Saturday, September 19, 2009

Do students have rights?

Last week a mother asked me whether students have rights at school.

It seems that her 16-year-old son was told at high school (in McHenry County) that he had no rights. Hello? Is that school in some part of McHenry County that is not in the United States?

Of course, students have rights. A school administrator or teacher might only get away with telling a student that he has no rights if that school employee is bigger, more influential, more assertive, scarier - and a big bully.

Students often complain of being bullied at school. And not just by other students, but also by teachers and administrators. Students know better, but they have a hard time asserting themselves because they are at a huge disadvantage. They can be given extra homework, sent to the principal's office, ordered to detention, or find themselves handcuffed by the school resource officer (police officer).

They learn pretty quickly not to question and not to object - aloud. But all this does is cause them to stifle their objections until they burst forth, usually at some inappropriate time.

Having said this, it is important for students to learn how to object; i.e., how to do so with respect, with courtesy and in an appropriate manner and tone. And at the right time. If the principal is yelling at you to "Shut up", little will be gained by not doing so.

So, temporarily, just shut up and wait for him (or her) to run out of steam. Pick the right time to continue the discussion. It might be necessary (or wise) to postpone re-engagement. Go in the next day to make an appointment to continue the conversation.

My stepson came home from school one day and told me about a poster he had seen at school. It read, "Stand up for what you believe, even if you are standing alone." He added, "...except at school, where you will get in trouble."

It shouldn't be that way!


Karen12359 said...

I've always wondered ... If my tax dollars built the school, why do I have to pay locker "rental fees"?

The rights of students are a slippery slope on many issues. On one hand, you have, not yet developed or experienced young people, that tend to make foolish and sometimes reckless decisions, that may hurt or injure another. Or, you have groups that wear distinctive clothing in order to signal to others where their loyalties are pledged. The list goes on. Sometimes the innocent get caught in the crossfire by the very rules in place to protect them. It's hard to make "rules" under these circumstances. If you didn't have some "unfair" rules in place and another gets injured as a result, the school district gets sued and we all pay.
High School is the very place you learn how to fit into the corporate world, or the world of having to answer to those in the workplace and people that hold that power over you, that life is truly unfair and can be downright ugly at times.
Many say ... these are the best years! Enjoy them! I'd rather have a boil implant and have needles stuck in my eyes, than to relive that hell.
It's four years of hell ... that you get through and move on. You gain wisdon and experience in recognizing the various personalities that contributed to that hell, and you're better equipped to deal with them.

Another Lawyer said...

The lesson one should learn in high school is the power of staking out a position and keeping it regardless of the storms, torture, threats that come your way from all sides.

It is shocking how effective intransigence can be in the face of "I made this rule up" authoritarianism of school staff and school boards.

The fight always ends the same way, you don't cave to their b.s., and they give up because in the end ... it was b.s. I am not saying that you won't have to pay for taking that position, I am only saying that you will profit from taking that position.

That's what you should have learned in high school.

Gus said...

Another Lawyer, thanks for the excellent advice to today's students. They don't learn how to argue a point of view; instead, they learn how to ARGUE.

Care to team up and teach classes in how to argue?