The Quiet Rooms
November 19, 2019 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Children are being locked away, alone and terrified, in schools across Illinois. Often, it's against the law.

Jennifer Smith Richards, Jodi S. Cohen, Lakeidra Chavis, and photographer Zbigniew Bzdak bring us stories of "isolation timeout" spaces and the damage they can do.
posted by Etrigan (88 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
This is so fucked up. I wish I were surprised. But I'm not. Burn the whole system down and let's start over. It's clearly not working. Those quotes from the kids in those rooms, bring tears to my eyes.

posted by Fizz at 11:11 AM on November 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

Thanks for posting, I wasn't shaking with fury yet today.

Fucking barbarism.
posted by Reyturner at 11:13 AM on November 19, 2019 [9 favorites]

Well, there's my dose of nightmare inducing helpless rage and grief for the day. I am incapable of understanding how anyone, much less a professional educator, can do things so actively evil, cruel, and torturous. Every single person involved in this atrocity needs their certificates immediately revoked and a long prison sentence. That the people of Illinois permit it to happen and will not criminalize it makes me despair for humanity.

The fact that this has not been criminalized is even worse than the existence of such systemic torture. The state of Illinois permits and encourages the systematic torture of children. And the Democrats have a majority yet have chosen to allow this abomination to continue for decades.

Can we get a CW on this please?
posted by sotonohito at 11:14 AM on November 19, 2019 [19 favorites]

Though I was away from my small Illinois hometown attending college, I remember the media swooping down (literally with news helicopters!) when a music teacher made the unfortunate punishment decision of locking students in a furnace room ('the hot box') when they misbehaved in class. Parents in the community went nuts. Quite a stark contrast on where we're at today.
posted by mctsonic at 11:14 AM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Foucault was right, America is recursive torture-prisons.

Fuck this barbaric country, hope we can build something decent out of its bones.
posted by Rust Moranis at 11:16 AM on November 19, 2019 [15 favorites]

Lord of the Flies wasn’t a warning, it was a prediction.
The majority of humans are horrible, and they’re just waiting for an opportunity to get away with evil.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:19 AM on November 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm the parent of a stubborn, challenging kindergarten kid. This is very hard to read.

The insane thing is my kids behavior is really garden variety defiance and social issues, and everyone we encounter acts like they've never seen this kind of hell child. And then you read any parenting book or talk to a therapist out of school and the response is "oh this is super normal".

It really makes me wonder what happens to the kids with severe issues.
posted by selfnoise at 11:22 AM on November 19, 2019 [31 favorites]

I didn't make it through that. Once I got to the child who gave himself a concussion banging his head against the wall, I just had to stop.

I can't even read about it, but those children have to live through it.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:23 AM on November 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

Oh, quiet rooms. I spent a lot of time in them as a young child - they're used in special education schools and in child psychiatric units and I did both. We all thought the name was an intentional irony, an actual funny joke in a morbid humor kind of way, because they were anything but - the silence inside would make anyone louder. Loud kids would scream and cry, quiet kids would sing, then scream and cry. For me it was because there was nothing more terrifying than being locked alone for hours with the things inside my mind - and the need to be around other people makes you desperate - I don't know anybody who found it calming.

Humans are a social species, solitary confinement is the cruelest thing you can do to someone else. As a child I only understood it as a punishment, and obviously it's punitive, but now I also think the staff are also just lacking in any better solutions, training, or support. None of that is therapeutic or helpful in the least.
posted by Seven Windows at 11:26 AM on November 19, 2019 [45 favorites]

I had a teacher - a sniffy, officious and plain old mean Dolores Umbridge clone to the T - that did this to me in third and fourth grade.

She didn't like my anti-authoritarian sass mouth one bit. Much less the fact I was constantly having to correct her on basic science like, oh, the earth revolving around the sun and not the other way around.

The school didn't have anything like a quiet room but she'd lock me in the rather large if cluttered supply room full of random crap in the front offices for most of the day.

As punishment she tried to make me copy pages out of the dictionary, which, yeah, I rightfully refused to do so I just read the dictionary and, well, here I am all lugubrious and tumescent.

I also read a bunch of old encyclopedias and stole random office supplies and nice pens for art supplies - she hated the fact I used pens instead of pencils all the time and liked drawing.

And then I found an absolutely massive stash of about 3-4 cases of Helen Grace branded fundraiser candy and chocolate. We're talking like 30 pounds of chocolate. Picking locks on filing cabinets with paper clips and office supplies may have actually been involved if I'm recalling correctly.

Oh no, horrible mean teacher lady, please don't lock me in the supply closet again with all the books and chocolate and complete lack of bullies and the bullying you permitted and encouraged. I totally hate it in there.

Yeah, I totally ate all that candy. No regrets at all. I had a huge pile of it at home and managed to smuggle out most of it over the space of most of a school year.
posted by loquacious at 11:44 AM on November 19, 2019 [96 favorites]

This is basically just another way America's healthcare system is fucking people over. These kids have needs that aren't being met and/or the parents can't afford. So they're being tortured by teachers-cum-prison-guards instead of actually getting help.

Like sure, I understand that these kids are disruptive to the class and might need to be removed, but who in their right mind thinks locking a kid in a box is going to fix anything?
posted by explosion at 11:44 AM on November 19, 2019 [11 favorites]

The use of seclusion time-out and behavior problems (kid and staff) is one of my areas of professional expertise and has been for 35 years. The article points out all the ways that were created to allow these abuses.

The only ways to reduce or remove the use of seclusion time-out (SETO) and similar practices like physical or mechanical restraint are:

Train staff how to prevent behavior problems and teach replacement behaviors.

Have a written and trained plan for what do before, during and after behaviors occur.

Have a review system of plan implementation.

Require permission from an external review board before seclusion TO can be used and periodic reviews to allow it's continued use.

Require the same board to review frequent data on the use of SETO before allowing it's continuation.

HAVE AND USE CONSEQUENCES for the failure to submit data, have fidelity in implementation or the use of SETO for any reason other than to prevent significant harm to others or significant property damage.

The federal government isn't going to solve this. The only things they have done on this issue in the past 20 years are to issue non-binding guidance and set up a data reporting system for schools that isn't ever reviewed (look for "Texas underreporting of restraint in schools" for an example.)

States can solve/prevent this, but only with extensive training of staff, required data on SETO and teaching of positive coping strategies, external review and permission practices and strict and sure consequences.

I hope this article helps students in Illinois and elsewhere move towards a better world. The increasing nationwide number of Board Certified Behavior Analysts also provides hope.
posted by ITravelMontana at 11:53 AM on November 19, 2019 [33 favorites]

“You are making 1,000 judgment calls a day, you know what I mean?” O’Neil said. “You don’t always call them right.”

Well... I know the right judgement call is, has, and never will be "lock the children in the chokey." I can't believe the villain from Matilda's methods have been institutionalized. Solitary isolation isn't even okay in prisons for violent criminals... let alone children acting up in school.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:55 AM on November 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

ITravelMontana The only ways to reduce or remove the use of seclusion time-out (SETO) and similar practices like physical or mechanical restraint are

You left out "make the practice totally illegal in all circumstances in all public and private schools with penalties beginning at 20% of annual income and 10 years in prison for the first offense."
posted by sotonohito at 12:13 PM on November 19, 2019 [9 favorites]

Had we ended up in a different school system, our now twelve year old son most likely would have been one of these kids. A couple of his fellow students most definitely would have ended up locked up and secluded in one of these spaces.

