Dear Ms. Xxxxxxx,
Overall, our experience with school for the kids has been good. They're progressing appropriately, and we see that the kids' teachers do very well, considering the failing national educational system we provide educators as a tool, but we do have a couple of concerns about issues not related to school performance.
1. The first concern involves Zoe and a school bus driver, Ms. S..., of Bus XX.
Zoe has been in trouble on her morning bus on more than one occasion (she seems to have far less trouble with the driver of the afternoon bus). I'm sure she breaks the rules sometimes, and should receive consequences that match her behavior and age. My concern here is that she reported to us that the bus driver told her, "Zoe, you're not good with people, so you have to sit up front." Dmitrios confirmed hearing this. Both Zoe and Dmitrios also have reported on many occasions that Ms. S... continually threatens Zoe, and other children, with bus tickets.
Whether Ms. S... used those exact words or not, Zoe has been emotionally and psychologically hurt by the bus driver's message. Giving the message to a little girl that she's "not good with people" and will be punished because of it is unacceptable and inappropriate.
As you know (and as anyone involved in the education of children should know, including school bus drivers) identity and self-esteem are in crucial stages of formation and development in the elementary grades. Zoe was very scared and ashamed to tell me what the bus driver said to her and she was crying because she didn't want to tell us that an adult authority figure believed and told her she was in some way a bad or flawed person.
Zoe, and any child at her age, trusts adult authority figures and will take what they say to heart. On school busses and in classrooms Zoe's curiosity and desire for social engagement may be inappropriate at times, but they should not be devalued and labeled as inherently bad or wrong.
Girls in our society have enough pressures to be something other than what they are without the added pressure of assaults on their identity and character in our education system. Order on the bus or in school should not come at the cost of any child's sense of identity and self-esteem.
While I'm certain that driving a bus load of children is a challenge on the best days, making threats and using inconsistent follow-through are two of the more ineffective ways to keep the chaos and disorder at realistic, manageable and safe levels when children are grouped in numbers and forced into spaces and situations, such as school busses and classrooms, that are counter to learning and healthy childhood development.
As a matter of fact, inappropriate and unclear expectations and consequences, coupled with inconsistent follow-through, is a disastrous combination for us and our children at all levels, parental, educational, social, legal and cultural. Seat belts on school busses would be a far better preventative solution and consistent message about safety and behavioral expectations on school busses for our children, but we have obviously chosen to put money (the cost of seat belts on busses) before children in our society, so we all have to live with the consequences.
The third Bus Conduct Report we've received regarding Zoe and her behavior on Ms. S...'s bus reports Violation of Safety Procedures, Excessive Mischief and Rude/Discourteous/Annoying, with OTHER COMMENTS: "Zoe horsing with R.A. this morning even when asked to stop many times. They were playing around taking hats off each other and causing a big disturbance while I was driving."
Zoe tells me that Mr. R.A. is older than her and often "picks on" her. This would suggest that an effective solution to the problem, instead of multiple verbal warnings that allow the problem to continue, might be to make sure that Mr. R.A. and Zoe not be allowed to sit near each other.
The evidence strongly suggests that Ms. S... has a personality conflict with Zoe. My own and my wife's experiences support such evidence. On numerous occasions we have suggested to Ms. S... that she let us know if there's a problem and we would address it. Not only has Ms. S... not reported to us that there is a problem, she has been Rude/Discourteous/Annoying to us in her lack of verbal response to our inquiries and her angry affect and mood directed at us. I don't think Ms. S... would fare much better than Zoe if Zoe were able to give Bus Driver Conduct Reports.
We have no problem with Zoe continuing on the same morning bus, nor would we have a problem putting her on a different bus. We will continue to give her the message that she must follow the rules on whatever bus she rides, whether she likes or agrees with them or not, but we will also be paying attention to the messages she receives, verbal and non-verbal, and we will let you know if we continue to see the same patterns and have the same concerns.
Please let us know how you intend to address the concern. It would also be congruent with the mantra of parental involvement that we be notified of Zoe's behaviors prior to us receiving a Bus Conduct Report via mail, and it would be sensible for the adults to confer together to resolve issues as good modeling for the sake of the children who will be leading and managing this society when we're too old to do so.
2. Another concern we have is that Dmitrios is getting the message that it is ok for others to push, hit, kick and bully him as long as they don't get caught, that he is not allowed to use force to defend himself, that he must tell a teacher or other authority figure at the school, and that when he does so the message he receives is, "If I didn't see it happen I can't do anything about it."
Dmitrios has reported on several occasions that "older boys" have pushed him down, shoved his face in the snow repeatedly, and hit and kicked him repeatedly, and that the issue was not addressed when he told a teacher or other school authority. Dmitrios is not a consistent target or victim of physical threats, aggression or bullying, but he has said on more than one occasion, "I don't want to get in trouble for fighting because my teacher told me I have to get hit 10 times before I can fight back, but I don't like being hit by the bigger kids."
Of course, we understand that the school does not think its ok for one child to initiate hurting another child, yet a Zero Tolerance policy effectively castrates all of us - children, educators, parents - by not allowing our children to learn in school that force is a last resort, but if necessary, needs to be employed wisely and effectively. We teach Dmitrios (and Zoe) to work towards compromise, that force is a last resort and that it can and should be avoided through verbal conflict resolution. We further teach our children that if they have to use force they should do so only to escape and prevent the perpetration of further aggression and violence on him/her and/or others.
