Crime and Punishment

My kids have been known to roll their eyes at my interest in their schooling. They've seen me get all gushy when my son is thrilled by Edgar Allen Poe or my daughter goes all out on a chimpanzee report. Chill out, they plead.

But last week they got excited. Their mom, who interacts with the school at concerts, fairs, and in teacher meetings, was taking parental involvement to a new level over, of all things, a yo-yo.

Yo-yos are making their generational flyby at the moment. They are everywhere kids are. This doesn't thrill teachers, many of whom, like me, have come face-to-face with a high-speed yo-yo in recent weeks courtesy of the "around the world" maneuver. On the heels of that experience have followed school policies worthy of our zero-tolerance age - and ones I was introduced to via a phone call from daughter Harlan.

She sobbed that her new $12 beauty, bought with savings, had been confiscated. It was gone. For a week. The kicker: This happened after school dismissal -and only 10 feet from the exit.

In a flash, my mind filled with many stories about discipline or suspension for relatively minor offenses, like bringing a nail file to school. Though I've never heard of such extremes at our school, I decided to investigate.

What I meant to do was just ask Harlan's teacher what happened. She was out. The secretary was eager to know why I was calling. I foolishly told her. She thoughtfully left a message.

I was reassured by all this that the school is earnest about staying in touch with parents. They, too, could tell that I wasn't going to act like parents who this month prompted a California town - offended by too many angry encounters - to ban unruly parents from school grounds. If anything, I felt sheepish when a teacher called back and I found myself engaged in a thoughtful exchange about Harlan's rap sheet and the difficulty of tracking degrees of offense: Might such a punishment turn kids off to discipline? Might I be dismayed if Harlan decked another child? Did it matter if she was "almost" out the door?

A friend hearing my end of the chat thought something very serious was up until I cried "uncle," noting that this was, after all, only a yo-yo. "A yo-yo?"

The good news is that the teacher and I indulged each other. Maybe she figured I had had a long week. Maybe I realized that if nothing else, Harlan's week-long reprimand preempts involvement in a yo-yo-related lawsuit. So I don't think the teacher will hide when I next visit. Maybe then I'll talk to her about the school's food.

* Write to: Learning Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA, 02115 or e-mail newcomba@csps.com

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