Even now in middle school, our kid needs to recalibrate when he gets overwhelmed or overstimulated. He has noise-reduction headphones he can put on, and he has offices he can go to for short breaks if he needs solitude, and open invitations from the counselor and dean to visit them if he needs to talk about something. When he was younger, the response to incidents was dictated by staff, but the basic principles were the same.

The response to overstimulation should be reducing stimulus in a calm and safe manner, and while creating or moving to a quiet, calming environment is key, you can't remove from the equation the impact of soothing, compassionate care from the staff. You can't just leave a five year old alone with his or her anxieties and emotions flaring. Like it or not (and you should at the very least be okay with it if you're in the education field), children need interaction with people, especially their teachers and education staff, and especially if you want them to continue to grow and flourish within the education system. Kids aren't born knowing how to self-soothe and self-regulate, but these are life skills that they can cultivate if decent educators help them do so.

This article reminded me that students who are labelled as different or difficult or special needs or in any way non-conforming to the standard educational model are often still treated as problems. The burden often falls upon parents to remind the school district about the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is exhausting and often results in parents just pulling their kids from the system altogether. Starve schools of funding for decades and I suppose this is what you get -- kids locked in boxes.

On preview, basically what ITravelMontana said ^^^
posted by vverse23 at 12:17 PM on November 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

Metafilter: here I am all lugubrious and tumescent.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:17 PM on November 19, 2019 [24 favorites]

I did say, ". . . remove the use . . ." As the article stated, four states do not allow SETO in schools.

Providing legal consequences to individuals "acting in an official capacity" is very difficult and rare.
posted by ITravelMontana at 12:19 PM on November 19, 2019

The only ways to reduce or remove the use of seclusion time-out (SETO) and similar practices like physical or mechanical restraint are

Not to pile on too much for what seems to be a well-intentioned comment here, but: no. There's a much easier way to stop this from happening. You make it a felony to leave a child unaccompanied in a locked room (which: WHY IS IT NOT A FELONY TO LEAVE A CHILD ALONE IN A LOCKED ROOM, WHAT IS YOUR PLAN IF THERE IS A FIRE), and then you enforce the law. People who complain that this new law inhibits them from doing their job, can then be rounded up and catapulted into the sun.
posted by Mayor West at 12:28 PM on November 19, 2019 [9 favorites]


According to the article, the locks are active locks. That is, they have to be actively applied at all times by a person, or else the door automatically becomes unlocked. One example given in the piece is a magnetic door lock that is powered by a red button next to the door that must be continually pressed. As soon as someone lets go of the button, the magnetic lock disengages. This is specifically to address concerns about fire safety, apparently.

This makes the whole practice no less horrific. In some ways, the fact that they accounted for fire safety makes it more horrifying, because that's that much more thought that went into the instutitionalization of juvenile solitary confinement without people saying "no, this is crazy, why are we doing this."

I can't imagine what it would be like to have a kid in one of these school systems that is routinely punished in this way. This is a crime.
posted by chrominance at 12:37 PM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've started and then deleted so many comments, I just can't even....this is so fucked up. So, so, so fucked up. What the hell is wrong with us as a species?
posted by lord_wolf at 12:39 PM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

"People who complain that this new law inhibits them from doing their job . . ." are wrong.

"Active" locking mechanisms are an easy alternative to passive locks that can be locked and walked away from. An active mechanism requires someone to hold the lock closed. Think of the classic swing bar on a gate that drops down into a U-shaped holder. Now turn the U upside-down. The only way the bar can be in the lock is if someone stands there and holds it in the U. If they walk away, the bar swing downs and the door can be opened.

There is never any reason to passively lock a child in a room, both for the fire hazard and because eventually someone will turn off the lights, go home and leave a child in the locked room. That has happened. Passive locks should be banned.

Any one in SETO MUST be observed at ALL times. That isn't just a safety measure, it is another way of making sure that someone is with the child. It also makes it more difficult to put someone in a room and forget about them.
posted by ITravelMontana at 12:41 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I disagree: I do not see, on the face of it, why professionals such as teachers should not be able to employ techniques like these if they judge them appropriate, such as in cases of violent behaviour. School safety is important and difficult, and if these techniques are useful and help actual front line teachers in their challenging and important work, so be it.
posted by alasdair at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2019

UK has this too. Very bad situation.
posted by lokta at 12:59 PM on November 19, 2019

If you can pay someone to sit there and watch a child scream and injure themselves, while holding a button that keeps them locked in an isolation chamber, why can't you pay someone who is properly trained to sit with a child in a calming space, separate from the rest of the class, and help them to calm down?

I mean, is this the fucking Milgram Experiment for teacher's aides or something?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:06 PM on November 19, 2019 [63 favorites]


Because it's torture. And there are other, more humane, techniques that can be used. And most of the situations are not actually violent - did you read the article?
posted by Seven Windows at 1:06 PM on November 19, 2019 [26 favorites]

The most mind-boggling aspect of all this is the staff workers who stand outside calming writing notes like, "Banging head against the wall. Said he wants to die. Urinated on himself." I don't want to toss the faculty and staff of public schools under the bus, but seriously, what has to happen to someone's soul and basic sense of human decency for them to watch a child suffer like this and monitor it like a science experiment.

Fundamentally, I think that modern US society has a deep hatred for children.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

wow this is insane (and tragic) many years ago I worked with emotionally disturbed kids in a group home. we had a quiet room and we did restraints but that stuff was regulated to hell. (this is california in the 90s) we might move a disruptive time-out into the quiet room, door open, staff present. if the child became physically violent we could close the door but it not only didnt have a lock it didnt have a latch. the only way to keep it shut was a rope on the handle, which we were expressly forbidden from ever tying to a chair or whatever. there was a window in the door to watch the child (in cases of risk of self-harm we used restraint, again, very strict training and application, very strict expectations of documentation afterwards). once child was calm the door was open! during a restraint another staff was required to check in every 1-2 minutes. these were state level licensing requirements that were taken very very serious.

posted by supermedusa at 1:14 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

One time I was held in the church playground with a bunch of other kids after Sunday school because our parents were in a meeting. My parents had not discussed going to a meeting with me and I was sure they were looking for me and wanted to just walk home, but the church staffer would not let me. Slowly other kids were released with their parents, but not me. I don't remember how long I was held there - or even if my parents came to get me? - but the feeling of being unjustly detained and trapped has stayed with my for my whole life and generally informed my distrust of religious authority.

That was an intensely low-grade, anodyne situation, and I still think of it now. I can't even imagine what impact this is having on the kids who are subjected to legitimate torture on a regular basis. It is sickening.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:15 PM on November 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

if these techniques are useful and help actual front line teachers in their challenging and important work

And pretty much everyone who has tried to answer this question says "No." Is it "useful" to a teacher to not have to deal with a student outburst? Sure, it makes things a lot easier, in the moment. But it does nothing to help anyone in the long term.

And to paraphrase Seven Windows, do you even read the article, bro?
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:15 PM on November 19, 2019 [17 favorites]

Fundamentally, I think that modern US society has a deep hatred for children
AND women, POC, the poor etc..

