Monday, January 17, 2005

Trick Bag 

The kids are still talking about last night's brown bag amnesty, an annual unannounced tradition designed, primarily, to give kids a chance to anonymously give up their contraband before someone gets hurt -- or caught. The free speech red herring often found in the aftermath of school-slash-student privacy invasions has faded quickly (this is a private school, and kids and parents are told coming in that their contract with us allows such things); mostly, this morning's concerns spring from those aspects of the process which are necessary to make it work at all.

In other words, in case my bias isn't clear: we do it, and I'd do it again. But that doesn't mean we have to like it.

The mechanics of the "brown bag" are surprisingly complex, mostly because of the legal ramifications involved in doing it right, coupled with the need to do it well. But it's easy to explain in premise. Basically, all residents of a dorm are gathered in the lounge, and then sent, one roommate at a time, to anonymously "brown bag" their precious and well-hidden booze and drugs under student leader supervision (while the adults watch the doors and indows from outside). From there -- within five minutes tops -- they return to the lounge to await their fate.

But that isn't the half of it. If everything ended there -- if the brown bags were confiscated, and kids sent immediately back to their homework -- no kid worth his brain would bother giving anything up. Instead, to give the brown bag teeth, it must at least occasionally be followed by room searches. And as the first school-wide brown bag search in the history of the school, last night was one such evening.

And a true all-school room search takes some serious time. With so many small things to hide, and so many pockets and panels in 'em, even the most half-hearted, perfunctory room searching takes two faculty members ten minutes or more per room. The lounge-sequestering went on for hours.

Then we had to sit with each kid caught with something, anything, from tobacco or pot residue on the bottom of their desk drawer to lighters and well-hidden flasks, while they wrote their statement -- a testimonial chance to come clean, to be used as part of their follow-up, regardless of the outcome.

This morning, the kids are pissed, tired, and quite probably not much more drug-free than they were before. Some -- the stupid or careless ones -- are looking at some sort of discipline-to-be-determined, or referral to Core Team, our non-disciplinary, counseling-heavy solution for kids who have heretofore managed to stay clean, or at least under the disciplinary radar. All spent as much as three unannounced and textbook-less hours crammed in dorm lounges on a school night.

And the teachers? Totally unprepared for class. After all, the brown bag was a surprise to us, too; none of us planned for a late night rummaging through our charges' underwear drawers.

But the brown bag does what it's supposed to. By the end of last night's exercise, we had two full bottles of Jaegermeister (ew), several more of Tequila, water bottles full of Vodka, pot bags both empty and half-full, a couple of hollowed pens with white powder residue on 'em, and the names of five kids who were spotted trying to hide bottles and bags in the brush outside the dorm during the amnesty period. A few more are likely to be core teamed based on residue or oversights found during the search. The school will be cleaner for it, and maybe -- just maybe -- we'll save ourselves a trip to the hospital...or the morgue.

Before the comments begin, two pre-emptive measures:

1. Yes, the substances mentioned above are typical of prep school adolescent use. Those who think they can make a case that their own schools (or their own kids) are any more drug-free are either talking about schools which offer no privacy whatsoever as a daily foundation for life, or are deluding themselves.

2. More importantly, since the topic of roomsearching often brings strong constitutional arguments, let me reiterate what I said above: constitutional protection from search and siezure does not apply to minors living in a consensually-contract-driven comunity. Nor should it, when lives are at stake.

Those interested in stronger legal protection for their children or themselves should plan on sticking with public schools, where they will surely spend most of their time preparing for standardized tests rather than actually learning to be productive, creative, and useful members of society. Or there's always homeschooling.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:36 AM |

Reading with intent interest and empathy , till I got to this paragraph:
"Those interested in stronger legal protection for their children or themselves should plan on sticking with public schools, where they will surely spend most of their time preparing for standardized tests rather than actually learning to be productive, creative, and useful members of society."

Ouch. Stab us state school teachers in the heart, why don't you?
Ouch. Stab us state school teachers in the heart, why don't you?Woah, now -- as a former public school yeacher, I have great respect for those who are willing to stick it out in such an enviroment, and certainly do not hold teachers accountable for the restrictions put on student-centered pedagogy by standards-driven mandates.

Superintendent-level adminsitrators and politicians, now, that's another story entirely.

It is my sense that teacher's hearts are with the students and communities, so much so that they can stand the restrictions I alluded to.

Or are you suggesting that public schools (US) don't have to trim from the real learning they know is right in order to raise test scores, regardless of the truly educational value of the tests or the methods required to cause the highest testing results? If so, I want to teach at your school...but wonder how it's managed to hide from the C-changes for so long. Certainly isn't what I've seen in public schooling in my 12+ years teaching and consulting...nor the last few years I was a student.
In fact, Lectrice, it seems you prove my point nicely.

American prep schools have far less administrative tasks, and overall less administrative oversight of curriculum and pedagogy at the classroom or even department level. Less legal-esque freedoms for students, perhaps -- and no unions for teachers, as another example. But nowhere is perfect.
I like what you are saying, BoyHowdy, but I sure wish you would check your grammar before posting, especially when the discussion relates to private vs public schools. ('less' vs 'fewer')

Oh, what the hell, ignore me. Perhaps it isn't important in such an informal medium? (Thinking of speeches vs informal conversation.)
Three possible responses here, all heartfelt and really, really what I think on/re: this issue, so take your pick:

1. Yes, since I believe the serious nature of the topic at hand and the (attempt at) presentation thereof does warrant proper grammar, I have erred, and am currently beating myself up over it. The possibility of informality could in some blogsituations apply, I suppose. But since the rest of the post and subsequent comments are in earnest and high-culture-ish, I don't feel like I can hide behind this as an excuse.

2. Comments are not as formal as blog posts. They can't be, since you can't unsend them and then correct as you could a post; they couldn't be, since comments are discursive (which is hardly ever uberformal) where posts are declarative (where grammar underscores thoughtfulness of posts themselves); they shouldn't be, as they are mere addendae where the posts are the meat of the matter. Errors pointed to in posts are appreciated and corrected, but errors posted in comments should, I believe, be excused or even allowed on these grounds.

3. Pbbbbbt. :-)
Thank you for not taking offence and for responding in earnest. My instinct was that you would go for the pedagogical response rather than anger, and I am relieved that I was right. Phew!

#2 never occured to me, so you even got to do some teaching! :-)

#3 was a pleasure.

You have a very interesting mind.
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