The Business of Breaking Children

by Kimberly Steiner

This post was originally published here

I spent some time with a friend one evening this week and one of the conversations we had surrounding her preschooler brought back so many memories of when my oldest child started school.

My friend’s child is vibrant, energetic, and brilliant. Her mind and body are very active and always running. She is all smiles and giggles. She is just an absolutely beautiful 4 yr. old child.

My friend was showing me her daughter’s school communication folder and I read some of the notes written about her child from the teacher. I recognized so many of the comments because I had read similar notes before with my own child just 12 years ago when he started school.

As I moved through some of the comments while looking at the green, yellow and red dots in her folder, I became very sad. I told my friend

“They are going to try to break her.”

My friend responded with a sarcastic tone

“I know, she’s not a good little solider”.

This child’s parents also believe the teacher has already labeled their daughter as one of the “problem students”, which is something I became painfully aware of myself as my own son journeyed through his elementary years.

My heart hurts to know there are children that enter into our public school system only to have their smiles stolen, their spirits broken, and their self esteem stripped away. It’s so painful to know that the main focus for these particular children will be their “behavior” and how they are not fitting into neat little boxes, instead of how to best support, accept and teach them.

Tears well up in my eyes to know they will be constantly told the way they are is not the way they should be, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way they are to begin with.

I have written about the fear of breaking my own son and vowing never to intentionally do so. I have seen the damage this can do to a child with my own son. I’ve shared numerous dialogues with many others who have witnessed or been through this same thing.

When your child is labeled the “problem child” in education, whether or not they are disabled, they are put under a microscope. Every.little.thing. is noticed. They get blamed for everything that goes wrong in an environment regardless if they did it or not.

Eventually (and rather quickly) other students catch on to this as well and tend to feed the fire the teacher started. It’s bullying perpetuated by adults, even though it’s not seen this way because it’s totally acceptable in society to treat *those* kids this way.

Unfortunately, I am aware of extreme disciplinary actions that tend to go with this territory: the referrals for petty things, the suspensions for nonviolent infractions (like not wearing a belt *gasp* OH! The horror!!! ), the phone calls, the conferences and even the threats of alternative learning placements for kids with “behavioral issues”. I know how things can get worse when you refuse to *prove* to the school that you’re parenting the way they think you should.

I’ve often felt like (and still feel) if I reported back to teachers that I completely humiliated my child by doing things that would cause long term damage, they would be satisfied. Satisfied, because then my child would be broken. After all, it’s much easier to manipulate broken pieces.

It’s like this: It’s pretty easy to break a square and put it back together as a triangle, only you’d have a piece missing. In children that piece represents their spirit, which includes : creativity, self esteem, and individuality.

Eccentricities & Introspection

Image is a comic strip with three sections side by side. The first section shows a dark skinned female teacher in from of a classroom full of triangles meant to represent students and one square. The speech bubble above her head reads “Johnny Square you are inappropriate, come here this instant” The second section shows the teacher knocking the top line of the square out with her hand, and those pieces falling , the speech bubble reads “There this should fix the problem” The third section shows the teacher standing beside a now cracked triangle that has the speech bubble *sniff* above it signifying sadness, to the left of the triangle on the floor are 3 straight lines scattered with RIP Johnny’s spirit written above it The speech bubble above the teachers head reads “Much better. You may return to your seat now Johnny.

These little squares are the kids deemed: defiant, noncompliant, oppositional, and just BAD. But, these are not violent, dangerous children I’m speaking of. These are the kids that go against the grain, they challenge authority, they think for them self, they know how to say “No”, and they ask questions.

Maybe they have trouble sitting still, talk too much, have trouble focusing, day dream, don’t talk enough, get bored quickly, or struggle in certain areas significantly and soar in others.

Perhaps they are extremely sensitive, they refuse to do things before they are ready to, they don’t show their work, they see busy work as ridiculous but they pass all the tests.

But, most importantly they refuse to conform just to make someone else’s job easy. Because let’s face it, that’s what compliance is about in school. We’re fed the lie that it is to get them ready for the real world. However, the real world is nothing like school.

If you’re a teacher reading this, please understand… I know your job is hard, I couldn’t do it. You became a teacher to teach, not wade through the bureaucratic bullshit that gets in the way of you teaching what needs to be taught.

You have little support sometimes from your own administration, you are bound by federal and state mandates to teach things a certain way, in a certain amount of time. You’re forced to shove standardized testing prep down our children’s throats when you’d rather be teaching them applicable skills.

I know.

So, in order to do the job the government demands from you, you have to demand our children be, as my friend stated, good little soldiers.

My friend and I both agree… All we want is for our children to be HAPPY, successful and left unbroken. And we ask, how? Is that even possible anymore in public education? I’m not even sure.

About Lei

PACLA is an Autistic friendly space dedicated to guiding parents toward respectful supports and accommodations for their Autistic children through the concepts of gentle parenting and a belief in the value of neurodiversity.

Posted on April 10, 2015, in Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi. Funny how I’m reading this post now, after the day I’ve had (sigh.) I’m an Aspie adult working in education. Having been taught to conform as a child–and broken repeatedly as an adult–I think I can understand. Fact is, though, you’re right: the real world is not education.

    The real world is much, much worse.

    In public education, school districts are mandated by law to provide special-ed services. No employer has to modify a darn thing, they can just fire you. If you’re lucky, they are sane and do it quickly; if you’re unlucky, they abuse and hurt you anyway they possibly can. And the onerous is always on us, a fantastic, invisible double standard. It hurts. But it’s best to learn early on that we have to keep trying, to think things through and work with the system as best we can. Giving up doesn’t help.

    And that’s why I’m in education. Because trying is the most important part.


    • Hi Tre,

      Thanks for reading and replying. I’m the author of this particular piece.

      I tend to agree and disagree with your comment, mainly because depending on the child your comment of the real world being much worse could be false and also we don’t have to accept or try to work with a system that causes damage.Also giving up is not the only other option to not accepting or working with an abusive system either 🙂

      My son will be out of school before long (he’s 17 now) and for him I am certain the real world will be far more forgiving than education has been to him. He has significant areas in which he struggles academically, but yet he “passes” (invisible disability) and up until he was in 8th grade the public school system failed him immensely and damaged him in the process. He will have more control over his own life once out of school, he won’t have ridiculous rules to follow that don’t benefit anyone but the authority figures. In the real world we are allowed to find what best suits us, instead of being told we are required to do XYZ and having no choice in the matter.

      My son and many other kids get abused in public school by teachers and admins.. even with those laws put into place. Just because there are laws doesn’t mean the schools will follow them, as a matter of fact many of them toe the line. Just like many employers will disregard the ADA to the biggest extent possible..

      This piece isn’t focused on special education or disability specifically though and the little girl I am talking about here is not disabled. So many children fit the description I mention above and are not disabled or are disabled but don’t qualify for special education services, So they get no individualized plan and IDEA doesn’t apply to them and if not disabled the ADA isn’t any help either.

      As a mom with 2 children who receive IEP services (one who fits neatly and one child that doesn’t fit at all) and with one NT child I know it’s really important for parents to work with teachers and admins. It is very important that we support them too because our children’s future depends on the way they help and treat them.


  2. Agreed in many respects. No matter where you are coming from or what your goals are, kindness and generosity of spirit rarely go wrong. A thinking educator (can’t speak for admin) comes at the challenge asking, “What will best serve this kid’s needs?” Alas, time is at a premium and BS runs an all-time high, often due to political issues outside one’s control. You can only do so much. Sometimes you just have to hang on and wait things out.

    I hope things come together for your son.


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