The older I get and the more exposure I have to schooling and educational policy in the United States, the more I wonder if we like children.
I was recently reminded of this when I saw yet another example of a very young child given what seems to be a rather severe penalty because of an over-literal interpretation of a “zero tolerance” policy in a local school (http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2011/01/21/First-grader-punished-for-finger-pointing/UPI-42171295600400/). The details of this case—first grade boy suspended because he pointed his finger as though it was a gun—are the sort that get people either laughing at the disconnect between the action and the severity of the response or outraged at the same thing. After all, a child’s finger, on even the most liberal interpretations of zero tolerance, is not a gun. But that critique, I think, misses a deeper point: zero tolerance policies, even when not abused, renege on the promise that schools are in the business of education for democratic life.
Mindless forms of “classroom management” have triumphed over efforts to help children become better people (for examples of pedagogy that takes the formation of democratic citizens seriously, see Deborah Meier’s The Power of Their Ideas or Vivian Paley’s You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play). Perhaps it is because of the increasing focus on maximizing time on task in order to increase test scores, but I am not sure that is the reason: the policy of treating children like trainable animals predates the regime of testing so often supposed to be its cause.