US culture is profoundly devoid of true empathy or compassion, if you are not in the privileged minority deemed to matter. it shows in our schools, our prisons, our legal system. our society is broken :(
posted by supermedusa at 1:17 PM on November 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

our society is broken

Well, in fairness, it's working pretty great for the select few, and a big chunk of the citizenry is practically foaming at the mouth for the chance to make it even better for those few, as long as they're promised* the chance to also become "select few".
*[offer not valid on any day ending in "Y"]
posted by aramaic at 1:25 PM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

I spent time in peds psych units as a teen, and in the poorly-run one, quiet rooms were 100% used as punishment and as a convenient alternative to more active de-escalation techniques (or, frankly, adequate staffing ratios). I was put in a couple of times, and the fact that I remember it so vividly despite it being nearly two decades ago while I was heavily drugged should tell you something. It is a goddamn tragedy that they are spreading to schools, where there is even less oversight. It is terrifying being a child in a situation like that.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 1:32 PM on November 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

When I was in first grade my principal built a plywood box that lived in our classroom. It was very tall, went nearly to the ceiling except for a small gap for air and light. You could only open it from the outside. There was exactly enough room in it for one desk and one chair. That's where Abraham, our resident "troublemaker" sat on days where he was being "bad." Poor kid. He used to holler and holler, beating on the sides to be let out. I realize now he was being abused at home and was often hungry when he came to school. To think our school turned around and abused him too. It makes me so sick to remember it. All us kids just sat there stunned, trying to ignore his screams so we could continue our lessons. This was 1994 in a wealthy school district in Kansas.
posted by aw jeez at 1:46 PM on November 19, 2019 [19 favorites]

[One deleted. Please read the article before you say what's the big deal or assume that these are responsible schools only using this briefly during violent episodes; the article describes a lot of cases that are not that at all. And: it's fine to reject someone's comment and say why, just skip making it about their personal flaws and speculatively diagnosing them.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:47 PM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

alasdair As a former teacher, who worked with special needs children, I can assure you that no teacher has any need to torture children. Any educator who claims otherwise needs to be removed from their job immediately and replaced with someone competent. The methods described here are inhumane, unnecessary, incredibly counterproductive, and should be highly illegal.

I find the willingness of some people, especially professional educators, to accept or even endorse this sort of institutionalized and systemic child abuse enraging, horrifying, and dismaying.
posted by sotonohito at 1:59 PM on November 19, 2019 [24 favorites]

Everything just keeps getting worse.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:14 PM on November 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

I am so incredibly angry at every single one of these utter wastes of space.
posted by XtinaS at 2:54 PM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I mean the article says:
Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as “serving time.” [...] Reeley and assistant director Jeremy Doughty said they were surprised and concerned about how frequently staff used seclusion rooms after students were disobedient but not physically aggressive.
That's not about school safety or dealing with violence (which naturally doesn't excuse the abuse of students in those cases either). Read the article: kids sent there for generally not following school rules, "a 5-foot-square space made of plywood and cinder block" (that's like the footprint of a washing machine? can that possibly be right? probably, since you can read on for a 3'x3' plywood box), one child sent there 28 times in a school year, a child sent there for not wanting to leave grandmother’s car at school drop-off (no kidding he didn't want to go to that school), "Two boys were being held because they hadn’t finished classwork," students sent for talking back or swearing, and on and on.

What's described here goes so far beyond teachers trying to address serious threats to safety. It's punitive, locking children in the chokey for not doing their assignments. I don't know how anyone can defend that.
posted by zachlipton at 3:46 PM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

Yeah, America profoundly hates children. Like really hates them. Stuff like this. The refusal to address gun violence. Running ultra-realistic gun violence drills that leave them traumatized. Actual cops in schools with guns. Arresting kids for minor misbehavior. Youth curfews pretty much everywhere meaning they can't leave the house without potentially getting arrested. Their elders gleefully destroying the economy and literally destroying the planet on their way out the door.

posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:54 PM on November 19, 2019 [24 favorites]

We have always lived in Omelas, but this is a little too on-the-nose.
posted by allthinky at 3:57 PM on November 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have a life-long hatred of authority which stems from three miserable years in Fleming County Elementary School, where I was "whipped" numerous times (this was in rural Kentucky in the 70's where the teachers and coaches were allowed to strike you with a wooden board wrapped in tape.)

So I'm sympathetic to children being mistreated by teachers, who, for the most part, I hold in low esteem and consider petty, power-hungry assholes who like to boss around people (children) who can't fight back.

BUT: What should be done with students who are so disruptive and badly behaved that they interfere with the other students' ability to learn anything? I think they should be expelled. Let their parents deal with them.

That's what happened to my father, who, from the stories I've heard, could be a real jerk when he was young. He (eventually) turned out OK.
posted by JeffL at 4:06 PM on November 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

At the school district near me, they had rooms like this in a lot of the elementary schools.
About which a lot of people were unaware, including me, they were strangely not featured on the school tour.

When the newspaper did an expose, the community was rightly outraged and they were removed from the schools.

So now, when a child is having a difficult moment, they do things called "room clears" which as I understand it basically involves taking all of the other children to another room (say, the library) until the situation is resolved.

I'm not sure it is an improvement, the child is still confined to a room (albeit a bigger one) and now the education of all the students is disrupted.
posted by madajb at 4:12 PM on November 19, 2019

BUT: What should be done with students who are so disruptive and badly behaved that they interfere with the other students' ability to learn anything? I think they should be expelled. Let their parents deal with them.

I may be too far left, as Obama would say, but I feel like there’s a middle ground between “lock children in My First Solitary” and “Expel them from school forever.”

I dunno, funding to train teachers to deal with it, professionals in dealing with difficult students, determining why they’re acting out (ie do they have a disorder, are they bored and needing a different kind of instruction, are they having problems at home?). Maybe we could approach them with humanity and compassion rather than torture and the boot? Wacky I know.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:17 PM on November 19, 2019 [28 favorites]

There seem to be multiple characteristics of the punishment described in the article that have nothing to do with ensuring anyone's safety, like the lack of interaction or feedback from staff outside the room, and the lack of anything comforting or distracting inside the room. Since it doesn't sound like there's any evidence that these things are actually secretly helping the kids, it seems like those are just unnecessarily cruel features, not part of a solution for what should be done with disruptive kids.
posted by value of information at 4:27 PM on November 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

BUT: What should be done with students who are so disruptive and badly behaved that they interfere with the other students' ability to learn anything? I think they should be expelled. Let their parents deal with them.

Well the person currently providing 1:1 attention in the form of holding the door shut and writing heartless notes could be replaced by a person providing guidance and teaching the child emotional regulation and simply caring about the child. Since that child is in school to grow up and be educated as is their right.
posted by Emmy Rae at 4:36 PM on November 19, 2019 [33 favorites]

"BUT: What should be done with students who are so disruptive and badly behaved that they interfere with the other students' ability to learn anything? I think they should be expelled."

For students with disabilities, that can be done for the above circumstances, but federal law requires numerous safeguards before a student with a disability can be expelled, including a meeting to determine whether the behavior is the result of the student's disability.

If the behavior does result from the student's disability, they return to the school.

If the behavior doesn't result from a disability, the student can be expelled, but the district must continue to provide educational services.

In either instance, the school must conduct a functional behavior assessment and create a new or revise an existing behavior intervention plan.

If the district does expel a student with a disability (as defined in federal law) the district must continue to provide services to the expelled student to achieve the goals in their IEP.

As a cow-orker of mine used to say, "You can expel them instead of teach them, but then they are just going to break into your car and home while you are at work."

