My three kids have three Spring Breaks, one after the other. At any given time, the one on Spring Break is indolent and the other two are insolent and resentful. I may be working late a lot this month, and my wife is going all Lifetime Movie of the Week with the wine fridge.
But elsewhere, across America, kids are still learning. Their impressionable little minds are absorbing the important lessons offered to them — lessons about math, lessons about English, lessons about science, and always lessons about civics — the relationship between the state and its citizens.
Take seven-year-old Josh Welch of Maryland. Josh was suspended because a teacher says he bit a pastry into the shape of a gun and waved it around. Josh learned a valuable lesson about the amount of trust and respect he should have for government actors.
In Pennsylvania, five-year-old Madison Guarna was suspended for "terroristic threats" when she told friends she was going to shoot them with a Hello Kitty toy that makes soap bubbles. Madison learned an important lesson about how government actors will use citizens' fear and uncertainty to convince them to surrender rights and to increase the government actors' power.
In South Carolina, six-year-old Naomi McKinney was expelled from school — and threatened with criminal trespass charges if she returned — when she brought a clear plastic toy gun to school. Naomi learned an important lesson that government actors like broad rules that give them substantial power over citizens, and dislike requests that they exercise judgment, proportion, or what non-governmental actors might call reason.
In Philadelphia, fifth grader Melody Valentin arrived at school and realized that in her pocket she had a paper gun her grandfather had made for her. She tried to throw it away, but another student saw her and informed on her to the principal. School officials scolded her publicly and threatened her with arrest and searched her. Melody learned a valuable lesson about how state actors will maintain power by turning citizens against each other and making citizens extensions of their own control.
Finally, in Lodi, California, school officials propose to teach children many messages at once through an "anti-bullying" initiative forbidding students from "posting crude or disparaging remarks via electronic media."
First, arguing that after-school activities are a privilege and not a right, Lodi school authorities argue that they have the power to impose such a broad policy on outside speech upon students who want to participate in such activities:
Extracurricular activities are privileges, not rights, district officials said. With athletes and club members, they have a vehicle to take away an activity that students enjoy. They don't have that leverage for students who simply attend their classes and go home, officials said.
This teaches children the important lesson that everything the government gives you or does for you comes with a price — and that the price is often a piece of your liberty.
Second, Lodi officials are arguing students and parents can't be trusted to handle this issue themselves:
However, a sampling of Lodi High students say it's an issue that students can address on their own without adult interference.
Administrators and trustees in the Lodi Unified School District don't agree, saying that some students cross the line when it comes to posting comments about others.
This teaches children that government actors do not view them as capable of thinking or acting for themselves, and crave ever-increasing authority over them.
Third, Lodi officials are crafting a broad, vague, subjective policy:
Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, student athletes and club members will have to sign a contract promising that they won't post remarks that can emotionally harm others online. This includes social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.
The policy applies to students both in school or out. This teaches children the lesson that government officials seek control over every aspect and every moment of their lives. The policy makes students responsible for the subjective emotional reactions of others. This teaches students that government actors like rules that are subjective (giving them more power) and rules that expand their power into the realm of feelings rather than actions (giving them more power). The rule is exceptionally vague. What types of emotional harm is covered? If a student complains that a particular person is bullying her, and the bully is embarrassed, has the bullied child broken the policy? As a tweet "our team crushed your team," causing despair, a violation? It's hard to tell. This teaches children that the government favors vague and ambiguous policies that maximize their power over citizens, and that often induce citizens to remain silent rather than speaking at all and risking violation of the policy.
Some look at these educational policies and despair. I, on the other hand, look at my kids and see how sharply they observe the world around them. Surely the children in Maryland and Pennsylvania and South Carolina and California are watching their teachers and taking away the right lesson — the lesson about how much they should trust, respect, or defer to the government.