The controversy is that the prom took place at another school where that academic policy didn't apply. As to issues about this being a "problem with religious intolerance," his school has the right to enforce whatever academic policies it sees fit and apply them to him so long as he is a student on that school premises. The real issue here is how those policies can apply to him when he's "out and about?"

The student's family is planning to sue the school for the decision.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Middle School Bans Hugs

We heard the story about the 11-year-old boy who committed suicide due to bullying. We wanted to know why the school didn't do anything despite the numerous times his parent came to them with concerns about all the harassment he was coming home from school with everyday. In light of this tragedy, we demanded that this never happens again, that schools be responsible for every student and work to prevent bullying and all forms of harassment.

This school seemed to take the message and run with it.

All touch, including hugs and horseplay, will now land you a parent conference, detention, suspension, or a request for expulsion if you're student at East Shore Middle School. So if you hug your best friend, you could face suspension. Following from a student needing emergency medical care after suffering a kick to the groin, the school rewrote the original "good touch/bad touch" policy and effectively went "no touch" under the assumption that if all touch is banned, so will all violence. So there we go...bullying problem solved. Right?

Some parents are seeing this for what it is--a vast overreaction done only so that the school administration can easily look accountable by throwing down a simple solution so they don't have to effectively deal with cases of actual bullying or harassment. Bullying is not the issue, if it was they would do the reasonable thing--deal with those cases of obvious, repeated, and unwanted harrassment (all of which were present in the Springfield boy's case), and effectively leave the "hugs and high-fives" to the realm of healthy friendship behaviors.

“As a parent, I just don’t agree with it,” Edward Abbazia, whose son Patrick is a 14-year-old eighth grader told the News-Times. “This is going to happen — they’re going to touch each other. My son’s going to physically touch his friend, you know, shake his hand or pat him on the back, and he’s going to get detention and he knows it, but he’s going to do it anyway…the high fives, the hugging.”
It has prompted Patrick's parents to give him permission to protest the policy. He went to school with his arms taped at his sides at the elbows.

Readers of this blog will remember Lenore Skenazy, the creator of Free-Range Kids, a blog about the increasing irrationality in how parents and schools attempt to protect children. On this issue she very poignantly wrote:

This policy is the latest example of aiming an elephant gun at a flea.

Besides the fact that this policy unfairly targets boys, who often express friendship and comradery through "playful" roughhousing which is often mistaken for violent behavior, now engaging in behavior that is pretty typical for children (hugging) can gain any kid academic consequences. So what used to be positive, pro-social behavior reinforcing friendship, now comes with a negative consequence. Anyone who knows anything about learning theory will recognize what the ultimate result of this new social contingency will be.

Children learn about others and the world through touch. Contact-comfort has been shown to be absolutely essential to their early development, it's no less important for adolescent peer groups: a high-five on the sports team, a pat on the back after a good deed...etc. These are mechanisms that reinforce pro-social behaviors through comforting recognition (ie. a pat on the back) and build social confidence. Now, at this school, all such expression is banned whether positive or negative.

It is more than obvious this is political correctness taken to such an over-zealous extreme that it threatens to cause as much harm on an institutional level as it may or may not prevent in the individual case level. The issue is not going to heal itself with a simple, rubber stamp behavioral policy. Bullying is a real problem schools face, and the kids who endure bullying deserve a real solution.

Why not just ban crotch kicks?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Anti-"Child Protectionism"

The image to the right is a rough chart of the industry perpetuating child protectionism. Note, nowhere is "children's safety" a motivating factor. Instead, money-trails, votes, and ideological convenience abound everywhere you look. And though it may seem complicated, it's all very simple. The only thing this over-protectionism protects though is the stability of the adult systems profiting off it's perpetuation. (Click to enlarge.)

Here's an opinion of a friend of mine:

I will say that I can understand why parents and caregivers adopt extreme protectionist values...the way they are presented is like 'an offer you can't refuse', that if you express any kind of resistance you'll be accused of not loving your kids or whatever. That is not to say that I empathize with those people. Indeed, I'm disgusted that independence and freedom are of so little value that people would rather forfeit them to lay on the couch watching TV instead.
School administrators are by far the most frequent and aggravating abusers...the absurdity of their protectionist policies often has no logical explanation beyond protecting the staff from their own incompetence. Protectionist education policies are exceptionally difficult because of their repetitiveness...constant apprehension over having to deprogram your child induces prolonged stress.
Protectionist abuses by CPS, the cops, and neighbors were less worrisome, as they were essentially random intrusions of no lasting significance. An example would be the time my younger friend was accosted by the police as he attempted to walk one hundred yards down our alley to his friends house. I don't care what they want the uniform to symbolize, my young friend isn't obliged to reveal his name, address, destination or provide any explanation whatsoever for his legal behavior. The Police declare that compliance with such questions makes their task of child protection easier, but they fail to acknowledge the people who didn't ask and don't need their 'assistance', In my house, uniforms and badges merely promote 'strangers' to 'gun-toting strangers'.
Just so you know, independence is an essential element of Anti-protectionism.
Teaching children the truth about the 1 in 30 million possibility of encountering Jack The Ripper is part of it. Teaching them to express Righteous Indignation when the System intrudes on their life is essential, especially when The Police equate 'child protection' to scaring kids off the streets (makes their job easier).
The parenting variant, I've only observed that as a third party, but I've seen more than enough to know that where the other two scratch, this one slices...bleeds. Personally I'd most like to see this one go down, but I don't think it's possible to directly attack it. Here you have what equates to a Maximum-Security Prison controlled by wardens who cannot be reasoned with.