Or they are going to be an adult in your community, who might not turn out OK.
posted by ITravelMontana at 4:38 PM on November 19, 2019 [12 favorites]

"There seem to be multiple characteristics of the punishment described in the article that have nothing to do with ensuring anyone's safety, like the lack of interaction or feedback from staff outside the room, and the lack of anything comforting or distracting inside the room."

The idea of seclusion time out is that it is supposed to be, "time-out" from reinforcement. Reinforcement can be talking to people outside of the room, or getting to play or be distracted by something inside the room. SETO is supposed be so boring that the person would rather be outside the room with other people and things to do instead of being inside the room, bored and alone. But SETO can backfire for just those reasons.

Some kids want to be alone in a quiet place, with no one else around and are perfectly happy to sit there alone with no interaction. So if you want a break from people, just do a behavior, go to the room and keep doing behaviors to stay in there.

The other way SETO can backfire is that it reinforces problem behavior that creates a way for the kid to escape. Don't want to do an assignment or go to another class? Do a behavior and get sent to SETO. Then the kid doesn't have to do anything but keep having behaviors to escape from the task or activity they didn't want to do.

Now who's in control?

For those kids, SETO definitely IS NOT what you use as consequence to behavior. Taking and reviewing data on the reasons for, frequency of use and the duration of time spent in SETO can quickly identify those kids.

What you do for those kids is offer time away from people or tasks as a reinforcer for NOT having behaviors; for completing certain tasks or activities and most importantly for using positive behaviors to express the desire to escape or be left alone, instead communicating the same behavior function through problem behaviors.

When you learn how to teach kids to use other, non-harmful ways that serve the same function as problem behaviors, it's actually a lot easier way to teach than restraining kids and dragging them into time-out rooms day in and day out. And it's education, not punishment.

But people can only do that if they are given knowledge, trained and put in the work and are made to change their school culture.
posted by ITravelMontana at 5:03 PM on November 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

I’m a veteran special educator and while yes this is horrible and disgusting, this is also rare. So I would beg everyone who is taking this terrible practice and immediately saying all schools are garbage and what is wrong with teachers, to please know there are thousands of us who do not do this. There are thousands of us up at night trying to help kids. Trying to get families food. Trying to clothe kids who tell us to go fuck ourselves. Trying to get dental care to parents who tell us to go fuck ourselves. Trying to arrange mental health care for parents who run into our classrooms screaming.

There are far more of us with ulcers and insomnia and empty bank accounts trying to help the lost kids and their mentally disabled families than the very few monsters who seclude kids.

But we don’t get press. We get no notice for working with kids who attack and threaten and hurt us. We get no bonus for containing a 200 lb 12 year old with scissors who’s trying to kill us. In fact, we have to see that kid the next day knowing they’ll do it again.

So yes. It’s a terrible story. But there are far more good stories that nobody hears.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:01 PM on November 19, 2019 [28 favorites]

I didn’t make it to the end of the article(had to stop at the helpful/terrifying graphic of the footprints of the chambers), but I didn’t see any mention of race. I think I can put good money on what race of children is disproportionately put into these rooms though.
posted by rockindata at 6:45 PM on November 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

I grew up in a city on the Mississippi River. There's a well-known rule up and down the upper Mississippi: Don't ever live on the Illinois side. Wisconsin? Fine. Illinois? Never.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:13 PM on November 19, 2019

I’m a veteran special educator and while yes this is horrible and disgusting, this is also rare.

Could people maybe, please read the article before minimizing or defending the conduct in question? In Illinois, at least, it is not rare. Since only a handful of states ban the practice, who knows how common it is elsewhere?
posted by praemunire at 7:23 PM on November 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

I think I can put good money on what race of children is disproportionately put into these rooms though.

Yes you can.

Scroll down to Figure 11.
posted by ITravelMontana at 7:28 PM on November 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I mean, is this the fucking Milgram Experiment for teacher's aides or something?

That is the insane part for me too! Like, FFS, there is a person there keeping the door locked and acting as stenographer, creating an ongoing real time transcript. The person doing this thinks they are "doing their job".

I am a teacher and teacher trainer. I cannot imagine ever thinking that doing this is the correct course of action, who trained these people out of their humanity!?!

Doing almost anything else with the child would be better.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:37 PM on November 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

There's a line in the new Nick Cave record: "and we're so tired of seeing things as they are". That's me.
posted by hilberseimer at 8:39 PM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I also want to acknowledge and expand my flippant comment about being locked in a supply room in particular is not this fucked up Skinner Box in particular - and that it was also not ok.

I think in my case I could also just let myself out to use the restroom and even just started making friends with the support and admin staff in the office and they'd turn a blind eye to my wandering or being social and I remember comments that they thought it was weird and unjust.

But I want to confirm that it was very definitely a form of torture in the same stripe as the FPP and unwarranted punishment by an abusive teacher, and I knew this very clearly and objectively and this may have helped me survive it easier and be less traumatized by it.

I was reading books like 1984 by then and had already developed a very strong mistrust for unwarranted or petty abuses of authority. This was exactly the sort of teacher that willfully turned a blind eye to bullying and physical abuse/violence right under her nose or openly lie that she didn't see anything or that there was a problem. and I sure had a lot of that.

For me it ended up being a welcome escape in a way and with whatever tarnished silver lining and I'm thankful I was pragmatic enough to see it as such and take it in as much stride as a grade school kid could. My home life was often worse, anyway, so I didn't really even know to expect anything better from adults in general.

Still don't, really, and I don't think that's necessarily trauma or a few bad apples. Our culture is warped and toxic and I talk about this a lot and I wish for peace and health for more than we currently achieve that for.

I was also pragmatic enough realize that public schools, especially my public schools in particular - on average - were really a sort of an institution or even a sort of maybe kind of prison, perhaps a preparation to turn me into a good capitalist wage slave and that things were generally fucked up in toxic for no damn good reason at all and I started resisting all of that happy horseshit when I was so young I can barely remember when it started.

But, hey, that free candy sure was delicious and I will very likely casually and soundly birch your fundaments at a rousing game of Scrabble.

One of my favorite sass-mouth moments with this teacher in particular was being utterly bored with memorizing multiplcation tables and refusing to waste precious neurons or daydreaming cycles on memorizing something so pointless and data intensive.

Especially if I already knew the simple algorithm of multiplying intergers and could, at worst, just write out a multiplication table as an array or index on paper any time I needed to manually multiply a bunch of numbers. Or use a computer. Or use a computer and a few lines of BASIC to print out a multiplication table.

I'm still vaguely irritated about this. For fuck's sake, if an 8-10 year old can program a computer well enough to just write out a printable reference of multiplication tables in any values they want with an iterative for-next loop that doesn't even contain an array or plain text copy of the print being generated, why the hell are you making them do basic math homework and rote memorization?

Why do we do this? It's horrible to gifted and natural learners full of insatiable curiosity.

Why is or was in my particular case our education system often such a stupid meatgrinder like this so often with the endless piles of what is really paperwork shuffling exercises that don't really resemble learning or application of knowledge?

Woah, I'm getting my flywheel all spun up. I am among my nerdy people, you feel me.

So I told her as much and that I simply wasn't going to do them.

"Well what are you going to do when you need to multiply a bunch of numbers?"

