Friday, March 31, 2006

 

In Which Justice Is Blind, Deaf, and DUMB...


6:32 Thursday morning: Arrived at the quiet, empty lot of the elementary school. Parked, went to the door, found it locked. Pounded on door, saw large man in coveralls lumbering towards me with a mop in one hand and can of Drano in the other. Man unlocked door.

"Help you?"

"Yeah, I have an appointment Mr. Assouline in a few minutes."

Without changing his expression, the man stood back and let me pass. Just off the main vestibule of the school was the door to administrative offices. I walked over and turned the handle just as the custodian said, "Still locked. No one here yet."

I turned. "Not even Mr. Assouline?" I asked.

The custodian shook his head. "Not yet. I'd a known, cos I'd a hadda let him in."

I sighed and took a seat--a very tiny seat--outside the office.

Time passed.

At 7, the custodian came back and unlocked the main doors. In came a woman, juggling a ring of keys. She walked by me and unlocked the office door. Then she stopped and turned to look at me. "Are you here to see someone?" she asked.

We've met before, she and I, so I reminded her that I was Thomas' dad and why I was here. She let me in. As I learned from experience joining Thomas for lunch several months back, parents were allowed in the school pretty much at their discretion, so long as they signed in at the office, which I now did. First name on the sign-in sheet.

I sat in a larger chair in the office, but it was no more comfortable than the smaller chair.

Time passed.

At 7:30, an hour after he had agreed to meet me, The Dean of Discipline, Mr. Assouline walked in. He did his very best to focus on his mail, his keys and talking to the secretary. He obviously knew who I was, but was determined not to acknowledge my presence.

It was, however, impossible not to acknowledge Assouline's presence. Based on his nasally voice, I had expected a rail-thin, school-marm-strict Ichabod Crane type.

In fact, Mr. Assouline was HUGE. He stood well over six feet and had to duck to get through doorways. He looked like a football player, complete with very short crewcut hair and a flat, crooked nose.

Finally, just as I was about to stand up, the secretary pointed to me and said, "This gentleman's been waiting for you."

Assouline turned and looked down at me from his great height. "Oh," he said nonchalantly. "That's right." He didn't say or do anything else. Didn't shake my hand. Didn't offer any explanation for making me wait. Instead, he simply looked at his watch. "We've got first bell soon and it looks like I won't have time--"

"Mr. Assouline," I interrupted, causing him to glower. "My time is just as valuable as yours, and I have things that I have postponed in order to attend my meeting with you. Which was supposed to be an hour ago. I have made time for you, and I expect you to do the same. Right now, please."

He glared at me with a look that said he wanted to give me lunchtime detention for life. The secretary jumped up and whispered something about getting some coffee and coming right back.

"All right," he finally said, turning his back on me and stalking to his office.

When we got there, he closed the door behind me. I sat in the chair on one side of his desk while he took his coat off and scanned his desk. In a moment he found a familiar sheet of paper and read my message silently. The message in which, you may recall, I insisted on meeting before Thomas would begin his punishment, citing a common bit of law in many states that permits parents to have more say in how their children are disciplined at school Or at least to be consulted before a judgment is rendered. That law was mostly enacted to curb the use of corporal punishment--a.k.a. "the paddle" which was in use in my grammar school, and probably some of yours too.

"Oh yes, I remember now." He dropped the letter. "You know, the law that allows parents to be consulted prior to a disciplinary event only applies to infractions where a student is going to be suspended, expelled, or has committed a crime. All we're talking about here is lunchtime detention. It's punishment during school hours and you have no more right to be consulted about it than if a teacher had decided to make him stand in a corner for misbehaving."

"I don't want to start this off on the wrong foot," I said. "But--and I think you'll find most parents would back me up on this--I have EVERY right to be consulted on ANY action involving my son, disciplinary or otherwise. And so here I am. What's more, I still have no intention of allowing you to punish my son for this incident until I'm convinced that your punishment is based on full knowledge of the situation." I took a breath. "By the way, if Thomas didn't show up for his detention, what would your next disciplinary measure be?"

"Well," he said, thinking a moment. "Suspension, probably."

"Right. And that would have involved consulting me. So here I am saving you the time. You're welcome."

Assouline just blinked at me for several seconds, saying nothing. Then he re-read the Disciplinary Action sheet, nodding to himself. "You know," he said. "I deal with a lot of parents who think their kids are never at fault but I personally saw your son throw the other boy to the ground."

