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Annette Fuentes on the myths and realities of violence in US schools

Chris Webb 8 August 2011

Lockdown High author Annette Fuentes appeared on the Cultural Baggage Radio Show for a lengthy discussion on the impact of zero-tolerance policing in US schools and the myth that schools are havens for violent young offenders. Drawing on a wealth of historical sources cited in her book, Fuentes spoke about the history of schools as sites of active rebellion and resistance by students:

It was amazing to find these stories. They were, many of them, autobiographies, many of folks who had gone to these early schools where there was a tradition called "barring out the headmaster". The kids would get together and lock the school up. It might be that one-room schoolhouse in the prairie and forcibly confront the teacher and keep him from coming in. There were other stories about young women who were teachers being confronted by farm boys who had a six-inch jackknife that they whip out if the teacher tried to pull out her hickory stick. You know, schools have always been a place where young people challenge authority and where authority in the form of teachers and principals challenge kids. The limits of power and control get played out in schools and it always has been thusly.

Unlike today, these incidents were dealt with by school authorities rather than with armed guards, metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs. Fernandes explains that the criminalization of children is part of the general atmosphere of fear and hysteria whipped up in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. This criminal justice approach to schoolyard discipline has only led to higher rates of explusion accompanied by higher rates of youth incarceration.

We're treating the kids like suspects. We're treating the schools like house of detention, juvenile detention and we're forgetting that they're kids. Kids make mistakes and schools are places to teach them how to behave.

Visit the Cultural Baggage Radio Show to listen to the interview or read a transcript of the show.

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