"Well, I can just do the math but I'll probably have a calculator, and if it's a whole lot of numbers I'll use a computer. Computers are already everywhere. Heck, I have a calculator on my wrist!" *proudly holds up Casio DataCalc on wrist earned with waaay too many weeks of paper route*

"Computers are just a fad! They'll go away soon!!"

"Computers are a fad!? PBBBBBPPTT." At this point I really and sincerly just busted up laughing. To tears, full on belly laughs. Because yeah I was a super nerdy kid into computers and bathing in them.

It was just so far outside of my world view and known future it was like hearing someone saying indoor plumbing and electricity was a fad. And I remember managing to choke out bits of something nerdy like "Are you serious? There's two computers in this class room and in 15 years every student will have one instead of 40 students sharing 1 or 2 if they're lucky! There's a computer in your refrigerator! Your microwave, even your telephone! There's a computer on my wrist!"

Yep, I got locked in the supply closet again. I knew I was headed there anyway so I went with it.

And, no, none of my antics earned me a round of righteous applause from my classmates or anything, it wasn't an 80s rom-com movie. My smart ass mouth and classroom antics just generally got my ass kicked more because this is reality.

And, again, not to trivialize the FPP but I kind of looked forward to getting locked in that supply room. I wasn't in a clean, sterile, no stimulus room at all.

If this teacher knew I was having such a good time in there she would have made sure it wasn't, and so on. I was really good at making sure to hide the parts about liking being there and knowing to bolt back to my seat if she approached the front office because she was that verbally loud and abrasive all the time at school and gave me plenty of warning.

The torture part of my experiences were the ostracization, also all the yelling and demands to copy dictionary pages or baseless threats of being expelled, etc, even a bit of old school ear boxing and pulling and good old verbal abuse and shaming and all that character building trash.

And something like 3-4 months later after my outburst about multiplication tables and computers she asked me to come over to her house and show her how to use her brand new Texas Instruments 99/4A. I made the voice synthesis expansion module say naughty words phonetically and with apparent text gibberish because I'd played with that voice synth chip before, and I remember gleefully letting Dr. Sbaitso mess with her head for a while. She didn't like Dr. Sbaitso. She thought he was creepy, nosy and rude. He kind of is TBH, but that's just because he's a mirror, yeah?

But she liked LOGO. And I think I did a good job showing her how powerful and cool computers could be, and why I wasn't worried about memorizing multiplication tables, and I hoped it helped her with future students.

I have been contemplating how to say "I'm not sure why I said yes to helping her with her computer since she was so frickin' mean to me all the time." but I think I just answered it. Sure, part of it was because I wanted to play with a new computer but it wasn't just that.

I'm not excusing her behavior or failures with me in particular as a teacher, but in hindsight I am a lot more self aware than I used to be, and I can recognize that I would be just about any public school teacher's absolute nightmare and least favorite student at worst or with Dolores Umbridge type teachers, or the sort of gifted and troubled student that kept a good, kind teacher up too late at night with earnest worry at best.

The good teachers said "I have no idea what to do with you. What do you want to learn or do?" and the bad ones said "Shut up and sit down and do this remedial thing.

And I recognize that even or especially as a kid I did say the damnedest things and I recognize I have a dangerous gift of being an incredibly sarcastic, sharp, snarky and otherwise even mouthy if truthful utter shithead.

In hindsight, some of the things I said to teachers and adults I'm sincerely surprised didn't get me just plain out slapped across the face just out of sheer human reaction. I had the vocabulary to call someone a "petty tinpot authoritarian despot" and I would actually say that kind of thing. In grade school. And mean it. I definitely fought back with the withering cut because what the fuck else am I supposed to do?

I'm being abused or neglected by authority and having my individuality stamped out of me and a mantra I held on to was thoughts like "stay young, stay kind, don't let them kill your spirit" to get through the various grades of bullshit in a bad public school system.

So, I would be surprised if she's still alive today, but I have often wonder what she thought of the next twenty years of her life after that, after dealing with someone like me who was not only smart and right but probably suuuuuper irritating and mouthy and non-traditional from her perspective, a computer nerd with a mouthy wild streak.

We were effectively about 7-ish years away from the birth of the web and about 12 years away from commodity broadband and dialup adoption in many homes - closer to the birth of internet then in the mid 1980s then we are here and now nearly to 2020.

It'd be nice to hear any one of the following sentences in any combination. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I locked you in the closet. I'm sorry I didn't understand computers. I'm sorry I mocked you or felt threatened by your brightness. Thank you for your help at such an early stage of computers. Everything you told me about how a micocomputer works was accurate and true."

Also I kind of want to tell her about all the chocolate and how I knew how to pick locks, went through every last thing in that room looking for more candy and stuff or even smuggle in my own books and just lazing about in the sun in a pretty good window eating chocolate and reading science fiction or comic books.

I don't share all of this to minimize this. I'm just doing my thing and offering you some hope to go with your anger about this kind of abuse and isolation that there was at least one kid who said rightfully and correctly said "FUCK YOU!" very loudly, clearly and even sometimes with scathing articulation.

One of my only public school regrets was not saying more of that when it was justified. I would like to go back with a time machine and have a friendly chat with my younger self about justice, civil disobedience and rebellion.

I would have been even more of a pain in the ass, and I would have also spent more time learning as much as I could despite the barriers and hurdles and letting the good teachers inside my defenses and learning how to find them and ask them for help.

And to all of the teachers out there that strive to be good teachers - remember me.

There's probably at least one of me in your class. Sullen, sarcastic, troubled, brilliant and bored. Abused at home, mistrustful, even outright shitty and unpleasant. And being crushed by the system and maybe silently or internally rebelling with every fiber and mote of strength in their being instead of feeling comfortable enough to learn what can be learned.
posted by loquacious at 8:49 PM on November 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

Could people maybe, please read the article before minimizing or defending the conduct in question?

I did and I didn't defend this practice. And I can tell you with 100% certainty that there are far more teachers who do not engage in this than those who do, and we not only are equally horrified that this happens and we work to end this, but we also work with dangerous kids who do attack and punch and bite us, and we do it for shit money and little respect.

Teaching is one of the few professions where almost everyone has an opinion about how they could improve our work despite not spending one day in our shoes. Everyone went to school and somehow that means ever so many people know how to be teachers.

Again, I’m not minimizing the horror of seclusion. But please consider not attacking all teachers because of this.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:11 PM on November 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

I have a family member who is a retired police officer. He openly acknowledges that a lot of people go into that line of work for the wrong reasons, and that even more who went in for the right reasons get disillusioned, and it poisons them.

I have a friend about to abandon his teaching career after several years at a private school for kids with a particular special need. He is leaving because the lack of support he gets from the school administration is making it impossible for him to do right by the kids. He comes home with bite marks, bruises, and battle scars every day. And he is worried about the kids. What will his successor do?

We can admit that certain professions (police, clergy, teaching) attract subsets who sought out those jobs because they wanted to control other people. We can admit certain working conditions will break a normal person.

As with police and clergy, I find it useful to acknowledge that teachers are under tremendous pressure by the very nature of their jobs. But also, as with police and clergy, it is dangerous to react as though any acknowledgement of systematic abuse among them is an attack on all of them.
posted by armeowda at 9:31 PM on November 19, 2019 [11 favorites]

But please consider not attacking all teachers because of this.

I want to repeat and emphasize this in particular because I'm being very snarky in this thread with my direct experiences with this kind of isolation and abuse and I can be very pointy and sharp.