"Throw?" I asked. "My son weighs 50 pounds soaking wet. This Andrew kid is twice his weight. How is it, do you think, that Thomas threw him?"

"Well, all I know is, I rounded the corner and saw Thomas stick out his foot and push Andrew in the back. Andrew hit the floor, then screamed and started holding his arm, while your son stood over him. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out."

I frowned. Thomas had said nothing to me about pushing. I'd have to check with him on that. I've learned that when your life starts to imitate Rashomon, you remind yourself that the truth is always somewhere in the middle.

(By the way, I know most of you didn't need a link with my Rashomon reference. I just put that in for my brother.)

Ignoring the mention of the push, I pressed on. "Did you ask Thomas what happened?"

"Well, not right away," he said, a defensive edge in his voice. "My first responsibility was to the victim. I had to help him to the nurse's office. He told me Thomas pushed him and knocked him down. When I had Thomas in my office later, I asked if he had been fighting with Andrew and he nodded his head. Said something about him picking on someone. Never said a word about the other boy being the aggressor. Pretty open and shut to me."

I tried to imagine being 4 feet tall and 7 years old and standing in this leviathan's office. I didn't think I'd have the courage to stand up for myself either.

"Well, as I understand, this is what happened," I said, and I explained the story as Thomas told it, about Andrew poking Thomas' classmate Jackie, and telling the girl to get her "fat, round face" to the back of the line. How Thomas stood up for her, just as he had learned from the McGruff education program on handling bullies. Before I was even finished, Assouline was chuckling.

"Something funny?" I asked.

He smirked at me. "Parents always think their kids do no wrong. They always believe them. Were you there, Mr. M? I was. I saw what happened--"

"You didn't see Andrew insult the little girl or lunge at--"

"Please don't interrupt me," he interrupted. "I've been a dean of discipline for 8 years and I know how these things go. Generally the one standing is the aggressor. And anyway, in this situation, it's Thomas' word against Andrew's. Given his injuries, I'd tend to side with Andrew."

"Are you done speaking?" I asked. "Because I don't want to interrupt."

Assouline nodded in the most annoyingly magnanimous way.

"First, that is the weakest justification for a punishment I have ever heard. You did not witness the actual scuffle, you only saw the end. And it seems to me you favored Andrew because he was crying." I paused, thought of something he just said. "By the way, what attention did you give the other victim?"

Assouline looked at me. "Other?"

"Jackie. The girl Andrew was bullying. The girl Thomas tried to help, as he has been taught to do so in the anti-bullying programs in this school."

Assouline waved his hand like my words were annoying flies. "Thomas said something about that, but Andrew said he never bothered her."

"Did you ask Jackie?" I asked.

He frowned. "Unfortunately, she is one of our Asian students who has not yet learned to speak English properly. I don't see how talking to her would have helped."

"What about the other kids. There were 10 others there who saw the whole thing."

He shook his head. "You know, I don’t understand why you're making such an issue of this--"

"So that's a no. You didn't interview them."

"Do NOT interrupt me!" he said, raising his voice. And there I almost lost it. But he regained his composure and added. "This is a simple case of a little scuffle. I understand Andrew is a troublemaker and Thomas got the better of him, but that's no excuse. We have a Zero Tolerance policy for violence of any kind. He is not being suspended. He just has to eat his lunch inside and miss recess for a week."

"Well, it is an issue for Thomas. He's 7 years old. He had no idea what detention meant. He thought you were going to put him in jail--" and here he chuckled his patronizing chuckle and, then, dear reader, I did lose it.

I leaned across the desk and said, in my quietest voice. "If you interrupt me with your patronizing laughter one more time, I will continue this conversation with the real principal (here his cheeks got pink) when he returns and we will do more than discuss my son's situation. We will discuss your situation."

"There's no need to make this a personal conflict," he said quietly.

"Too late," I snapped. "You have unfairly punished my son and that makes it entirely personal. You made a rush judgment based on circumstantial evidence. You did not speak to any witnesses to the incident. You simply punished my son because he was the one standing, not lying on the ground crying."

"Witnesses," he said, smiling (but no longer laughing). "These are 7 year olds. By the time I got back from the nurse's office, they were all at recess. I hardly expect any of them to remember what happened."

"The point is, you didn't ask. If you had, you might have learned that my son was only doing what this school taught him to do: stand up to bullies."

"Yes, stand up, but not fight them."

"The boy lunged at Thomas and tripped. Andrew was the aggressor. He poked a little girl in the chest--that's assault, by the way--and yelled in her face. Thomas told him to stop. He did the right thing."

