Saturday, March 1, 2008

omg, detention! that's, like, unconstitutional!

In a prime example of JG's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory, reports on an eighth grade prank-turned protest: 29 eighth graders decided to pay for their $2 lunches entirely in pennies. The lunch ladies got a headache, the kids got detention. All in a day's work, right?

Well, not quite. Some of the kids get the brilliant idea to turn the whole prank into a supposed protest against too-short lunch periods. Within 24 hours, the article explodes with 200+ comments consisting almost entirely of:
"Last time I checked, pennies were still legal tender."
"These kids are just exercising their democratic right to buy lunch with pennies!"
"This is the problem with America! People trying to protest shouldn't get punished for it - that would be communism!"

Let's get real here. Some kids thought it would be funny to pull a prank, they get afterschool detention, and we're all upset that this is unfair?

Democracy is all well and good, but even the students admit that the idea of a protest was something they came up with afterwards. (See news video.) If they really thought it was too short a time in which to consume their lunches, they could at least have brought the problem up in a civil conversation with the administration before they decided to (Get this, this is good) hold up lunch lines further and make sure no one gets food.

Maybe it's because I'm from communist China, but I have trouble with anything that is used as an unbeatable excuse, be it democracy or the r-word (the touchy one that ends with -eligion). It's a little like Godwin's Law: somehow if you're on the side of democracy, you can't be wrong. People (especially those posting anonymously) try to cling to democracy as this magic bullet that can win all their arguments for them. As long as something is democratic, it is good; any perceived threat to said goodness should either be protested MLK-style or deported to the panda lands far East.

But imagine, if you will, that lunchtime was considered adequate each day. The kids each show up with 200 pennies, serve 2 detentions, lesson learned. It's not even as though a detention is a particularly harsh punishment (though perhaps 2 in a row is unthinkable!!!).

Now we decide to claim that it was a protest (because in eighth grade we're really going to be organizing Kingian civil disobedience), and suddenly we have everyone's support. The administration has transformed into this fire-breathing tyrant, plucked straight out of that movie where it had quite a good thing going knocking over skyscrapers in Tokyo, and the pranksters become valiant defenders of social justice, grossly mistreated.

Really, if we're going to style ourselves the young Rosa Parkses and Gandhis (or Gondi, according to a commenter) of this new generation, we're going to have to be prepared to deal with the repercussions. After all, it's not particularly heroic if we don't risk our lives and/or our weekday afternoons in the process!

In that case, let's all just bludgeon the principal with blunt instruments!

Okay, but don't forget to get the lunch ladies too!

No prob, they're just stupid lunch ladies anyway.

Yes, because I count to 5,800 every day.


Martha Vega said...

I have to say that I disagree with most of your points. Pennies are legal tender--so while it may be extraordinarily obnoxious of the children to pay with pennies instead of dollars, it's still within their rights. If this was a prank, well, it might not be the funniest one, but still, no rules were broken. If it was a protest (and I have to agree with the kids that half an hour is way too short a time for lunch), it was actually a rather brilliant one. I should point out that children who can organize that well are completely capable of organizing a protest. The right to protest, again, is within their rights.

In the light of the fact that these children did not technically break any rules, but instead were well within their rights, the punishment, regardless of what it might have been, was wrong. You cannot punish people for breaking rules that didn't exist when they were broken--that is called ex-post-facto justice, and that is in fact, unconstitutional.

From a more practical standpoint, having once been subject to a mass detention in seventh grade, I have to say that these are more detrimental than beneficial. We did not learn a lesson, and instead, our homeroom teacher joined the ranks of the world's great despots in our eyes. (Seriously, we compared him to people like Lenin and Castro.)

Given, when planning protest you should plan to do the time if you do the crime. But, as no crime was committed (and no rules were broken), the point is moot.

Given, some of the people who commented were a bit on the mean side. still, that has nothing to do with the pennies.

Lillian Zhou said...

On the other hand, if I tried to pay a store with that many pennies, I'd get kicked out. Is that a punishment for breaking a non-existent law?

I don't remember how much lunch time I had in middle school, but in high school it was also half an hour exactly (I looked it up just now). I guess it is a bit tight, but I usually had enough time to eat, cram for French, and print out my history homework too.

Martha Vega said...

I'm not sure that the buying something in a store with pennies holds. For instance, if I wanted to buy a book of stamps, and all I had on me were nickels, I would expect the government employee to accept my legal tender. If on the other hand, I went to a private establishment and tried to pay with small change (which, incidentally, I've done), and the storeowner decided that the cost of counting the change was greater than the advantage of accepting my money, then the store would be exerting it's right to do business as it pleased. Rest assured, I would never go to that establishment again. Alternately, my friends and I have paid for our drinks entirely in small change when we disliked our server. A perfectly valid form of protest.

I stand by my assertion that half an hour is too short for lunch, especially if there's a line. Workers are entitled to an hour for lunch, and I can see no reason why that shouldn't apply to students, especially since lunch in middle school is about so much more than eating, cramming for French, and printing out history homework. Lunch is also a social time. When I was in middle school, my friends and I would sometimes go out to eat at the local pizzeria, or else we would play spit (a strange card game at which I was once quite good) or go outside to the yard and play a game of basket ball. Lunch allows students to relax and have fun. It also allows them to meet up with friends who may not be in their classes.

I stand by the fact that their grievance is perfectly legitimate, and that they broke no rules and that therefore, they should not be subject to punishment. If anything, then perhaps a school meeting explaining why they were inconsiderate, and why half-hour lunches are necessary might be a decent measure. They should also be made to understand that if they want a longer lunch, they will have to either come in earlier or leave later, and that teacher's salaries may need to be adjusted, which might lead to a cut back on extracurricular activities.

Simply punishing people who have not broken any rules for voicing their complaints, even in an annoying and inconsiderate way, should not be done. This is not, after all, a police state.

Anonymous said...

1. Half an hour for 250 students is inconceivable luxury. (.67/1600)

2. A middle school is neither a democratic nor a constitutional state. Among other powers, it is within the authority of any teacher to punish a student with a nasty inflection of voice or eye-rolling, whether these are listed in the school guidelines.

3. Where is the line between protest and petty malice?