I know that teachers deal with a lot of internalized systemic bureaucracy and institutionalized bullshit and perhaps more than most service and social professions they deserve some extra recognition when they aren't part of the actual institutional problem. I feel it is not quite the same as the "thin blue line" or good ol' boys club in a police department.

The good, sensitive teachers I've known are often also victims of the same systemic abuse. I've worked just marginally enough in education and job training type activities that public education would crush me into dust and I would fail. I know really good people who set out to be good teachers and try to fight the system from within and went down in so many flames and had to leave.

And I have no quarter for the systemic or individual abuses at all.

If anything our political theory should inform us it us structured for this abuse because of the reasons I've remarked upon so flippantly and sarcastically about late stage capitalism and the function of public education as institution before education.

I've had absolutely wonderful teachers despite my rather tormented public education history, one of those being a teacher in the same exact school where I experienced this abuse just a year before, and she was an amazing antidote and really helped me integrate and progress on a number of important and essential levels.

Ms. Riley, if you're out there, thank you. Thank you for giving me A Wrinkle in Time when I really needed the magic of it and telling me and showing me things get better, and showing me kindness and recognizing so well that I was bored and unchallenged. I'm doing ok! I have many, many amazing and creative things and stories I'd love to tell you!

Ms. J. Haynes? Yes, I still write! No, I'm not famous but I don't want to be. Yes, I'm still very into music, even more so than ever. No, I don't really write angsty poetry any more, and that's honestly a good thing.

Ms. Render? Yes, I still do learn by osmosis in my sleep. Yes, I did read the entire textbook and already knew the reading list because they were some of my favorite books. No, I didn't mean to make you look ridiculous that one day when you called me out but I did know what was going on despite napping in class. Thank you for recognizing this so soon and at least leaving me alone after that.

I have had many teachers who were kind and caring and went out of their way to defend me from abuses of the system, give me strength to survive or offer what sympathy they could professionally risk to let me know that they could also see the inherent violence in the system while still trying to teach.

I have very fond memories of these teachers and bright sparks of resistance to the status quo, and if you're one of these teachers, please don't let this thread diminish your efforts. We need you.

I will bow out of the thread at this point unless I have something more relevant to say, because clearly I have very passionate and detailed opinions about education and this process we've been using and the institutional abuses and bullshit within, and frankly the anarchic part of me wants to burn it down and let children play in the woods, but with computers, and some kind of directed non-metaphoric and metaphoric wilderness where making risk-managed mistakes is encouraged as part of the process.

And the good teachers out there will get this and I hope they also find encouragement and hope to say "Fuck you!!" right along with me.
posted by loquacious at 10:07 PM on November 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

My 6-yo nephew has Williams syndrome, and I can all too easily envision future school situations in which he gets branded as "disruptive". It terrifies me to think that shit like this may be what he has to look forward to.

Yeah, I totally ate all that candy. No regrets at all. I had a huge pile of it at home and managed to smuggle out most of it over the space of most of a school year.

I'm liking this new adaptation of The Chocolate War.
posted by non canadian guy at 10:38 PM on November 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I’m a veteran special educator and while yes this is horrible and disgusting, this is also rare.

Could people maybe, please read the article before minimizing or defending the conduct in question? In Illinois, at least, it is not rare. Since only a handful of states ban the practice, who knows how common it is elsewhere?

And maybe you could listen to education professionals who are talking in this thread?
posted by blessedlyndie at 1:17 AM on November 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

And I can't read about a student giving themselves a concussion because I'd have intervened that happened.

I'm really so sorry that a lot of you have had a terrible interactions with teachers. I'm so sorry for that.

But please know that, while I am very bossy, I'm also very smart and well trained. And I'm an excellent teacher. My heart is full of love, compassion and empathy for my students.
posted by blessedlyndie at 1:35 AM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

You can usually trust special education teachers because SPED is a really small world, even in big districts. They go to the same meetings. They talk about the same things.
posted by blessedlyndie at 1:46 AM on November 20, 2019

It's my job to make sure that all my students are successful!
posted by blessedlyndie at 2:12 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

The "we don't give them attention because that's a reinforcer" explains the technique. I'd forgotten. This is behaviourism and behaviourism is about compliance. Not "eventual compliance because we actually addressed the issue". Abusive, dehumanizing compliance. I don't really have the spoons to write about this in a way that will get through to people who are natural sympathizers with anything on the spectrum of behaviorist techniques.
posted by lokta at 2:57 AM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

Where exactly did anyone say all teachers are bad or engage in torture of students? It seems as if some people are replying to comments that do not exist.
posted by sotonohito at 4:40 AM on November 20, 2019 [13 favorites]

The increasing nationwide number of Board Certified Behavior Analysts also provides hope.

"[I]f you also think all your Autistic children and clients seem so happy under ABA, it’s because they’ll be punished for seeming otherwise."
posted by Not A Thing at 5:05 AM on November 20, 2019 [11 favorites]

Also probably worth mentioning that the organization that now oversees BCBA continuing ed has repeatedly endorsed torture.
posted by Not A Thing at 5:12 AM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

"In more than a third of these incidents, school workers documented no safety reason for the seclusion."

"Another day, he refused to get out of his grandmother’s car at school drop-off, so a staff member took him straight to a Quiet Room."

What the hell???

For a number of reasons, I too had to quit not very far into this article. But those two sentences are really all one needs to grasp the scope and seriousness of what is going on here. Our educational model is bankrupt, and these children are paying the price BY BEING LITERALLY TORTURED because we can't figure our shit out.

Teachers, by nature of their role and responsibilities, are often first-line/end-of-chain for the consequences of society's ills. This is because children and teenagers bear the brunt of our failings, which of course is going to impact behavior. The US is indeed a trash fire, but we are not alone in brutalizing children in educational systems geared towards compliance and conformity first, and learning and nurturing second (if at all).

Throughout K-12 I alternated between regular public school and private Catholic institutions. Even in very difficult interactions, teachers in both places remained professional and appropriate, at least in the classroom. I can only recall one of them even raising her voice. They were heroic. But we also need to come to terms with the fact that teachers are regularly faced with extraordinarily, superhumanly difficult circumstances with zero resources or tools to help kids appropriately. My third-grade teacher was stabbed in the leg with scissors by a student. Another kid would regularly interrupt class to make incredibly graphic sexual remarks, both to girls in the class and to the (female) teacher. I'm not even going to go into the chair-throwing, spitting, hitting, and other incidents that occurred, nor the heartbreaking, infuriating stories from friends who are teachers. (And that's just the students' behavior, to say nothing of their parents.)

I'm not trying to minimize the role of individual adults here. Regardless of what's going on around you, if your staff handbook says to lock a child in a sesnory-deprivation room, your responsibility as a human is to say no. But I am convinced that there is a structural component to this.

I admit I was rarely punished, but I did witness and absorb the treatment of ND, violent, and generally "difficult" kids in my classes, especially in my public elementary school. One would have expected the Catholic schools to be stricter in their behavioral codes and scarier in their disciplinary tactics, and in my parents' day they most certainly were. But by the 90s and 2000s this trend seemed to have reversed in the schools I attended*, for the simple reason that the Catholic schools had more money, more latitude, more staff, AND FEWER STUDENTS. There were two, TWO fully staffed programs devoted to special-needs and at-risk students at my high school, with training and conferences for parents; concrete, concerted efforts to have those students in classes with the rest of us as much as possible; and support from program staff to make sure they were doing OK. Many of these students were "refugees" from special-ed programs at the surrounding public schools, for reasons I am sure everyone can guess.

