Don’t Worry Parents: We Got This!

As far as I heard, two things happened at our local high school on Wednesday.

In the evening, parents of 8th graders were invited to the high school to learn about what to expect for their soon-to-be high school-aged children, specifically emphasizing that these children would be treated to a vast array of academic program choices as well as plenty of tender loving care.

Throughout the program, not a word was spoken about the morning‘s events at the high school, which included a lockdown drill and a search of locker areas with police officers and their dogs “as part of our ongoing efforts to keep students safe.”

Both activities seemed designed primarily to pacify fretful parents.

Which, as a parent of an incoming high school student, is what I am. Fretful.

The evening offered up some helpful information. After getting bombarded with the message not to take too many honors classes, I learned that 30-45% of students take honors instead of the regular classes in English and social studies, making honors a no-brainer choice for M. And just as I was wondering what would inspire an adolescent to pursue two full years of career and financial management, I learned that the upper-level students go to Disney World. So even if about 85% of the information was covered in the written material we’d already received, some of it was useful.

As for the morning’s cops and drug-sniffing dogs? Not so much. In fact, I thought it was pretty ironic that the Powers That Be would choose these events for the same day. Because as reassuring as the evening program tried to be, for me, the overwhelming Message of the Day was that high school will be the closest thing to prison that my child has encountered.

I get so frustrated with education because it feels like, so often, we choose to do exactly the opposite of what’s clearly best for kids. Back when M was in nursery school, there was a huge battle to keep our curriculum play-based. Play is the most effective way for little kids to learn, and yet when parents worry about their children learning their ABCs, schools just cave. Recess, walking to school, roaming around the neighborhood are all things that once made childhood wonderful and made children smarter and more resourceful, and all of them are on the endangered list. It’s maddening. Testing and test prep are sucking the joy and creativity out of learning. And I know, I know: we have great teachers, and overall our experience has been terrific. But it’s been a bit of a gloomy year for us. Just as an example, J’s teacher is so controlling about the kids’ reading habits that students are effectively afraid to pick up a random book and start reading. It’s enough to make me feel like crying.

So, let’s take cops and drug-sniffing dogs, shall we? What’s the impact of such a little excursion going to be? And I am completely bullshitting here, but just for the sake of argument, let’s go back to that survey that they did in Niskayuna recently to just take a look at pot. And yes, I know that there are prescription drugs and, increasingly heroin, but I’m just going with pot because it’s simpler. I’ll bet that most of the heroin users have also used pot, and I bet that the dogs are not going after potentially legitimately-used prescription drugs. Anyway. According to the survey, 15% of students have tried pot in their lifetime, and 8.4% have used pot in the last month. Presumably, with cops and drug-sniffing dogs, you’re going after dealers and regular users, so that’s the 8.4%. And just to be generous to their heavy-handed approach, let’s assume that some folks are lying, and that usage is double, or 16%, of students.

If that’s true, we have 84% of kids who are basically bystanders experiencing this drama. So, how’s it going to make these kids feel? Maybe a teensy, tiny, itty-bitty percentage of students are saying to themselves, “Wow, I was totally going to buy pot this week, but now I’m scared straight!” I think it’s more likely that a small percentage of student were saying to themselves, “This is scary, stressful, and upsetting, and I hate that they’re doing this.” And then a smallish segment of the population might think, “Good! I hope they catch some of those losers.” But I bet the majority of this 84% majority think a variation on, “Jeez. High school sucks.”

Meanwhile, what about the regular users and dealers of drugs? Well, since no drugs were recovered, I’d expect that their reactions fall into three possible categories: 1. “Holy crap! That was close! Better text people I can’t sell in gym!” 2. “Idiots. We’re way smarter than that,” and, my personal favorite, 3. “. . . .Wha. . . huh. . . What happened. . . ?”

In my opinion, the benefit of getting a few kids rightfully scared out of their wits does not outweigh the cost of making a majority of wonderful kids think high school is an unpleasant place where they are assumed to be criminals. I’d argue it also makes the idea of reporting drug activity more intimidating.

It’s funny, too, because in that same survey, it said that about 70% of seniors knew where to get pot. If so, couldn’t school officials and cops narrow it down a little bit? I’m a hopelessly naive, not-hip-to-the-drug-scene, middle-aged lady, but I could take a stab at this. Let’s see, are there woods near the school grounds? Which kids have parents who smoke pot? Should we focus on more intervention for academically failing students? Who’s showing up at Smashburger with bloodshot eyes?

Of course, all that more subtle detective work doesn’t show the parents that you’re Doing Something. The whole cops-and-dogs thing feels like hanging out a “mission accomplished” banner in the middle of a conflict. It doesn’t help, and when it becomes clear that the tactic didn’t help, it just makes you look stupid and erodes trust all around. Which is too bad, because I think that we have some significant substance abuse and mental and emotional health issues in our community. But I’ll save that for another post.





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