Public schools

School Nannies and the Death of Common Sense

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It sounds like the opening line of a joke, "A father walked up to his kid's school and gets arrested…" but watch the video of Jim Howe trying to pick up his kids from South Cumberland Elementary School in Cumberland County, Tennessee, and you'll sooner cry than laugh. That's because Howe's alleged crime was walking into the school building and asking to take his children now that classes were over. Howe was supposed to wait, you see. All walking parents are supposed to cool their heels until a long line of drivers have picked up their kids, and only then retrieve their own children. That's because school authorities are convinced that making parents drive up to school for pick-up is somehow safer than allowing choice in the matter.

"Previously, parents were coming out to pick up children, they were just getting out of cars and coming to school," Donald Andrews, the director of Cumberland County Schools told the Huffington Post. "In this day in age, the PTO [parent teacher organization] was concerned that it was a safety issue, someone could come up and grab [any] kid."

No child was ever actually "grabbed" at this school mind you. But why let reality intrude on the important business of overregulating ourselves because of what might happen. Indeed, this incident serves to highlight a broad problem with safety regulations related to children, namely the absence of common sense.

It was a lack of common sense that led school security officer Avery Aytes to arrest Howe in the first place, telling him "I'm going to take you up to the jail… I'm not putting up with this today, you go ahead and record all you want … you're being childish and it's uncalled for." (Howe's girlfriend recorded the exchange and posted it to the internet, which is why we know what happened.) But Howe was never belligerent or even so much as raised his voice to Ayes, he just calmly said he had come to get his kids.

And it was a complete lack of judgment for the school superintendent to double-down on the original arrest mistake by promising to defend the school's actions in court. "A lot of attention is being drawn because someone doesn't want to follow rules and guidelines. I stand by the decision to [arrest Howe], we'll get negative press but that's OK if it's for the safety [and] well-being of our children," Andrews said. Is it really safer to have dozens of cars line up along the side of the road taking up a lane of traffic and making a daily headache for local drivers and police? And even if the rules were reasonable, was it good judgment to arrest a father for disorderly conduct when he'd been calm and polite?

Alas, lack of basic judgment and a devotion to driving isn't confined to Tennessee education officials. Maryland school administrators can be equally common-sense-challenged, as when a principal from Montgomery County harassed a local mother about how her daughter was getting to school. The parents and their 5th-grader had decided to have the girl take a 10-minute, direct city bus ride to and from school instead of driving her. But after hearing from some "concerned parents" the principal decided that the best use of her and a child protective services case worker's time was to investigate whether riding the bus was OK.

As the mom reported to Lenore Skenazy's blog, Free-Range Kids, the principal at first inquired as to the girl's safety. "Safety from what?" the mom inquired. "Kidnapping," the principal replied. The mom knows that crime statistics do not bear out that level of fear. The principal then tried to pressure the parent by invoking child protective services. The mom reported that the principal said "if you want to explore the bus option that [the school] would have CPS determine whether or not they felt this was ok to do… Apparently, [someone at the central office] got in touch with a liaison who works with the school system and CPS and this is how they would like to move forward should you decide to not drive her," the principal told the mom. "Do you want them to meet with you?  This would not be a report regarding neglect or abuse but rather a confirmation or not that it is ok in the eyes of CPS," the principal explained.

Got that? Parents decide to let their kid ride the bus, nothing happens except that the girl gets to and from school every day, and yet the principal insists that child welfare should get involved to "approve" of the parents' decision. Did it never occur to the principal to tell the busybody "concerned parents" to mind their own business? Then again, if the principal is irrationally afraid for her students' safety then common sense may be in short supply.

These tales of overreacting school officials, moreover, aren't exceptions; they represent the rule according to Barry Schwartz, who discussed the death of practical wisdom during a TED Talk in 2009.

