Janelle Irwin: School doesn’t have to be boring to be safe

Virginia Tech. Littleton, Colo. Newtown, Mass.

Those are just a few of the places that provoke a sense of dread at what seems to be a growing number of school shootings nationwide. The violence has led to tightened school security all the way down to the elementary level. There also has been talk of arming teachers.

It’s all about safety. But at what cost?

Halloween is coming up on Friday. Little ghouls and goblins and pirates and Disney princesses will take to the streets with pillow cases and buckets collecting as much booty as they can carry.

Halloween has become a staple of capitalism. According to Time Magazine, consumers hemorrhaged $8 billion in 2012.

Halloween for my family, friends and neighbors is going to be a hoot. The kids will look awesome decked out in creative apocalyptic stage makeup.

But it won’t be that way at school and that, in my opinion, sucks.

When I was a kid, I went to school-sponsored costume contests. I won third place for my zombie costume then and that was before it was cool. We had Halloween-themed assignments and sugary parties. On Halloween, we dressed up.

But not now. In this day of shoot’em up school violence, Halloween costumes, apparently, are just too risky.

Or perhaps they’re a distraction. Or offensive. Maybe it might hurt some kid’s feelings because their family can’t afford a nifty costume. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

Then there’s after Halloween. This year the candy-gathering war lands on a Friday. As a mom who loves helping her kids hit as many houses as possible and rake in more candy than we could ever consume, I love that I don’t have to drag my kids out of their sugar-induced comas to head to school.

Last year I let them play hooky the day after Halloween because, why the hell not? My kids are smart. They get good grades. They are supposed to have fun and learn that sometimes a break is well deserved.

But if things were the way they were when I was a kid, they wouldn’t want to skip school to recover from their sugar hangovers. They’d want to go to school the same way I wanted to with my bags and bags of candy to share and trade and brag about.

Nowadays, kids are educated in a no-exceptions-made prison of rules. What about letting kids experience being kids?

I have loads of stories. I used to ride my bike through the halls of my school with friends on the weekends. Schools are ghost towns on weekends now. We used to have birthday parties and brought our friends balloons.

I had my first kiss in a crowded hallway. I socialized at my locker. Teachers took high performers to fun events after school and no one thought twice about it. The only stories my kids come home with are about their school principal screaming for them to get off campus.

Here’s where this mom gets really annoyed. School uniforms used to be for the private school kids. Us common folk loved to make fun of them. And guess what, it wasn’t called bullying.

I went through a funky pants phase. I had super awesome finds from thrift stores including a pair of police pants, neon orange bell bottoms, plaid golf pants and mail man pants. I went through a Goth phase with long, flowing black skirts and black lace everything. I even went through the trendy “I want boys to like me” phase with schoolgirl skirts and knee-high socks.

Now school uniforms are common. It takes away from competition and distractions, they say.

If you want to remove a sense of I’m better than you, ban name brand shoes and fancy accessories, makeup and overpriced hand sanitizer. You can take the freedom of self-expression away from a student’s wardrobe, but they’re still going to find a way.

Why not just let them? Let them learn that sometimes people have more than you and that sometimes people have a different style. Most importantly let them know that it doesn’t matter.

Not much in school is fun anymore. Both of my middle-school aged daughters are forbidden to carry a backpack. One of them isn’t allowed to wear black nail polish or clothing that promotes “alternative lifestyles.” The other isn’t even allowed to carry a water bottle.

When they shuffle into the lunchroom, they can’t sit with their friends.

After school they are shooed off campus. They aren’t allowed to linger in the halls or chat in the bike lock.

School, in the name of safety, has become a drag.

When I think back to the day I had to report on the tragic shooting in Newtown — when I remember choking back tears as we learned most of the victims were 7 and 8-years old — I get it. I want my kids to be safe. I don’t mind having to show my ID to get on campus or having to go through extra background checks to chaperone a field trip. I don’t mind locks on doors and fences around schools. What I mind is my children feeling like school is the last place they want to be.

So, this Halloween maybe someone in the school district will think about the unintended consequences of over-regulating children.

I’m glad I’m not a kid in 2014, but I’m sorry that my kids are.

Janelle Irwin is a reporter, blogger, and mother of three based in Tampa Bay. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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