My public elementary, by contrast, generally defaulted to having the principal come haul the misbehaving kid out of class to their office, to be monitored by parental volunteers until they had "served their time" or were taken home or simply slipped away. God knows if or how those children ever received an actual education. And this was before the cops-at-the-door, metal-detector, transparent-backpacks-mandatory model which seems to have taken hold in many if not most schools; today I'm sure my old elementary and junior high have also resorted to the carceral model.

In other words, the Catholic schools were actually founded and operated to educate young humans; the public ones were essentially structured as holding-tanks-cum-vocational-training-centers for the great unwashed, which is how the people running government at all levels continue to view public education. And you can bet your ass that this difference existed because the vast marjority of the student body at Catholichighschool wasnt't Black and could pay cash money (or get scholarships from the Archdioscese).

Some adults, including some in the article, genuinely are horrifying abusive trash who will mistreat kids regardless of the system. But it is MIGHTY interesting how this particular brand of shit seems to reduce in places with proper funding and staffing. And the solution to this morally repulsive split isn't more bleeding charter schools, it starts with a full-on goddamn revolution in taxation, funding, and institutional organization. We have got to confront the fact that the educational systems we've built don't just enable or encourage violence, they run on it. Teachers, students, and parents are fighting every day, all the time, to educate and nurture children in a system designed to chew them up. And that's BEFORE adding any sort of neurodivergence or learning disabilities or poverty or a million other common challenges people face, into the mix.

The people putting children in iso tanks for spitting out their milk are failing catasrophically in a basic moral duty. They make me furious and I hope and wish for retribution which I'm sure won't ever come. But they're not the only ones, and dealing only with them is not going to be enough to fix what's causing this.

*I realize this is very much not going to be everyone's experience in Catholic schools.
posted by peakes at 5:39 AM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

I grew up in a city on the Mississippi River. There's a well-known rule up and down the upper Mississippi: Don't ever live on the Illinois side. Wisconsin? Fine. Illinois? Never.

I was on the Illinois side. It's decades ago now, but remember the guidance office having a couple rooms that served duty as storage, in-school suspension rooms, and seclusion lockups. I can remember talking about college applications while, two sheets of drywall away, one of the "troubled" kids thrashed around one of these rooms screaming to be let out. The people in charge were worried he'd escape if they unlocked the door, so they got the gym teacher (who had been a D1 fullback or something) to bring the kid lunch.

Everyone just rolled their eyes about the commotion, and I'm sure I thought the kid was the problem, too. I hadn't thought about it again until just now.

What the fuck, grown-ups?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 5:51 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Every single person involved in this atrocity needs their certificates immediately revoked and a long prison sentence.

Does.. anyone else see the deep, sad irony in this comment?

The article is describing something horrific that happens from a prison mindset. This is what you get in the country that incarcerates the most people per capita, worldwide.

The solution isn’t to “lock the bad teachers up” for locking students up. That’s the same logic that got us in this mess to begin with!

US society has incarceration as an idea running deep through its veins. It’s been there from the beginning of the country’s founding - incarcerating people to work as slaves. It’s time we collectively realized what kind of deep self-harm a society and a world has been doing onto itself by believing in incarcerations, prisons, confinement.
posted by suedehead at 9:31 AM on November 20, 2019 [10 favorites]

To me, the truly fucked cherry on top of this cake of fucked is that parents don't have access to the minute-by-minute logs.



Like for one goddamn second can we sit down and try to reason it out? WHY keep the logs from the parents? WHY isn't the log sent to the parents as a routine matter every time the child is locked up?

Okay, so if a parent finds out, the school ends up in trouble for what they did.

But also: if a parent finds out, they can work with the child to resolve the issue rather than blithely believe that the school knows what they're doing? And since the school knows that their techniques aren't making the kids any better, the school also benefits? Unlike a child who can only respond with incoherent terror, a parent has the capacity to understand the horror of the child being locked up, as well as the ability to work with their child to avoid being sent there. Telling the parents what happened means the school gets an additional fully-informed helper for that child, if the parent cares enough. And if the parent doesn't care, nothing happens. Everybody wins when parents are informed. Right??

Or perhaps wrong. Because what the school cares about isn't that the children get better, it's that they get to hang on to their torture chambers as ammunition to punish, threaten, and control the school's inmates.
posted by MiraK at 9:31 AM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

[One deleted; please skip the death wishes and unnecessary comparisons to child sexual abuse. A thing can be very bad without needing to be the exact same as other bad things, or without potentially triggering others or seeming to downplay sexual abuse.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:33 AM on November 20, 2019

suedehead This is child abuse. We put child abusers in prison. We don't laugh and say that there's an irony involved so we just pat them on the head and let them go.

What would you have us do? Just tolerate people who engaged in decades long torture of children begging for mercy walking around with no penalty?

If you want to argue that we need prison and incarceration reform in general I'll agree. But until that happens then I want these people punished as we punish others who abuse children. And I certainly do not think we should begin reforming incarceration with people who abuse children.

But fine, what would you suggest we do with people who have spent years, if not decades, of their lives organizing the torture of children?
posted by sotonohito at 10:43 AM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

What if...schools were structured so that kids felt good being there?
posted by vitabellosi at 12:44 PM on November 20, 2019 [10 favorites]

sotonohito - I agree that it's child abuse. It's horrible, and fucked up. The thought of it makes my skin crawl.

But it's just ... I want to be angry at the specific people involved, but it feels like it's a bigger widespread thing. the map on the article says that it's systematic. It's clearly spread across the state. It's clearly spread across this country. It comes from somewhere.

I believe in harm reduction and restorative justice over punishment. What good does punishment do? Who is it for, really?

And how come we are sympathetic to kids being in prison but not adults being in prison? Is it because the kids are younger? Is it because adults should be 'accountable' and 'responsible' for their actions, and deserve to be punished?

The article paints a picture of desperate and "well-meaning" teachers who imprison children in these rooms for safety issues, to train proper behavior, to isolate them from harming others. Isn't prison like that? Created by desperate and well-meaning members of society that imprison people for the same reasons?

What would we suggest we do with people who have spent years, if not decades, of their lives organizing the torture of people?

It's a long hard path. But it seems to me that it's important to shine a light on ourselves to understand where this comes from. Because these 'seculsion rooms' come from somewhere. They are products of a carceral society. Again, the USA incarcerates the most people in the world, both in terms of total number as well as per capita. It's in our thought processes. We should be both angry and rehabilitative towards these people behind these seclusion rooms, and we should also be angry and rehabilitative towards ourselves.
posted by suedehead at 12:49 PM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

But please consider not attacking all teachers because of this.

I don't think anyone is attacking all teachers, nor is this a direct attack on you (or other teachers in this thread).
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:55 PM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

suedehead I believe you are improperly and disingenuously conflating regular incarceration, which does have problems no argument, with the psychological torture involved in these rooms. Equating the two is both callously dismissive of the harm caused to the children subjected to this torture and simply not factually correct.

This was not "prison" it was torture. Again, there are certainly problems with incarceration both specifically the awful way it's practiced in the USA and in general. But I think you've allowed your justified and valid anti-incarceration activism to cause you to draw false equivalencies here.