Schwartz tells the story of a dad who mistakenly bought hard lemonade for his son at a Detroit Tigers game and the security guard who saw the seven-year-old drinking an alcoholic beverage and proceeded to overreact. Instead of approaching the father to strongly suggest the drink be taken from the kid, the security guard called the police, the police called an ambulance, and the kid was rushed to the hospital. After determining that there was no alcohol in the boy's blood, the kid was forced to stay in foster care for three days. After that the boy was allowed back home but only if the dad left the house. Two weeks later the family was reunited. But as Schwartz explains, "the welfare workers and the ambulance people and the judge all said the same thing: 'We hate to do it but we have to follow procedure.'"

Perhaps time has come to recognize that in the name of "protecting the kids" we've gone over the cliff in terms of reasonable safety rules and regulations. Getting back to good-enough standards, or at least to a place where authorities do not fear using their own judgment over extreme rules, is not going to be easy.

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  1. Unions.

  2. My wife is a school teacher and she looked in horror. She felt the parent was in the right here and the cop was acting like total dick.

    I find it funny that he hauled a parent to jail without too much concern for the, well, CHILD.

    Unbelievable.

  3. Media!

  4. Walking is faster and cheaper than the van hell that lines up outside of elementary schools. For kids that only live blocks away. I laugh at all the stupid ass fat fuck parents who waste their time and gasoline.

    1. Why, sir, do you hate the children?

      1. Because they offend every one of my senses. Even taste. Ever smelled something so bad you could taste it? They’re loud, ugly, and sticky, too.

    2. Aren’t the parents who walk to pick up their kids better for the environment or something?

      1. Yeah, that is a kind of restatement of what I typed.

    3. And they are all wondering who the loser with no car is watching them drop their kids off

  5. Authoritarians.

  6. Wow, incredible! Summary: Government Almighty loves our Childrenz FAR more than we mere parents can EVER hope to! If we stand in the way of Government Almighty, there WILL be Hell (AKA Guv-Mint Almighty) to pay!!!

    1. Guv-Mint Almighty has an ultimate goal here, in support of ALL of the Un-told and Un-sung Legions of Expertologists of Expertology in PhDs on “HOW To Love The Village’s Childrenz More Than The Parents Do”: More and more pre-pre-pre-PRE, pre-schools, for the yung uns, more and more and MOAR pubic fundings for the ignernt Pubics who do NOT know WHUT is best fer them, let Alone their Childrenz?: End goal: Like mother sea turtles dropping off a few hundred eggs in the hot sandy beaches, then turning their backs and swimming away, letting Nature / God fend for their offspring? So, too, does Guv-Mint Almighty LOVE Our Childrenz SOOOO much, they want us to lay our eggs / babies on THEIR pubic beach and just swim away? A BOOOOTIFULL vision, is it not? Guv-Mint Almighty will RELIEVE us of ALL burdens of tryin’ to steer “our” Childrenz (who are we trying to kid; the VILLAGE’S Childrenz, in reality!!!) straight! Relax, give it ALL to the Broad Shoulders of Government Almighty? RELAX now?

  7. I went to a high school, a half ass laid out, single floor, sprawling modern one. There was actually one two story section. They had a bit of a problem when thousands of kids were in the hallways during class changes, so they had some dumbass traffic scheme about which stairs to use, which side of the hallway to use, and shit like that. They had some dumb old cunt “monitor” or whatever enforce all this (who I deliberately egged on). It took them a few years to just try letting people go where they needed to go, at which point most of the problems went away. These idiots think too hard for the amount of logic they possess.

    1. They use special logic, you need a permit for that, otherwise you would understand…

    2. Hated high school? You must love the work place.

  8. Just following orders – that’s never gone wrong before…

  9. I have a solution for the hard lemonade problem: no alcohol at sporting venues! I mean, after all, drunken adults at or driving from the venue represent more of a threat than does a drunken kid at the venue.

    Reasonable?

    SHEESH!

