Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Irresistible Forces, Immovable Objects, and Our "Rights."

Read today an op-ed from the Sunday New York Times; investigative journalist Bill Lichtenstein published a piece entitled "A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children."  In the editorial, Lichtenstein notes the rise over recent times in the use of "isolation rooms" and restraints in public schools as a means to discipline otherwise seemingly uncontrollable children. Included in the piece is a personal comment about the experiences of his then-kindergarten-aged daughter "Rose," who apparently was subject to such punishments on several occasions.
IN my public school 40 years ago, teachers didn’t lay their hands on students for bad behavior. They sent them to the principal’s office. But in today’s often overcrowded and underfunded schools, where one in eight students receive help for special learning needs, the use of physical restraints and seclusion rooms has become a common way to maintain order. 
According to national Department of Education data, most of the nearly 40,000 students who were restrained or isolated in seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year had learning, behavioral, physical or developmental needs, even though students with those issues represented just 12 percent of the student population
It's an interesting, if not to say eye-opening read.  And needless to say, I do not support the abuse or torture of children.

But one reaction I did have is this: after 40 years of "mainstreaming" children with learning, mental, and behavioural problems, ostensibly because it is the right of all to be treated "just the same as everyone else," where does one draw the line when circumscribing the rights of one child versus the rights of another?

In reading Mr Lichtenstein's story, he reveals, among other things, that his daughter has "speech and language delays," and at times becomes "fidgety and restless when she is unsure of what is expected of her."  Furthermore, it is revealed that "Rose" on occasion throws "violent tantrums" and at school became fixated with a scene from the cartoon "Finding Nemo," where sharks repeatedly (and violently) attempt to attack the story's eponymous protagonist.

"The school provided no solution," Mr Lichtenstein offers, dryly.

I am the parent of a small child - one who is NOT prone to "violent tantrums," nor bouts of "fidgety or restless" behaviour.

Where do his rights (and the rights of the other students in the class) come into the equation here?  When a child is repeatedly disruptive, not to say violent, that has a consequence for the others in the room whose learning is, at the least, interrupted.  Each time the teacher has to stop and tell "Rose" or other students to be quiet, to return to their seats, not to throw a tantrum or hurt the other children, that infringes on the rights of every other student in the classroom, doesn't it?

I am not a proponent of group rights - at all.  As I see it, we do not have collective rights, but rather, individual rights.  Amongst those rights, for school children who are compelled by law to be in the classroom, is the opportunity to be educated by a professional.

I'm sympathetic to "Rose" Lichtenstein, and to a lesser degree, her father.  Really, I am.  But if we disavow "time out rooms" for repeated bad behaviour, whilst at the same time insisting that public school classrooms are appropriate for all children, how do we expect our teachers to teach effectively?

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