"Every day in communities across the United States, children and adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours in schools that have increasingly come to resemble places of detention more than places of learning. From metal detectors to drug tests, from increased policing to all-seeing electronic surveillance, the public schools of the twenty-first century reflect a society that has become fixated on crime, security and violence."—Investigative journalist Annette Fuentes
It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school.
Of course, that was before school shootings became a part of our national lexicon.
Nowadays, as a result of the government's profit-driven campaign to keep the nation "safe" from drugs, weapons and terrorism, students are not only punished for minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight, but they are being punished with suspension, expulsion, and even arrest.
Welcome to Compliance 101: the police state's primer in how to churn out compliant citizens and transform the nation's school's into quasi-prisons through the use of surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills.
If you were wondering, these police state tactics have not made the schools any safer.
Rather, they've turned the schools into authoritarian microcosms of the police state, containing almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the "outside."
If your child is fortunate enough to survive his encounter with the public schools, you should count yourself fortunate.
Most students are not so lucky.
From the moment a child enters one of the nation's 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech, school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called "disorderly" students, standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking, politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them, and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.
By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested.
More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehavior, such as "disruptive behavior" or "insubordination."
Black students are three times more likely than white students to face suspension and expulsion.
Zero tolerance policies that were intended to make schools safer by discouraging the use of actual drugs and weapons by students have turned students into suspects to be treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, while criminalizing childish behavior.
For instance, 9-year-old Patrick Timoney was sent to the principal's office and threatened with suspension after school officials discovered that one of his LEGOs was holding a 2-inch toy gun.
David Morales, an 8-year-old Rhode Island student, ran afoul of his school's zero tolerance policies after he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and tiny plastic Army figures in honor of American troops. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns.
A 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as "a nice kid" and "a good student," was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school. The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls.
Things have gotten so bad that it doesn't even take a toy gun to raise the ire of school officials.
A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school's no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time.
A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker.
In Houston, an 8th grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother (the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement).
Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in reform school after bringing a camping utensil to school that can serve as a fork, knife or spoon.
Even imaginary weapons (hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a "threatening" manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in detention.
Equally outrageous was the case in New Jersey where several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of "cops and robbers" during recess and using their fingers as guns.