Sunday, November 03, 2019


So, once a quarter (or so), Rachel's school gives the children a recess. They don't typically have recess (or any sort of real break), even though the CDC recommends that all students K–12 be given 20 minutes of recess daily (a lot of upper-grades schools seem to be unaware of this), so these recesses are a real treat.

The recesses are "sponsored" by PBIS, which stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and which seeks to help schools establish, well, positive behaviour through incentives rather than punishments. Not that they are against punishment when it's necessary, just that people are often more motivated with positivity than with negativity. So, they're trying to get schools to use positive reinforcement methods as well as fostering connection with students.

Because that's what we're learning as a society: that connection is important.

Dependency on drugs and alcohol (for one example), and bullying behaviour (for another), can often be traced to the inability of someone to connect with anyone else. They feel alone. So if we can teach kids to have real, meaningful relationships (and if we treat them with respect rather than always throwing the book at them) a lot of future problems in their lives can be avoided.

Obviously I believe this program should be welcomed into Rachel's school with arms wide open (because it seems to me that they really struggle with this (the entire district, really)).

But that's just my opinion.

Anyway, they just had their first PBIS-sponsored "walk and talk," where they skipped out on their "connections" classes (which is just their elective course, not a core subject) and were given a snack (a bag of chips and a water bottle) and then had to walk a lap around the field before being allowed to—for once—freely associate with one another.

Rachel is pretty good at surrounding herself with good people. She walked around with some friends (acquaintances, really, since they don't get much time to foster relationships at school) and at the end of their time they decided to pick up some litter around the field (arguably a very good thing to do).

Unfortunately—and unbeknownst the vast majority of the students—a couple of students did not choose such a wholesome activity, had a little disagreement, and ended said disagreement with a physical fight.

This is very much against school rules (and rightly so) but instead of punishing the students who fought (following the protocol in the district handbook they students fighting should have some sort of suspension—see page 22 here), the principal in charge of Rachel's grade decided to punish the entire grade. They declared that the seventh grade would be banned from all PBIS-sponsored activities for the duration of the year (which, is laughably ironic, given what PBIS is trying to accomplish). Further, the students were to sit in the cafeteria in alphabetical order for the duration of the year (which Rachel says hasn't been too bad because already she had to eat lunch with just her class (no free association here) and she just happens to be friends with the people whose last names sandwich hers, so those three were fine with the arrangement, though I'm sure it has not been ideal for everyone).

When the principal (or vice-principal in charge of seventh grade) started hearing pushback about this he threw in a couple of other minor infractions (for example they'd "heard in the hallways" that kids had been vaping during the walk-and-talk and that everyone had been so unruly that they'd just "lost control" and thus they didn't deserve the privilege—but these reasons were given well after the fact).

Rachel was very upset about this because she is. a. rule. follower.

She follows the rules (even the obnoxious ones) and she tries to make good choices (like picking up trash after the activity) and she doesn't like to feel like she's being punished for other people's mistakes (because no one likes to feel like they're being punished for other people's mistakes).

She texted me on her way home about how collective punishment is a war crime (with a little note that she'd looked it up during social studies (where they are allowed to use devices to do research and apparently this research felt pertinent to her at the moment (she's a straight-A student, guys, so I'm not worried about her researching this mildly-off-topic social issue))).

So I asked her what she was going to do about it.

"I'm going to write an essay!" she declared.

And then next thing I know, she's asking her friends to write essays and they're talking about presenting it to the student council and...I think it's adorably admirable of them. They had been treated so unfairly yet are choosing to respond with such maturity.

Anyway, she and a few friends (and friends of friends) wrote essays (and Rachel edited out the profanity from her more...mouthy...contacts because she didn't feel they should use such disrespectful language when addressing the administration) and she presented them at the student council meeting on Friday.

Her advisor said she completely agreed with the students and, in fact, had been planning on addressing this issue with the administration at the next staff meeting because several teachers seem to agree that the punishment was a bit...beyond the scope of justification. 

So Rachel's feeling pretty good about the outcome.

The amazing part is that I texted Andrew a bit about life on the home front (he was away at a conference in LA) and he tweeted about it and it blew up. Like, it was picked up by journalists and lawyers and so many political scientists (which is perhaps unsurprising given Andrew's profession). In total his tweet was seen 722,150 times, was "engaged with" 154,319 times (whatever that means) was retweeted 1200+ times, got 11,000 or so likes, and generated quite a bit of chatter.

She had an article about her published on Bored Panda and on Some eCards, which, granted, aren't top news outlets, but that's okay because we didn't think her little revolution would win her five-minutes of fame anywhere!

I shared one of the articles on Facebook and had so many comments of support pouring in (as well as a few downers (one of whom asked, "I mean...we make everyone wait in the car until everyone has their seat belt on. Isn't that the same thing?" To which I'll respond here: Ummm, nope. It's actually not, but thanks for playing)). Rachel had been nervous about bringing anything up in her student council meeting (she's new, she's an underling, the school doesn't exactly have a warm and welcoming atmosphere, though I'm sure everyone's lovely) so I had her read the comments (there are about 50 of them) the night before and that helped her muster some courage in the morning.

I'm proud of her for seeing an injustice and then doing something (civil and brave) about it. And I'm hoping that the administration will see reason in this situation. 

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