And, again, I'm 100% in favor of drastically reducing incarceration if not outright eliminating it. But until that happens let's not start by putting torturers into a special category who don't get prison time because we object to prison in general. And, again, trying to equate the deliberate and malicious torture we're discussing here with simple incarceration is disingenuous at best.
posted by sotonohito at 2:18 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're saying "this is bad and needs to stop and the people involved need to be punished".

I agree with this.

I'm saying "this is bad and needs to stop and this is prison culture, and this is what happens when prison culture enters our schools. we need to stop prison culture"

I hope you agree with this as well.

This was not "prison" it was torture.

Is prison not torture?
posted by suedehead at 2:28 PM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you can't admit that there is a categorical difference between what was described here and prison then I don't see any further point in talking.
posted by sotonohito at 3:38 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

there is a categorical difference between what was described here and prison

There isn't, though. My first thought when I read this was, "The school to prison pipeline never looked so short." Even the schools call it 'doing time', they know and admit exactly what's happening here. These schools are literally treating kindergarteners like part-time inmates.

All of the reasons why these quiet rooms are bad are exactly the same reasons why current American prisons are bad. What makes this more egregious is that we're part-time-incarcerating people who (a) have not been found guilty in a court of law and (b) ARE CHILDREN. But other than that it's exactly the same thing. Adults are slightly better able to cope with the psychological damage of incarceration, but only slightly. Solitary confinement is always torture.
posted by MiraK at 5:57 AM on November 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

Incarceration is **NOT** the same as psychological torture via isolation. It is cruel to minimize the torture the children are being subjected to by dismissing it via comparison to normal prison. It's a bit like saying that surgery and axe murder are the same because both involve cutting.

It is not necessary to say that prison is good to recognize that what is described here is not prison.

It is absolutely fair and proper to argue that the use of solitary confinement in prisons is essentially the same as the torture used here. But that's a very different thing from simply saying "torture and prison are identical".

I get that a lot of people hate prison, I'm one of them. But you don't win by dismissing concern about children being tortured because you don't like prison.
posted by sotonohito at 6:32 AM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Prisons: adult convicts held forcibly inside a 'correctional' facility, with severely limited rights; sent to solitary confinement at the whim of overseers.

These schools: children held forcibly inside an 'educational' facility, with severely limited rights; sent to solitary confinement at the whim of overseers.

The bit where children are punished for wanting to leave the school is part of the horror. So is the bit where children are punished for spilling milk or not sitting down or whatever else. The atmosphere is regimented. Control and mandatory compliance take precedence over learning, just like in prisons. What's wrong here is not just what happens within solitary confinement rooms. All through the day these kids are treated like inmates.
posted by MiraK at 7:03 AM on November 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

[One comment and a direct reply removed; this is getting farther and farther down a road of swinging moral judgement around as an interpersonal cudgel and that needs to stop. "I care deeply about x" is fine; declaring what other people don't care about for not making the same argument as you is not, and these conversations go worse not better when it gets into that kind of territory.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:30 AM on November 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think I understand what you're attempting to say, Sotonohito. You would like to delink the objections to these schools from the objections to prisons. You want to say that this is wrong in and of itself, not that it's wrong because incarceration is wrong. You want the moral argument against these schools to be made separately rather than be subsumed into the anti-prison movement. I agree with that.

When you said "there is a categorical difference between this and prisons," perhaps what you meant to say was, "there should be a categorical difference between protesting this and protesting prisons." I read your words literally, as you wrote them, so I thought you meant there's no resemblance between these schools and prisons. That's why I was pointing out all the ways in which these schools are functioning exactly like prisons.

I don't think anyone here has been saying what you think we are saying, viz., "the only reason to object to these schools is because prisons are wrong." Everyone here knows and acknowledges that this is child abuse and child torture from start to finish, objectionable on its own terms without any need to appeal to all the reasons why prisons are wrong.

However, in addition to acknowledging that this is child abuse and child torture, all objectionable on entirely their own merits, there is a secondary issue that's begging to be recognized. This is - not primarily but secondarily - a stark example of what solitary confinement does to human beings. It's more viscerally wrong because it's children being tortured, yes, but we are led to wonder, how is it okay that we torture adult prisoners the same way? Especially since we know how minors are often tried 'as adults' and incarcerated? The link from this story to Kalief Browder's practically makes itself. Adults are not immune to the immense psychological strain of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is a human rights violation, not just a child-rights violation.

And, and, and! There is a tertiary issue also begging to be recognized. This story shows the ways schools often function as prisons. It's an example of how we are normalizing treating civilian populations, CHILDREN in this case, the same way that prisoners are treated. It's an example of the extent to which harsh control and punitive actions by state authorities are becoming normalized in all of society, the way they are normal in prisons.

The secondary and tertiary issues exist alongside the primary problem with the situation, which is that children are being abused and tortured. Nobody on this thread has denied that this is the primary issue. Nobody on this thread has suggested that the secondary or tertiary issues should take precedence over the primary.
posted by MiraK at 8:33 AM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

No, you don't get it.

As a secondary issue I object to what I see as people trying to hijack an issue of child abuse to promote their own agenda. I see it as undermining the effort to end the child abuse, perhaps a well meaning effort because their pet cause is a good one, but still it's objectionable both because it does drain attention from this problem, but also because the comparison minimizes the issue.

The root of my main objection I have is that this is not the same as prison. You can argue that it is the same as solitary confinement used in prisons. But you can't argue that this is just prison for kids because it is vastly, tremendously, worse than just prison for kids.

The claim that prison and solitary confinement are identical is preposterous.

Which brings me to the main objection: by equating this torture with mere prison it deeply, gravely, undermines efforts to end the practice. It takes a lot to convince the average person to stop cruelty, I don't like that but it's true. The average voter is totally fine with a shockingly high amount of cruelty. So saying "this is prison" is going to get the average voter to shrug and think that prison isn't so bad and those are awful kids who need to be controlled so putting them in prison is fine.

Tying the separate issue of prison to this form of torture and abuse damages efforts to stop this form of torture. Saying, falsely, that this is the same as prison is not going to convince the average, cruelty tolerant, voter to think it's awful but to think it's totally acceptable and fine.

On a tertiary level of objection it also feels a bit analogous to the way some men insist on trying to derail discussions of female genital mutilation by bringing up male circumcision. To me it looks like people taking a separate, far lesser, problem and trying to insist that we must discuss the lesser problem they want us to talk about instead of the bigger problem. It seems like derailment to me, and that infuriates me because I see it as trying to derail a problem so horrible we can probably get the average cruelty tolerant voter to actually get off their ass and do something about it and now here they are to muffle and confuse the whole issue by introducing a topic only very tangentially related.

Here we are talking about pie and it looks to me like the cake fans are trying to make the discussion all about cake instead. Can't we just talk about pie without the cake fans derailing things? And they argue that pie and cake are identical which is just so obviously wrong it feels like trolling.
posted by sotonohito at 12:32 PM on November 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Correction: earlier I should have written, I don't want to toss the faculty and staff of public schools documented in this article, or others that practice similarly horrific punishments on children under the bus
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:24 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Update from ProPublica
Governor Pritzger just issued emergency rules banning children from being locked alone in rooms- an adult must be in the room with them and the door cannot be locked.

Legislation has also been introduced to ban the practice.
posted by rockindata at 4:29 AM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

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