I paused, caught my breath.

"In my view, you have no choice but to cancel Thomas' detention," I said.

Wow, that really annoyed him.

"I will not!" he sputtered. "I've made my decision. I have issued paperwork on this. We have a Zero Tolerance policy on violence in the school--"

"Then both boys should be punished."

"Andrew was the injured party."

"What was the school nurse's report on that?" I asked. "Because I understand Andrew was miraculously recovered enough to make it out to recess that day."

Assouline blinked at me some more. Finally he said, "I will not reverse my decision. As Dean of Discipline, I have to maintain my authority. If I reverse this, it will damage my position and that of other administrators and teachers in this school. Kids will think they can get away with anything."

Now I chuckled and nodded.

"Yes?" he asked.

"Nothing," I said. But I thought, That's all this is about. His authority being challenged. The big dink. (Actually, probably a little dink).

"Before I permit Thomas to attend detention--"

"Oh, he has to attend!" Assouline barked.

I used my low voice again. I'm usually a shouter, but the low voice was working. "My son is not going to surrender to your judgment until I am satisfied that this incident has been completely investigated. And that means talking to the girl Andrew harassed. That means talking to students who saw what happened."

"I don't think so," Assouline sneered, all pretense of genteel behavior dropped. "And I don't think you understand what I'm telling you, so I'll read to you from our school handbook." And here he produced a familiar document and turn to the section marked "Discipline."

He read:

Monopolis Elementary had adopted a Zero Tolerance policy towards violence. Any physical violence, such as fighting, pushing or kicking with deliberate intent to harm, will be dealt with severely, including detention, suspension or expulsion.


He smugly put the book down and looked at me. Now--" he began.

I held up my hand. "Would you please read the second paragraph?" I asked, remembering what my neighbor, the substitute teacher had told me.

Assouline blinked and read further:
Monopolis Elementary also has a Zero Tolerance policy for hate speech. Any student who verbally abuses another student or teacher with hate speech--ethnic or racial slurs, or insults or derogatory comments about someone's appearance--will likewise be dealt with severely and may also include detention, suspension or expulsion.


He looked up and was instantly annoyed, because I was smiling. "Your point is?"

"Andrew told Jackie to get her 'fat, round face' to the back of the line."

Assouline's eyes widened.

"I'm pretty sure calling a little girl 'fat' counts as an insult about someone's appearance. And I personally have Asian American friends who would consider it a racial slur to be called 'round face.'"

"It is NOT!" Assouline said.

I shrugged. "You and I are a couple of over-privileged white guys. You and I have no idea what it's like to be a minority. Whether or not the term is hate speech is a matter of perspective, which is a function of experience. And the experience of being an Asian American in this country is vastly different from the experience of being an over-privileged white guy."

Assouline was totally silent. At length, he said. "I suppose I could call the girl's parents."

"You know, Jackie speaks perfect English," I said. "She's just shy. I do suggest you speak to her with her parents. And if they confirm what I've told you?'

Assouline nodded. "Then Andrew will have detention too."

I nodded. That would do for now "Good," I said. Then I paused. "You know, I'm sorry we got argumentative in here. Obviously your authority in this school is important to you--"

"It is," he said.

"--but not at the expense of hurting students. I just wanted to see that the right thing was done."

Assouline didn't respond to this, but he did look at his watch.

"I have to go too," I said standing up. I stuck out my hand. "Thank you for hearing me out and for doing the right thing."

Assouline shook it, then said. "Of course, Thomas still has to serve his detention."

I dropped his hand like it was a turd. "What?"

Then he smirked, the big fat shit (hey, I'm not in school. I can insult him). "Even if what you told me is true, both boys resorted to physical violence. Andrew may have attacked, but Thomas did deliberately trip and push him, an action that led directly to his fall and injury."

"There WAS no injury. You call the school nurse--"

Assouline grinned triumphantly. "Mr. M, you can't have it both ways. You've convinced me that Andrew is probably more at fault here than I first thought, but Thomas played a part too. Our anti-bullying programs, the McGruff materials the classes get, they're about supporting other kids or getting help, not doing my job and disciplining a classmate. He could have gone for a teacher. Instead, he tripped and pushed the boy."

Oh, you should have seen my face then. "So self-defense is no defense in this school? Thomas should have let this boy--who is twice his size--clobber him?"