    1. “no alcohol at sporting venues”

      I can see the headlines now:

      “Stadium Owners Up In Arms Over Record Low Attendances!”

      and

      “New Record Set For Busts Of People Trying To Sneak Alcohol Into Sporting Venues!”

      Good luck with that idea.

  10. So, this Barney Fife dipshit throws a “respeck mah authoritah!” tantrum, and he has the gall to say that the victim is the one being childish?

    I hope that that the victim refuses any settlement that allows that asshole to keep his job.

    -jcr

  11. Holy crap, that Donald Andrews clown is fucking PE teacher? Who the FUCK signed off on letting him run a school?

    -jcr

  12. I can’t believe this is happening in the real life.

  13. The “children are going to be kidnapped” meme is very real and very present to most moms. When talking to my wife and her friends I am quite literally the odd man out on this topic. They are all worried that their kids are about to be snatched at any moment. It is far and away their number one safety concern.

    These are parents of 1st graders and toddlers in an urban environment, so you’d think traffic would rate high on their list of concerns. Not so much. Bullying…. now that is an important problem that must be addressed. The consensus is that bullying is much different these days with the internet – and having someone say something online is way, way, way more serious than getting beaten up by a bigger kid every day for you lunch money. Apparently I’m a borderline sociopath for even suggesting that I’d rather be called names than be physically assaulted.

    So in that way I kinda feel for the school officials. The people who elect them clearly don’t think like we do.

    1. At my seven year old nephews school even saying “Your face is funny looking” is considered bullying. For many kids throughout history that was probably a daily occurance at one point in their lives.

      1. So what?
        Throughout most of history infant mortality was high, we didn’t have running water, life expectancy was short, and we didn’t have anything like healthcare or access to the wide variety of food we have.

        Slavery was also fairly common, are you generally in favor of that as well?

        Just because things were done in the past doesn’t make them good.

        1. Throughout most of history infant mortality was high

          “Your face is funny looking” is a tragedy on par with mass infant death? Awesome.

          I dunno about the his nephew and that school, but at my sons’ school, with all the kids and loose grasp of grammar, culture and vocab; “Your face is funny looking” needs to be followed up with an actual slander and/or other evidence of mens rea before it could be considered insulting, which was the point. “Your face is funny looking” could mean anything from “The lighting in here is terrible.”, “Are you okay?”, or “You need to shave.” to “FYTW!”.

          I have an idea, I’ll give you a statement and you see if you can cram it into an absurd context that doesn’t really fit or resemble my reasoning for making the original statement. We’ll see who’s better at it, OK?

        2. Let’s start with literacy, numeracy, and logical thinking. If the institution can handle that (and all evidence says it can’t) then we can move on to secondary concerns like name calling.

    2. The “children are going to be kidnapped” meme is very real and very present to most moms.

      I’ve been in similar situations and the author hit the nail on the head with ‘irrational fear’. Reasoning with it is exceptionally difficult if not impossible. I’m often vilified for acknowledging the reality that people die unpreventably, sometimes very young. The only alternative is to cease being human.

      I have routinely heard the conversation about networked cameras to monitor children over the internet and how creepy it is to think that someone else could hack in and watch your kid without your knowledge. I usually point out that it’s much less creepy than ‘the good old days’ when the creepy people watching your kids did it from a van down the street. Which is ironic, because the hyper-protectionism and self-oriented social bent of modern technology has made many of these Moms oblivious to whether people park on the streets or not.

  14. At least one authority figure still may be in for a bit of trouble over the Mike’s Hard Lemonade incident. Apparently the judge in the case was in the habit of signing blank forms:

    http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-….._pare.html

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  16. Liberals!

  17. This is aimed at the children as much as the Parents. The purpose is to enforce the idea on the children (tomorrow’s slaves)that they can only live their lives as they will by the State’s sufferance. They children see the results when one doesn’t genuflect. If they can cow today’s adults, so much the better.

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