Couple weeks ago the fifteen year old learned that I've been receiving regular reports about his behavior at school from his one-on-one. He was furious.
"She's a snitch!" he declared.
"No, she's not," I replied. "She's doing the job your mother and I asked her to do."
There followed a discussion about the concept of in loco parentis, which I'm sure was about as productive as all our father and son talks---the results were probably mixed and I won't know how Ward Cleeverish I managed to be until he's thirty-five or so and comes to me to tell me about the father and child talks he's having with his own kids. Basically, I explained to him that because his mother and I can't go to school with him and he's still a kid in need of parental guidance (and occasionally discipline), we've given permission to certain adults to act as our lieutenants. His teachers, their aides, the principal, the guidance counselor, the librarians, and to a more limited degree his bus driver, the crossing guard, and even the janitors are allowed to do some things that he can't help considering butting into his business and bossing him around. They get to tell him, in so many words, sit down and shut up, do your work, don't talk back, be polite, play nice, follow the rules.
"They're just telling you to act the way we want you to act at school, to do the work we send you there to do, to be the kind of good student and responsible citizen we're trying to teach you to be. When they speak, they are speaking for us. They are our eyes and ears. They are helping us take care of you."
I didn't get into with him about the caveats that go along with our permission. The adults at school are acting for us, not as us. There are plenty of parental powers and rights we have to delegated to them. There are some very specific things we have definitely not given them permission to do.
And one of the things we haven't given them permission to do is strip-search our kid!
No way in hell we've given anybody permission to humiliate our children in a way we would never dream of humiliating them ourselves.
I'm not going to get into the immorality of strip-searches right now. Let's just start with the fact that they are unnecessary. Once a principal has a kid in the office, the problem is solved. The kid can't get at the weapon, drug, cell phone with the naked pictures, note, Sharpie, or whatever it is school officials are convinced pose an imminent threat to order and safety. And at that point it's easy enough to get in touch with a parent or guardian and sit there and wait for them to arrive.
There is no reason to make the kid strip to prove he or she is innocent of carrying a concealed weapon, let alone 200 mg of Ibuprofen.
The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about whether or not a young woman's rights were violated when she was strip-searched by school officials who believed she was hiding an Advil in her underwear. Dahlia Lithwick reports that it was a very depressing day in the Court, and not just because the conservative men on the bench seemed to think that adults have the authority to treat teenage girls' bodies as though they were the trunks of cars stopped on the highway and that the girls in question should respond as emotionlessly and unquestioningly as cars. One of the supposedly liberal men, Stephen Breyer, seemed to be fighting back a fit of the giggles as he considered the image of a teenager stripping to her bra and panties in front of strangers.
Adam Wolf, the ACLU lawyer who represents Redding, explains that "the Fourth Amendment does not countenance the rummaging on or around a 13-year-old girl's naked body." Wolf explains that he is arguing for a "two-step framework," wherein schools can use a lower standard to search "backpacks, pencil cases, bookbags" but a higher standard when you "require a 13-year-old girl to take off her pants, her shirt, move around her bra so she reveals her breasts, and the same thing with her underpants to reveal her pelvic area." This leads Justice Stephen Breyer to query whether this is all that different from asking Redding to "change into a swimming suit or your gym clothes," because, "why is this a major thing to say strip down to your underclothes, which children do when they change for gym?"
This leads Ginsburg to sputter—in what I have come to think of as her Lilly Ledbetter voice—"what was done in the case … it wasn't just that they were stripped to their underwear! They were asked to shake their bra out, to stretch the top of their pants and shake that out!" Nobody but Ginsburg seems to comprehend that the only locker rooms in which teenage girls strut around, bored but fabulous in their underwear, are to be found in porno movies. For the rest of us, the middle-school locker room was a place for hastily removing our bras without taking off our T-shirts.
But Breyer just isn't letting go. "In my experience when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK? And in my experience, too, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear."
Shocked silence, followed by explosive laughter. In fact, I have never seen Justice Clarence Thomas laugh harder. Breyer tries to recover: "Or not my underwear. Whatever. Whatever. I was the one who did it? I don't know. I mean, I don't think it's beyond human experience."
As it happens, there's a case pending locally similar to the one before the Supreme Court:
CHESTER — The families of three students who claim to have been strip-searched at Chester Academy are closely watching the nation's top court as it hears arguments in a case that could have a bearing on their own challenge against the Chester School District.
"We're following it," said Mary Marino, the mother of one of the three students about arguments in Safford Unified School District v. Redding.
The national case follows the story of Savana Redding a 13-year-old Arizona honors student who in 2003 was forced by school officials to strip down to her undergarments and shake her breasts after a classmate alleged that she had drugs. None was found...
Marino said that one of three students at Chester, a female who was under 15 at the time, was made to lift her bra and shake her breasts just like Redding, Marino said. None of the students was found with drugs, she said.
The families of the students have filed notices of claim against the Chester district but have yet to file a lawsuit...
Marino said she believes the Chester middle school principal used the strip search to intimidate her son.
"My son didn't want to go to school after that. He didn't feel safe," she said.
One of the students here is a boy, obviously, I don't know what the second is, but the third is definitely a girl and is it me or does it seem that a disproportionate number of strip-search cases, not just in schools but the ones by cops and McCops at malls and in airports, involve women and girls?
If that's the case, is it because women are more likely to feel violated by a strip-search or more likely to admit to feeling violated or because they are more likely to be violated in this way? I have to believe it's the last one, because as you can tell I don't believe strip-searches are necessary at all and therefore it seems likely that the only school administrators who resort to them are sadists and bullies and weirdos, of which there are all too many drawing paychecks in our school systems, a fact that makes me far more ambivalent about the concept of in loco parentis than I let on to my son.
Scott Lemieux says that it's pretty much a certainty that the Supreme Court will side with the schools, thanks to the authoritarian bent of the Right Wingers on the Court plus Breyer's adolescent take on things. I don't get it, though. The Right Wingers are all parents. Forget the question of just what rights a minor is entitled to, strip-searches violate the rights of parents. They are an abuse of power. They are a breach of contract. No parent or guardian in their right mind would give that permission to the principal at their children's school.
We know these people too well.
I admit that ten years of fighting with them has jaded me somewhat. But one thing I've learned from our experiences trying to get help for our son (and often trying to keep him from being thrown away by school officials who didn't want to be bothered) and from talking to parents who have had to fight the same sort of fights is that the thing many teachers and almost all administrators fear most is losing control.
Now, many of them have a good reason to fear that loss of control. There are schools that teeter on the brink of chaos every day. But a lot them fear it not because of the school's problems but because of their own. They are petty, insecure, mean, mediocre people who know in their hearts they are not deserving of the trust and the authority that's been granted to them.
And, this is not a secret, but you don't hear it discussed much, schools are full of teachers and administrators who hate children.
Some of these types learn to hate their students over time, but some come into the job hating them---they are drawn to the work because it offers them the chance exercise their hate. They hold positions of authority, and positions of authority self-select for bullies and tyrants, the way jobs on Wall Street self-select for greedheads, and jobs in Hollywood self-select for narcissists.
But here's the thing.
While as individual parents we've granted them powers in loco parentis, collectively, as members of society, we've also granted them powers in loco excolo--They get to act like cops.
And in the United States, despite all the whining about Miranda and coddling criminals and lawyers' tricks that let the guilty go free, cops almost always get their way.