Smells Like Teen Misdemeanor

Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller report on a shift in how adolescent misbehavior gets punished:

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database. This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school.

Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

Robby Soave comments:

It’s worth mentioning that violence in schools did decline dramatically over the last two decades. I’m not certain how much of that should actually be attributed to police omnipresence, given that violence declined nationwide, not just in schools. But it would be reasonable to think some amount of policing had a positive impact on the extreme end.

That does not justify what’s happening now. Today, schools are relatively safe environments for kids; there’s no excuse for treating students like prisoners of war. Students are being educated in an environment of absolute non-freedom and petty authoritarianism. Administrators have all the power to ruin their lives over arbitrary enforcement of stupid rules.

Josh Marshall adds some analysis:

[W]e now have a system in which lots of kids end up in the hands of police for things that seem to be obviously things schools should handle on their own – as part of the socialization process that is a key aspect of the school system – rather than calling in the cops. As with the militarization of policing, the trend falls disproportionately and hardest on blacks and other minorities. But it’s notable that it is not restricted to non-whites. It’s general.

But one of of Josh’s readers focuses on race:

In the decades since Brown v. Board, there’s been a massive nationwide exodus of more affluent whites from our public schools. That’s resulted in resegregation, as whites and more well-off families of color tend to send their kids to a parallel school system of private and parochial schools, or to charters and “magnet” schools within the public school system designed to screen out undesirables (though the segregation at most charters runs the other way). So our schools in cities large and small chiefly serve students of color, mostly low- and lower-middle income kids. And as recent research has shown, those kids come in for much harsher punishment for stupidly minor infractions than do white kids — horrifyingly, even in preschool. This is actually something de Blasio’s DoE has been promising to address through revision of the discipline code.

Anyway, I think this accounts for why you don’t see this kind of stuff so much at white private and parochial schools (where neither do you see grueling testing regimens, or homework, or even, a few old-school nuns aside, the kind of wild fetishism of classroom order and discipline that inner city charter schools market themselves with). Fear of a black student.