There’s a lot of talk about teaching kids consent these days, and for good, vital, and important reasons. It’s an influential topic, and one that definitely needs to be discussed early on. But what happens when the places of learning we send our kids to don’t exactly behave in a way that promotes bodily autonomy? Because the sad fact is, schools regularly violate kids’ consent. While perhaps this is done with the “best intentions,” or after other teaching methods have failed, there are so many ways teachers, administrators, and staff completely ignore the feelings and rights of young people. When you’re a kid, you’re basically always at someone else’s mercy, and not all of those people are consistently looking out for your best interest.
I haven’t been a student myself in quite a while, but I recall the ways some of my school's staff would routinely ignore student requests and, instead, do whatever they wanted simply because they could. For example, my third grade class had P.E. right after lunch. So after downing my Lunchables and Little Debbie Cake, I had to go out into the hot sun and do push ups on the concrete basketball court. We had no air conditioned gym, and if you complained, you had to do more pushups. Then, we had to run.
I learned to hate running because of this class. I felt sick after every lap, since I hadn’t had enough time to digest my meal. My coach didn’t want to believe I was in physical pain until finally, one day, I puked. Then, and only then, did he let me sit out the rest of the week. It’s wrong to push kids into doing things they don’t want to do when it isn’t absolutely necessary, or without at least recognizing their concerns. And now, as a parent, I’m definitely going to be hyper-vigilant and look out for all of the following:
Forcing Them Into Groups They’re Not Comfortable In
I know that working with people you might not necessarily like is something we all have to do at some point. But, as adults, we can usually recognize when there’s a bully, or some other unpleasant person we need to work with, and decide for ourselves if engaging with them is worth it. We can choose to request a different team. We can find an intermediary. Worst case, we can leave a damn job.
But kids? They’re stuck. And when we see kids commit suicide due to excessive bullying, we need to listen to those kids. That said, there are times when it’s preferable to try and see if kids can resolve things on their own. Either way, though, and even when teachers are trying to foster a community, it's important to listen instead of demand.
Mandatory Assigned Seating
Forcing a child to sit in an area they'd rather not sit in without listening to their concerns as to why they're feeling uncomfortable, is not OK. I recall wanting to sit closer to the front of the class, but my teacher refused and sat me toward the back since I wasn't a "troublemaker." In other words, I was sat next to one of the more disruptive students in order to somehow elicit some sort of classroom balance. Not only did I have trouble concentrating, but I also had trouble seeing the board.
Nothing about that situation is OK, my friends. Tolerance.org does suggests teachers assign seating on the first day of school to let each and every child show that they're wanted, they matter, and the teacher has been looking forward to meeting them, but assigned seating for disciplinary purposes? Especially when they negatively impact other students? Hard pass.
Not Allowing Kids To Use The Bathroom When They Need To
I know some kids use the bathroom pass as an excuse to socialize in the halls, or whatever, but there needs to be a better system so children can use the bathroom when they need to. I had an unhealthy fear of asking to use the restroom as a child, all because my teacher refused to call on me when I raised my hand, and I wound up having a couple of “accidents” in the process. The shame and stigma associated with bathroom accidents, especially in the classroom, can be nothing short of damaging.
And now that the Trump administration revoked President Barack Obama's guidelines on transgender bathrooms, more and more transgender students are avoiding using bathrooms altogether, despite the health risks, according to Newsweek. "Pulling in data from a 2015 survey of youth and a 2016 study of adults, the report mentioned that transgender people revealed they not only drank less but also developed urinary tract infections in their quest to skip the public facilities."
Conducting Random Searches
Sometimes, administrators request book bag or locker checks because someone has vandalized something, or someone has been accused of bringing a weapon to school. But, all too often and in my experience, it was just done to keep kids fearful. This is a tricky subject, I know, but we have to at least recognize that this is a serious violation of privacy.
According to Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), "Student search can be a tool for maintaining safe schools, but school administrators must balance students' individual rights with the school community's need for a safe learning environment." So, you know, more of that.
Confiscating Items Indefinitely
Another complicated issue, to be sure, but one that I believe needs to be addressed. On the one hand, you can’t have students repeatedly pulling out their phones, being disruptive and disrespectful of your class, and not being reprimanded. On the other, if they don’t want their property taken, you’re totally stripping them of their consent. And more than that, while some teachers will return items at the end of class, other will try to hold on to it for longer.
Recently, in Durham, Ohio and according to The Star, teachers were confiscating items in students' lunch boxes the school district deemed "unhealthy." These items, according to The Star, included: “Goldfish crackers, Bear Paws cookies, granola bars, string cheese, Jello, juice boxes, pudding cups, gummy fruit snacks, raisins, Animal Crackers, chocolate milk and Sun Chips.” As you might have already guessed, parents were pissed.
Enforcing Mandatory Dress Codes
By now, many of us know and recognize that dress codes are inherently sexist and, often times, are classist as well. They also take away kids' ability to dress however they see fit. While I’m not entirely against uniforms (I recognize their use and the benefit some parents and even students see in them), I am against rules that state that “girls must wear x” and “boys must wear y.”
Just recently, 17-year-old girl at Maine South High School was told "her senior portrait was not appropriate for the yearbook because she wore an off-the-shoulder sweater," according to The Chicago Tribune. A South Carolina principal told ninth and 10th grade students they couldn't wear yoga pants unless they were a specific size. "I’ve told you this before, I’m going to tell you this now, unless you are a size zero or two and you wear something like that, even though you’re not fat, you look fat," said the principal, according to Today.
Forcing Kids To Change In Front Of Others In The Locker Room
Changing clothes to get ready for P.E. is something that usually starts in middle school, and at an age when we are at our most awkward and vulnerable. I recall being 12 and our P.E. coaches randomly bursting into the locker room to make sure girls weren’t changing in the bathroom stalls. Some girls simply didn’t feel comfortable changing in front of everyone, and forcing them to do so was definitely in violation of their consent.
And, sadly, this is still happening. Parents have taken to online forums to share stories of their children being forced to change in locker rooms, in front of their peers, when they don't feel ready, willing, or able to. It's 2017, you guys.
Forcing Kids To Shower After P.E.
If you’re a teen uncomfortable with changing clothes in front of your peers, you can imagine how some feel about having to bath in front of one another. Still, I’ve heard stories where P.E. coaches forced kids to bathe before they went to their next class. Sure, I know teenagers can get pretty smelly post-physical fitness class, but forcing them to do so (by punishing them if they don't) is a severe violation of consent.
That's why, according to The Los Angeles Times, "In December 1994, a Pennsylvania school district dropped its showering requirement after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to sue on behalf of a teenage girl. The ACLU argued that a student's right to privacy is violated if he or she is forced to be naked before classmates." When a kid says they're uncomfortable, it's our job, as adults, to believe them.
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