We will not have our children believe it is ok for anyone to incidentally, continually, consistently and/or persistently threaten their safety or invade their physical boundaries. We will continue to teach them and give them the message (after reinforcing the difference between aggression and accidents that happen during physical play) that they should: 1st, walk away from the aggression and tell a teacher or other school authority; 2nd, if the aggression continues, they should attempt to compromise and work it out with the aggressor; 3rd, if the aggression pattern continues further they should verbally assert their physical boundaries by yelling “STOP” or “NO”; 4th, if the aggression pattern continues, they should fight back as hard as they can using physical force if they are being physically hurt and threatened, and then remove themselves from the situation and get help from a trusted adult as quickly as possible. My child's sense of self-esteem and safety are worth far more than the risk of suspension or expulsion from school, although it is wrong that such a choice is forced on parents.
If martial arts were mandated as part of our national curriculum our children would be taught non-violent conflict resolution skills, violence and aggression as a last resort, wise and efficient use of force, and the importance and practice of physical and mental discipline, fitness and health.
Zero Tolerance negates the learning of effective assertiveness while creating an atmosphere and environment in which aggression and violence are not appropriately addressed and The Law of the Jungle becomes the covert but primary message. The evidence shows that aggression and violence in schools have escalated despite Zero Tolerance policies. As we all learn in the kitchen and in cutting our lawns, a dull and neglected blade is far more dangerous and ineffective than a sharp and properly maintained blade.
Not only is a Zero Tolerance policy an ineffective way to establish and maintain a safe and realistically ordered learning environment, it is also counter to our personal, parental, and family beliefs and values and sets up an unnecessary and counterproductive conflict between us and the school, and between most parents and most schools, and can leave Dmitrios, and other children, in a state of uncertainty, distrust and confusion about their worth and safety.
Dmitrios should not fear punishment for using force to clearly set his boundaries with other children or people when they are threatening or physically invading his boundaries, and he should not have to deal with mixed messages between his parents and school authorities while at school.
It is interesting that our national position on school aggression, violence and bullying is so blatantly incongruent with our national position on how far out of the way we can send our military to kill others who have successfully killed some of in a vain attempt to prevent those others from killing any more of us, while at the same time we practice not physically defending defenseless people who are being killed at the genocidal level in places that don't have anything coveted by us. It is also interesting that both extremes, our tyrannical national position and our Zero Tolerance educational position, lead uselessly to even more ineffective and unnecessary violence and aggression.
Aggression and violence are part of life, and they will always be so, and it is a great disservice to our children to give them the message that they are incapable of being responsible for their own safety and the safety of others. It is a great disservice to effectively castrate our children and force them into victim mentality and behaviors.
Actually, Dmitrios handles these mixed messages very well. He's a very caring, kind and earnest boy. He's concerned with doing what's good and helpful. He asks us about these inconsistencies because he sees that they don't make sense and because he feels he's being told something different than what he knows is best. He has a good sense of self-worth and he knows that the underlying, if perhaps unintentional or misguided, message of the school is that rules and authority are more important than his safety, that he's incapable of judging when to use force, and that, if he does use force to stop someone from hurting him or someone else, the reason for his use of force was irrelevant and he is no different than those initiating aggression and violence. He knows, in his own 5-yr-old way, that he is being put in an inappropriate and unacceptable position.
This relatively minor, but important concern we have about our son, Dmitrios, is simply a reflection of the cultural message we are giving our children through our educational institutions, particularly to our boys, about their natural, good and valuable instinct for, and love of, survival, competition, and the importance and value of fighting for what's good and right individually and collectively.
We are raising generations full of more and more dull, neglected blades that are dangerous to themselves, our culture and the world. If we don't teach our boys how to temper their aggression into the capacity for assertiveness, physical and otherwise, in the service of what is good and life-affirming for themselves and the rest of us, they will continue to feel shame about their innate and valuable survival and competition instinct, conceal their weapons and go off half-cocked, trigger-happy and feeling powerless and castrated into a world that they see primarily as threatening and opposing to them. Culturally, we act shocked at the violence of our male youth, yet we are responsible for giving them little other choice. One definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome.
We can see the results of this all around us in child and adolescent behavior: gangs, substance abuse, risky and abusive sex, teenage pregnancy, and the list goes on... And we can see what happens in our country (and world) when we allow adult males who see the world as an unsupervised playground through immature adolescent glasses that is either to be dominated or feared to lead us. The instinct that is expressed as destruction, aggression and violence in the world is the same instinct that protects and serves life.
As a master's level psychologist and psychotherapist working in this community I see the results in of this cultural and Zero Tolerance school problem in most, if not all, of the boys and male adolescents referred from schools or from the legal system into my services. I see the underlying identity and self-esteem wounds that our cultural messages cause boys. I see the pain, violence, defiance, anger, resentment, depression and destructiveness to self and others that is a result of the messages we give our boys. These messages should not be tolerated in our schools, yet we continue to perpetrate the very violence on our boys that we attempt to force out of them with our Zero Tolerance practices.
It would be wrong of me to allow my son to experience his father passively allowing him to be castrated, and it would be wrong of me to allow my daughter to experience her father in passive collusion with the perpetuation of a world filled with and lead by violent tyrannical mostly-male leaders.
If the cultural points I make seem out of proportion to the concerns we have for our individual children in one elementary school then it’s important to remember that, after the home, the schools are where our children spend the most time, and where they receive their earliest societal and cultural messages, and the schools are a reflection of our best cultural thinking and values on many levels besides education. That should frighten us all.
We are members of a growing group of parents who can no longer, in good conscience, allow our educational system and institutions to be the primary educators of our children. We have chosen to use school as a supplement to home education and we know that we do not have to depend on schools to educate our children. We also know that the institution and system are not necessarily a reflection on or of the talented and dedicated educators attempting to work within it. It seems to me you folks are losing the war through attrition and friendly fire.
Thank you for receiving our concerns.
Michael & Dawn Mantas