Assouline was resolute. "We have a Zero--"

"--Tolerance policy about violence in the school," I said, unable to resist interrupting him one more time. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure you got that point across." I sighed. "I'll speak to Thomas about this again, and then I'll decide whether or not he'll serve his punishment. Thanks for your time." Assouline opened his mouth to speak again, but we'll never know what he was going to say because I turned on my heel and walked out the door.

Outside the school, I sat on a bench and fumed, actual steam coming out of my ears and everything. Despite the fact that I said my piece, I didn't feel like I'd achieved any kind of victory--or even mild satisfaction. I was pretty sure now that Assouline would dig a little deeper and that Andrew would end up getting some kind of punishment. But I didn't think Thomas should share that punishment.

I passed the next few minutes lost in thought on the situation and now I kind of wish I hadn't, because buses were beginning to arrive, along with family vans and cars, disgorging kids by the dozens. No doubt shy Jackie and her parents had dropped her off while I was sitting there and if I'd been more attentive, I might have caught them.

Instead, I didn't even really notice the buses, until a familiar one stopped almost in front of me and out popped Thomas.

"Dad," he said, looking at me, mildly surprised. "Did you talk to the new principal?"

"He's not the new principal. He's just an assistant principal, helping out til the real one comes back. Listen," I said, looking him in the eye. "He told me that when Andrew fell, he tripped on your foot and you also pushed him. Did you? You can tell me the truth. I won't be mad."

Thomas made a face as he thought back. "Well, I tripped him, and he tried to grab me, so I did push his arm away. That's when he fell."

I sighed. "Well, tripping and pushing IS sort of fighting, you know. Even though you were defending yourself."

Thomas slumped on the bench next to me. "So I'm still in trouble."

"Yes. Mr. Assouline says he's going to talk to some kids and Jackie's parents and it looks like Andrew will get in trouble too. But you'll still have to do the recess detention."

Thomas sat on the bench next to me. "It's SO not fair. I was helping Jackie and then Andrew tried to push me. I got in trouble for helping." He kicked his bookbag. "McGruff is a DUMB dog! I'm NEVER helping anyone again!"

Oh shit, I thought. It was still too early in the morning for me to be thinking clearly, but if ever I needed a wise, Ward Cleaver, TV dad moment, this was it.

"You know," I said, trying to sound philosophical. "There's a saying that doing good is its own reward. Do you understand what that means?"

"No," he said glumly.

"It means that you should be proud of yourself and even when you're stuck inside next week at detention. You should remind yourself that you did the right thing. I know it. You know it. Jackie knows it. I bet a lot of your friends in class do too. All the people who matter know it."

Thomas was still kicking his book bag. "I guess," he said. Oh boy. I was really pulling down the curve on the Ward Cleaver scale now.

I shook my head. "Yeah, that didn't sound so great to me either when I got in trouble and Grandma said the same thing." Thomas looked at me with curiosity then. I shook my head again. "You can ask Grandma when you get home. She'll tell you ALL about it."

I put my arm around Thomas. "Listen, I know this is unfair. Sometimes things don't go our way. But you can't let that stop you from doing what you know is right. Lots of people help others and they never get credit for it. Sometimes they even get in trouble for it. Like..." Shit, I thought, like who?

I snapped my fingers. "Like Batman."

Thomas gave me the "dumb Dad" look. "Batman's in the Justice League and a super-hero."

"Sure. Now he is. But when he first started, he was an outlaw. The police chased him and everything."

More a student of cartoons than of comics, Thomas looked at me in frank disbelief. "No way! Even though he helped people?"

"Oh yeah. Spider-Man too. A lot of good guys got in trouble for doing the right thing."

I let Thomas mull this over for a second. Then I said, "What do you think would happen if they decided, 'Well, I'm not helping anyone ever again!' back when they were just starting out?"

Thomas shrugged. Either he was still mulling it over or my Dad stock was in total freefall.

It didn't matter either way because just then, first bell rang. Thomas jumped up.

"I'll talk to you tonight," I said.

"Okay," Thomas said, still subdued. He started to walk away, then came back and hugged me.

(Now, don't get teary on me: It wasn't one of those TV-moment hugs. He always hugs me before he leaves for school. But I will die a little when he becomes too old to hug his dad in front of people, and THEN you can all get teary.)

I gave him one of those gruff dad hugs and whispered one more time. "I am SO proud of you for doing the right thing. I love you."

But just then, Thomas stood back from me, became rigid. Oh shit, I said something stupid and I don't even know what it was! I thought.

