The Perils of Playing with Your Food
At the end of February, the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group that represents 60,000 primary care pediatricians, specialists and pediatric surgeons issued a policy statement regarding school suspensions.
Automatic suspension is an “increasingly questionable response” to misbehavior, says the organization. In addition, zero-tolerance policies regarding drugs or weapons at school are a “drastic response” that keeps schools from dealing effectively with a child’s issues.
Who cares what they think? said officials at an Anne Arundel County (MD) school a week later as they suspended for a couple of days a second grade boy for chewing his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun. The 7-year-old then pointed the pastry either at the ceiling or at a classmate (observers had conflicting testimonies) and said, “bang bang.” School officials, according to the child’s family, described the pastry as a threat to other students.
Said the boy's dad, “I don’t care who he pointed it at. It was a danish.”
School officials posted a letter on the school’s web site, saying that although no one was harmed (except the suspended 7-year-old), if other children were upset by the incident, “a school counselor will be on hand to assist this week.” Parents were urged to help children “share their feelings.” One has to wonder whether the most traumatizing part of the whole incident is that kids now know how easily you can be suspended for playing with your food.
The National Association of School Psychologists says that suspensions can be a “fast-acting interventions that send a clear, consistent message that certain behaviors are not acceptable.” However, the association adds, zero-tolerance policies are “ineffective in the long run and are related to a number of negative consequences.” Higher dropout rates are one of those consequences.
It is, of course, far too early to know whether the pastry-eating child will be affected in any way by his suspension. However, it’s clear to me that his school administrators really need to start eating breakfast or lunch in the school cafeteria with the kids -- not to keep them from making pastries into guns or tater tots into projectiles, but to see how inventive kids in general can interact with their food (“Mom! Doesn’t this cookie look like Sponge Bob?”) Perhaps they can show them how to beat their mozzarella sticks into plowshares.
In the meantime, the American Academy of Pediatrics must be shaking its collective head. Anne Arundel Schools aptly demonstrated exactly what the doctors were talking about.