Dec 11, 2019

The Master of Suspension

By Ed Goldman
As of this coming July 1, kids from kindergarten through eighth grade won’t be suspended when they misbehave. Of course, since most kids won’t be in school, anyway, on July 1, and therefore not misbehaving there, I’m finding the scheduled launch of this new law a little counterintuitive.
It’s a little like banning the consumption of high-cholesterol foods on the days when members of certain religions may already be fasting. Or making a kid give up overcooked broccoli or canned lima beans for Lent (“Aw, Ma, can’t I have just a spoonful or two of these gray, utterly-devoid-of-taste, alleged foodstuffs?”).

The new law is Senate Bill 419 by Democratic State Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley. I provide that information in case you keep a diary of numbered bills—or are  playing the home version of “Legislature!” on a rainy afternoon with your kids who’ve been suspended from school. There’s nothing like playing a board game with juvenile delinquents on a dreary day, and maybe even following it up with pizza, hangman and a quick round of “I Spy” (You can see why I’m so popular with pre-teens. I speak their “lingo,” if you know what I mean. The very personification of a Rad Dad.)

If the point is that missing school is harmful for kids, I’m right there with the senator.

Senator Skinner told the Tribune News that suspending suspensions, so to speak, ”may be one of the best ways to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Uh-huh. Let’s unpack this a moment: Is Skinner saying that by letting kids misbehave in class without consequences, they’re going to straighten up, fly right and join Junior Rotary by the time they get to high school?

Now, if the point is that missing school is harmful for kids, I’m right there with the senator. Too many studies argue that even when students miss school from kindergarten through third grade, it can set a pattern of under-achievement that carries through to adulthood. One of the education companies that compiled this research is the national School Innovations & Achievement, based in the Sierra foothills, which created a software-and-services program for school districts called Attention2Attendance. It automatically generates a series of letters to the parents of MIA kids. “After just the first letter, the problem is usually resolved,” Susan Cook, the firm’s chief operating officer, tells me. (Full disclosure: I’m the one who named A2A for the firm some years ago.)

Okay, let me share something with you. As an ex-offender. Yes, it’s time for another episode of “Scared Straight.”
My friend Mike and I were suspended from Cecil B. DeMille Junior High School in Long Beach for three days in the ninth grade. Our crime was following a couple of girls we liked to their classes instead of heading to our own after lunch break. I’ll grant you that if you’re a let-the-punishment-suit-the-crime exponent, sending two B+ students home for being mildly mischievous may sound extreme. On the other hand, I’m leaving out the times Mike and I acted up in the classes we shared with the aforementioned girls, in which we attempted to dazzle them not only with our lightning wit but also, and most especially, with our ability to use our armpits to create the sound of flatulence. I note we did this without resorting to the expense and cumbersomeness of a whoopie cushion. We were much more self-reliant when I was a kid.
Anyway, since all four of our parents worked, Mike and I were able to sneak out of our homes each day of our suspension. What we did was walk to a nearby shopping center, Dutch Village, and blow our allowances bowling.
When we returned to school, the guys all thought we were heroes and the girls we’d been trying to impress signified they thought we were jerks. We didn’t get into trouble again, fearing our parents would have grounded us for life. At least we skirted that school-to-prison pipeline.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).