But Thomas wasn't even looking at me. He was staring straight into the throng of kids bustling through the door. Near the door, a boy was standing to one side. He towered above the rest and he stood there, smirking at Thomas, whose face had become like a piece of stone. He mouthed something at my son then turned to go in.

"ANDREW!" I shouted, figuring it couldn't be anyone else. The kid stopped and looked at me as I stood up and walked to him. Thomas trailed behind me, his curiosity getting the better of him. Andrew eyed me suspiciously in my jacket and slacks, and I could see he was trying to work out who I was. A new teacher? Undercover cop? Who?

The boy was exactly Thomas' height but definitely a big boy. I'd have mistaken him for a third grader. He squinted at me, wrinkling his piggo nose at me. "What?" he demanded. "Who are you?"

I squatted down in front of him and spoke in the same low voice I used on Assouline. "I'm Thomas' dad. You remember me from when I came in to class when Thomas was star of the week."

He just stared at me with an expression that had "future wife beater" written all over it. "So?" he said.

"So," I continued in my low voice, but smiling as I spoke. "I just spoke to Mr. Assouline. And I know ALL about YOU picking on Jackie. And I know that YOU started the fight with Thomas. And I know YOU didn't hurt your arm at all. And if you think you got away with it, you've got another think coming."

I had his full attention now. He looked straight at me with those wife-beater eyes, and it occurred to me that I would never have had the balls to stand up to this kid when I was 7.

"One more thing," I said, still speaking low, still smiling. "If you ever try to hit or push or kick or throw rocks or do anything to hurt Thomas or his friends, he has my permission to knock you on the ground again. You hear me?"

Yeah, no Ward Cleaver awards for me. Still, a certain coldness had left Andrew's wife-beater eyes then and I was satisfied to see it. Thomas just stared at me with a kind of surprised smile.

"Go! Both of you!" I said, standing up. "Get to class!"

And like that, they disappeared into the river of children flowing through the doors.

So, that's what happened yesterday. Not much of a victory, huh?

But it's a long time til Monday. And I'm not done yet...


Comments:
When I was a kid, MM, I was the one the bullies picked on...

And I had a principal like Assouline.

And I had a mom like you.

Lucky me.
 
MM, looking forward to the next chapter. Whatever happens, Thomas knows he has a Dad who will stand up for him...and that's an important thing to know, growing up.
 
Screw the Ward Cleaver stuff. Ward Cleaver was a stiff prig who couldn't finesse his way out of a paper bag. You did exactly the right thing in talking to Andrew in that manner. Not only did it show Thomas that he is worth defending, but it showed Andrew that there are consequences. Andrew's parents need to get on that happy little bandwagon.

Zero tolerence is to be applied to actions, not reactions. This is the real world and Thomas should understand that you help those who can't help themselves, even if it means that you have to fight fire with fire.

I'm interested to see if you ever go to AssHat's boss and file a formal complaint. If it were my kid, I'd do what I had to do to keep that guy away from children.
 
You are my dad-hero. Copy everything that Dariush wrote in his comment, and that's me, too. I guarantee you, my mom is looking down from whatever celestial point she now occupies, giving you an ethereal pat on the back, and saying "Good man. Very good dad."

:-)
 
MM, I think I screwed up your stats today. I must have checked a million times for the next installment! I'm rooting for Thomas all the way!
 
Dude: I'm clenched fist angry at Assouline reading your entry.

But you're doing the right thing. Sometimes doing good is its own reward. The Dark Knight was universally hunted by Commisionner Loeb as an outlaw and it was only Lt. Gordon who saw through the ruse. And remember Gordon had to first put Dt. Flass in his place.

Just some further inspiration.

Bunny on.
 
Oof. Much though it pains me to blunt the edges of your Sword Of Righteousness, boss, I’ve gotta tell you—parts of this post made me extremely uncomfortable. It’s easy (and a cheap source of amusement) to criticize other people’s parenting choices, but in light of our long friendship I feel it is incumbent on me to ask you to take a long look at what you’ve done here, and ask yourself if micromanaging Thomas’s childhood is really doing him any favors.

Is Assouline a self-important blowhard? Sure. Should Andrew have gotten off scot-free? Certainly not. Are zero-tolerance policies an imperfect tool? Indeed they are—even when they are applied even-handedly (and they aren't, always) they dole out a rough justice, at best.

But it is justice, of a sort. And if you get Thomas out of his detention, then even that rough justice is not served, and again the policy is not applied even-handedly. And there’s the rub: What you have just taught Thomas is that doing good is not its own reward—at least, not enough of a reward to sustain you through a week of detentions. How can the boy learn the lesson that sometimes you’ve gotta do the right thing and consequences be damned when, thanks to Dad, there are no consequences? Will you be fixing parking tickets for him, when he grows up?

