Is American public education a form of child abuse? A week ago, the Washington Post’s Brigid Schulte reported on a student named Randy Castro who attends school in Woodbridge, Va. Last November at recess he slapped a classmate on her bottom. The teacher took him to the principal. School officials wrote up an incident report and then called the police.
Randy Castro is in the First Grade. But, at the ripe old age of six, he’s been declared a sex offender by Potomac View Elementary School. He’s guilty of sexual harassment, and the incident report will remain on his record for the rest of his schooldays — and maybe beyond. Maybe it’ll be one of those things that just keeps turning up on background checks forever and ever: Perhaps 34-year-old Randy Castro will apply for a job and at his prospective employer’s computer up will pop his sexual-harasser status yet again. Or maybe he’ll be able to keep it hushed up until he’s 57 and runs for governor of Virginia and suddenly his political career self-detonates when the sordid details of his Spitzeresque sexual pathologies are revealed. But that’s what he is now: Randy Castro, sex offender. The title of the incident report spells out his crime: “Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive.” The curiously placed comma might also be offensive were it not that school officials are having to spend so much of their energies grappling with the First Grade sexual-harassment epidemic they can no longer afford to waste time acquiring peripheral skills such as punctuation.
Randy Castro was not apprehended until he was six, so who knows how long his reign of sexual terror lasted? Sixteen months ago, a school official in Texas accused a four-year-old of sexual harassment after the boy was observed pressing his face into the breasts of a teacher’s aide when he hugged her before boarding the school bus. Fortunately, the school took decisive action and suspended the sick freak. By the way, is that the first recorded use in the history of the English language of the phrase “accused a four-year-old of sexual harassment”? Well, it won’t be the last: In the state of Maryland last year, 16 kindergartners were suspended for sexual harassment, as were three pre-schoolers.
School officials declined to comment to the Washington Post on Master Castro’s case on the grounds of student confidentiality. However, they did say that the decision to call the cops was “the result of a misunderstanding.” And it’s not like he was Tasered or anything.
When school officials call 911 because of a “misunderstanding” with a six-year-old, the fault is theirs: He’s a kid; and they’re school officials who are supposedly trained and handsomely remunerated to know how to deal with children. Incidentally, the phrase “school officials” isn’t quite as rare as “37-year-old teacher’s aide accuses four-year old of sexual harassment” but it would still ring foreign to your average old-school schoolmarm in a one-room schoolhouse. Back then schools had schoolchildren and schoolteachers and that was pretty much it. But now grade schools are full of “officials,” just like the Department of Homeland Security.
So who does get a little breast and butt action in American schools these days? Obviously not your four-year-old gropers and six-year-old predators: The system’s doing an admirable job of cracking down on those perverts. No, if you want to get up close and personal with body parts you’ve got to be a “school official.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit recently heard oral arguments in the case of Savana Redding. Back in 2003, Savana was an Eighth Grader at Safford Middle School in Safford, Arizona, when the vice principal, Kerry Wilson, “acting on a tip,” discovered a fellow student to have a handful of ibuprofen tablets in her pocket. The other girl said she got them from Savana, who denied it. She had no tablets in her own pockets or in her backpack. Vice Principal Wilson, whose mind works in interesting ways, then decided that Savana might be hiding the ibuprofen in her cleavage or her crotch. So, without contacting the girl’s parents, he ordered a school official to strip-search Savana. She was obliged to expose her breasts and “her pelvic area.” If Vice Principal Wilson were a four-year old pre-schooler who’d been involved in a stunt like that, he’d now be a registered sex offender for life. But fortunately he’s a “school official” so if he decides to apply search techniques associated with international narcotics traffic he pretty much has a free hand to do so. After all, ibuprofen is serious stuff. As Reason’s Jacob Sullum put it, “It’s a good thing the school took swift action, before anyone got unauthorized relief from menstrual cramps.”
The policies of these “school officials” are dignified by the name of “zero tolerance.” “Zero sanity” would be a more accurate description. One day we’ll look back at this period of government-instituted madness and wonder why those entrusted with the care of minors (or, to be more accurate, those who enjoy a de facto state monopoly over the care of minors) were unable to do what teachers in civilized societies have been able to do throughout human history — exercise individual human judgment. This week Michelle Obama called for Americans to pony up even more dough for their public school system. The United States already spends more per student than any other developed nation except Switzerland, and at least the Swiss have something to show for it. By any reasonable measure, at least a third of the cash dumped into American schools is entirely wasted. And, if we simply shipped every youngster to boarding school in the Alps instead, the kindergartners might have a sporting chance of making it to Second Grade before being designated as sexual abusers.
But I don’t expect Michelle Obama to see it like that. Last week, an Obama delegate was revealed to have told her next door neighbor’s kids to come down from the tree and quit playing “like monkeys.” Unfortunately for her, they were African American, so she was “ticketed” for racist speech by the Carpentersville police, and, after issuing the usual solemn statements deploring such decisive remarks, Senator Obama removed the delegate from his campaign, had her encased in a cement overcoat and lowered into the Chicago River. He, too, operates a “zero tolerance” policy. Amid the debris of human lives caught up in these idiocies, you can also find the ruins of an indispensable element of civilized society: a sense of proportion.
© 2008 Mark Steyn