The third installment of Jennifer Berkshire and Aaron French's podcast Have You Heard is out, and it is again must-listen journalism.
Kindergarten suspensions are a thing. Sending five year olds home because they won't behave "properly" is a thing. In fact, the numbers are shocking. In this episode, Berkshire talks to a woman whose five year old child was suspended from school fifteen times. Fifteen. Times. The story is heart-breaking, because the school seemingly did everything possible to make things worse. Out-of-classroom suspension into a room much like a cell. A child with big feelings made to feel like the worst thing imaginable was happening to him-- yet still expected to keep himself under control and well-behaved.
I feel the impact of this issue personally. My son was a young five when his mother and I sent him off to kindergarten, and he ended up with a teacher who thought that five year olds who got to school before the opening bell should sit silently in their seats with hands folded while she finished getting ready for the day. He attended in the same district where I work, so I was inside the system, and it was still hard to get answers and find solutions, and to this day I regret that I did not trust the school less and stamp my feet more. I should have fought harder for him. Suggestions were made that maybe he was ADHD or otherwise messed up, and I kick myself that I seriously considered any of it for five minutes. I should have gotten him to safety sooner, out of a place where all he was learning was that school was terrible and that he was a bad boy. It is one of the biggest failures in my life.
And I repeat-- I'm an educated teacher, and I was inside the system, with all the privilege and connection that goes with that. And even I was slow to realize was that what this teacher was telling me, without realizing it, was not that my son had a problem, but that she didn't know how to work with five year olds.
So I cannot imagine how hard, how challenging, how heartbreaking it is to hear over and over that allegedly professional educators, people you believe you can trust, think there might be something wrong with your kid, to watch the bubbling and energetic spirit crushed, to see a gigantic and full heart somehow turned into a liability instead of an asset. And my son was never actually suspended; I just can't imagine. Fifteen times. I can't even. I would like to send the mother in this podcast the biggest hug in the world.
Listen to this story-- it's not long, but it's necessary to understand how this phenomenon, which seems merely remarkable as a statistical data point, plays out for real live humans on the ground.