When we were kids, we’d get raw deals now and then, and our parents would tell us to suck it up: it built character. Were they so wrong? It would have been a hard thing for Thomas, him and Andrew both serving that one-week lunchtime detention—but it would’ve been harder for Andrew.

Worse than that, you are, by example, tecahing Thomas that the rules—even absolute rules like zero tolerance—don’t apply to you if you’re willing to... well, to be a bully.

Because that, Old Scout, is what you were in this situation. From your insinuations that you could put Assouline out of a job, even to the point of threatening a seven-year old boy.

Are you proud of that one, Chief? Because it made me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

I tell you this because I love you like a brother. No other reason.
 
On the other hand: "There'd be no point in interviewing her, she's Asian and doesn't speak english very well" RRRRGHHH STABBY STABBY STAB STAB KNIFEY STABBY STAB.
 
Jack, you know me well enough to guess that I spent no small part of the past few days wondering if I was on the slippery slope to being one of those parents who calls up college professors to demand why their 20-year-old doesn't have a better grade in Composition class. But one intervention does not a micro-manager make.

Thomas has had other problems at school that he has been required to deal with himself. He has had other problems with neighbor kids that he has had to deal with himself. When Thomas is in the wrong, I'm not standing by to see how I can get him off the hook. I'm standing by to make sure he's held accountable. If I had blogged about those instances, it might have put this event into better context for you. I don't have to tell you how blogs are capable of giving you the illusion of seeing the whole picture, when in fact you're just seeing one instance.

And in this instance, my 7-year-old stood convicted on fairly shaky evidence by a self-styled Dean of Discipline imposing Draconian language and measures on a 7 year old without taking the time to actually do his job to make sure those measures are warranted, and that all the guilty parties are subjected to the same measures. In that instance, then yes, you better believe I'm going to step in. I can't accept the argument that allowing him to suffer the results of a system that broke down is going to do him any good.

Thomas will have plenty of opportunities to discover that life isn't fair and sometimes you have to suck it up. And indeed, he's getting that lesson in this instance. It's a subtle thing in this long post, but you'll note that while I still support my kid, I also let him know that he was fighting, and even in self-defense, if that's the option you choose in a Zero Tolerance Policy environment, then there are consequences to face. For the most part, my arrogant statements about "deciding" whether or not I will "permit" Thomas to attend detention were made for Assouline's benefit. Against someone for whom authority is such a tightly clenched ideal, it seemed a useful cudgel.

Especially against an adult who was delinquent in his duties. And in whose delinquency, ends up contradicting some of the policies advocated in the school, such as standing up to bullies and helping out friends who are bullied. It's a delinquency he enjoyed at my son's expense and I certainly wasn't going to let it pass without comment.

Because I believe that for kids, that kind of contradiction leads to a serious erosion of faith in the adults who are supposed to educate them and run the system in which they must function. When Thomas announced he wasn't going to help anyone again, that wasn't 7-year-old hyperbole. That was a kid who tried to do the right thing and got shafted. And when I heard that, I saw my son on a different slippery slope, the one that leads to not giving a shit, and looking out for number one. I don't think that's such a great developmental path for him to be on either.

As for speaking to Andrew, I make no attempt to justify that. Never said I was proud of it and if I had it to do over, I probably wouldn't have said everything I said. But we'll have to disagree on whether or not I threatened him, so much as served notice that he hadn't buffaloed everyone.

My goal was never to teach Thomas that there are no consequences, especially when you have a big-mouth Dad around. My goal was to get at the truth of the matter, for my own satisfaction. And if in the process I instilled in Thomas some nascent sense that you need not always accept the judgment of authority at face value, then so be it.

And yes, I quite agree: STAB STAB KNIFEY STABBY STAB.
 
While Jack had a valid point (or two), the fact remains that Assouline has been derelict in his duties.

He is "charged" with keeping discipline. Discipline in an elementary school (any elementary school, anywhere) is a precarious line to walk, at best. Because little kids live in a black and white world. They don't have shades of gray. They don't get the subtle nuances.

Thomas saw a bully - a bully who was not only picking on a girl, but who was known to pick on other kids. In his efforts to stop the bully, he put himself square into the path of danger. Rather than hit the bully (thereby becoming one himself) he elected to use (rather creatively) a "device", in this case his leg, to cause distraction to the bully. I seriously doubt that Thomas intended to hurt Andrew. I seriously doubt that Thomas intended to engage Andrew in fisticuffs. I do believe that Thomas was just trying to deflect Andrew *just enough*. The problem with Thomas' strategy was that Andrew then "used" it to his own advantage. No doubt, Andrew realized that Assouline (and/or another adult) was watching, and in true Eddy Haskell fashion decided to make the most of it.

Thomas can't see the shades of gray. We can, and we do, and to some extent, we project that onto the actions of the children in this case.

Assouline needs to do his job - correctly. Before punishment is assigned, he MUST insure that the correct child is punished, and that the punishment fits the crime.

Andrew will not suffer from your words. I have twice had occassion to speak quietly with two of Twinks classmates, to let them know that I had their number, and I had no problem using it if needed. In both cases, the trouble stopped instantly, and to this day, they are the first two to greet me cheerfully whenever I enter their classrooms as a volunteer.

Sadly, children like Andrew are all too often running the show at school. Administrators like Assouline simply insure that they will continue their reign of terror.

I still support Thomas in this case. He tried to stand up to a bully, and he did so in the best way he (at the tender age of 7) knew how.

I also support your petition as a parent to know what is happening to your child, at his school, at any and all times. We have a cardinal rule at our house - our child goes NOWHERE that we cannot/are not allowed to go, and we go NOWHERE that our child cannot/is not allowed to go. That rule is extended to Twinks classrooms. Woe be upon the foolish school administrator who tries to tell me that I am not welcome in my child's school.

Thomas needs to know that you believe him. Right now, that is what he is concerned about. Andrew needs to know that he hasn't gotten away with it. Assouline needs to know that he is being monitored.

Go, MM, Go!
 
Jack,

I don't know you and I don't know if you have children. Regardless, I mean this comment to be respectful.

I have two kids, a ten year-old girl and a just-turned-fourteen year-old boy. They (and my wife) mean more to me than anything else that exists in the universe.

If my kid was being bullied and I couldn't get a legitimate, reasoned response from school officials, and then I happened to chance upon the bully, I would have *absolutely* done what Mr. Man did, regardless of consequences. Intentionally causing pain to another human being is as serious an event as there could be, and if I thought that I could right that rudder by throwing a little fear into the kid, I wouldn't hesitate.

I've been the victim of bullies and I found them to be psychopathic. But not until they were older, teen-age. Mr. Lad's hector was young enough to learn that abuse is not the best career choice. This is the real world and a veiled threat is probably the best way to reach that kid.

Let me say this again: We live in the world. We have to deal with what is, not what we wish would be. As a dedicated parent, I would want Magazine Man to have done the same thing if Thomas went to my school. If sweet little Jackie were my daughter, I'd see to it that Magazine Man never paid for another drink in his life.

I intended this comment to be respectful and well-written. I am pretty confident in the former and am meh about the latter. :-)
 
"Threatened"? MM "threatened" to let a kid half this Andrew's size "beat him up" again. Perspective, perspective.

If you're talking about the larger-sized source of the "threat" then you're also talking about the larger-sized, and officially in-authority, source of the whole "detention" decree.

Yes, it's a good thing to let a kid like Andrew know that someone else has his number. You're doing the kid a favor. Growing up, I knew more than one kid who could have used that favor before actually getting the crap beat out of them by their growth-spurt-enjoying peers, as the rest of us cheered.
 
It would have been wonderful to have a kid like Thomas in my classes as a kid. I was that shy Asian girl who never spoke and as a result, never stood up for myself.

And after reading this, I have hero dad stars in my eyes.
 
You did good MM. This was definitely a situation for parental intervention. It's a parents job during these most formative years, a job Andrews parents are obviously not doing.

All you did was let Andrew know that he isn't as smart as he thinks he is. Who knows, your small gesture might just be the wake up call this kid needs.

As for Mr. Assholio...he's on a power trip. He gets his jollys from bullying grammar school kids and their parents. Granted, he probably does have to deal with parents that think their child does no wrong, which does more harm to the child than good. But I have to wonder, why does Mr. "I am the Law" work at a grammar school and not a highschool?

I think it's because he's a blowhard with no balls and a little dick (like you implied). Teenagers would chew him up and spit him out. They wouldn't be intimidated by his large frame.

Part of the reason why "Zero Tolerance" rules have become neccessary is because society has taken away mothering. Moms used to be able to stay at home full time with their kids. Moms would think nothing of cuffing a neighborhood kid for bullying someone. And it wouldn't have been assault back then either. Moms were Moms to all the kids - not just their own. Now, the majority of households have two working parents just to survive, or kids live in a single parent home. Parenting has been thrust upon school systems and teachers. They are trying to do the best they can but failing miserably in my opinion. When you see a first grader being suspended for "sexual harrassment", you know something is seriously wrong.

You've only got a few short years to teach Thomas how to be a good person. He will take this knowledge with him when he hit's the "I am so much smarter than my parents" age. Then, all you can do is hope you taught him well when you had the chance to.

I don't think you're going to have much to worry about.
 
MM, you're brilliant.

Like Shafa, when I was a kid, I got bullied. I was small, and I was a 'teacher's pet'- I still had friends and such, but I was a good student. So there were a few kids that saw it as their God-given-mission to bother me.

It didn't extend to fighting until fifth grade, there had been scrapes but nothing big... minor things.

P.E., Fifth Grade.
Danny decides my grades make him look bad.

Supervision in PE is a mockery of the name. None whatsoever, we could have died of asthma attacks and it would have been too late. I am literally back-to-the wall. Have I mentioned that I'm a /girl/ and he's doing this to me? "Tired of your grades", the whole spiel- I remember thinking that I'd stumbled into The Godfather.

He made a move to hit me, because I said it wasn't my fault he was such an idiot. I ducked, he pummeled the wall, and I flailed a bit, moving to punch him in the nose.

I really didn't expect to hit him, but the fact that he didn't expect anything from me, and that I'm so small, I knocked him in the nose. Pretty bad too- my angle meant his nose soon began bleeding.

I got a pink slip for fighting, but they didn't do anything to him. If you are going to defend yourself, you've automatically got to lose. What kind of defense is that? My granddad saved me. He was all, She's barely over four foot, and /she's/ the bully?

Go MM. Don't capitulate. (Not like you would, with your general stubbornness.)
 
Please remind Thomas that calling Andrew piggo is hate speech and will get him in trouble, however accurate is is. Call him a mean hateful bully and he may get a awya with it.
 
Having been in Jackie's position more than once - except nobody ever stood up for me - I'd glad you pulled Batman's renegade days out as good reason for Thomas to continue to be a hero...
 
MM, I'm not sure if threatening another 7 year old is necessarily the best way to deal with the situation...

Speaking of people getting in trouble for doing the right thing, I have a friend in Arizona who is about to go on trial for two felony counts for helping three sick border crossers find emergency care... talk about a misguided immigration policy. When saving someone's life becomes a criminal offense, then we've got a real problem on our hands.

Anyway, I can't stand Mr. Asshole-ine. I don't understand why anyone on the planet would go into the education field if they have sense of humor and very obviously seem to despise children.
 
Here's the thing. I am late to the party, obviously posting a comment months after the fact. I told myself I would play catch up, meaning I would read everything from day one of your blog to make myself current with your entire life, but I have to stop and add something to this one, more specifically the zero tolerance aspect of it all.

Zero tolerance is a cover-your-ass move written up by school administrators and businesses alike, to protect themselves from litigation. An umbrella for the 'what-if' Noreaster. It insinuates that all situations are black and white. Thomas pushed a fellow student and therefore deserves some punishiment is a load of crap. If we all lived in Camelot where the King and his knights will serve justly and you have nothing to fear, but come on. That ain't how the cookie crumbles. Every situation has mitigating circumstances, and you did what Asshole-ine should have done, you conducted a thorough investigation, and meted out the guilty party. Sure, it wasn't Thomas, and sure you're his dad. Sorry about everyone else's luck.

I have the unfortunate job of policing everyone else's kids in town by way of a silver star worn on my chest while working. I get to hear situations like this on a daily basis. And I got to tell you, more and more, I wish things could be settled the way your father handled himself as a child. And that makes me sad. As Blaze says, Honestly. Today litigious society has blurred the lines of what it right and wrong. If you have the power and the lawyers, guilt is an afterthought.
I have learned in my days of law enforcement that most often than not, the low voice works better than the high-pitched yelling voice. You learned that with Assole-ine. And unfortunately, putting a bully on warning, veiled threats or no, 7-year-old or 70, sometimes this the only thing the bully understands.

Kudos, MM.

P.S. No matter how big he gets, or how old, or how embarassed, keep hugging your son. Do it in private places, public place, and whenever the urge calls you. You are his Dad and you have that right. I'm pretty sure it's written in the owner's manual. It'll make his stronger. I promise.
 
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