My lists of suspensions in middle and high school were a series of vacations for me; just another thing to brag about. The stories I told after earning the easy, extra weekends were nothing but laughs. I didn’t see the values in school, so I continued to stray. All I knew was if I get suspended, there’s zero homework and zero lectures. Besides, it was easy. School had zero tolerance.
Schools suspend more students annually than the amount of graduates. Students who receive a suspension have 5 times the risk of dropping out, and three times more likely to be incarcerated.
Last Saturday, about 100 men and women attended the Guild Theater for the premier of “Talk it Out”. Talk it Out consisted of three plays related to the zero tolerance policy in schools.
The first act was about a young man in high school named James who had just received his twentieth suspension for an issue with another student, thereby getting expelled from school. It showed a scenario of James taking a lecture from his disappointed mother. He tries to explain that his teacher only picks on him because he’s labeled as a gangsta. His mother is stunned by what he claims.
After the act, the host asked the audience various questions. For example, “How did Jame’s suspension make you feel?” With four mics around the the group, many participants reply with honest, common answers; “Frustrated”. I believe this “talk it out” system made the play very unique.
The second act began with James in a nightmare and being tackled with discouraging words from his mother, teacher, principal, girlfriend and counselor. They’re all giving up on him. Telling him he is exactly like his ex-con father. Saying negative things that would only bring a man down. They’re screaming, “Wake up!” When he awakes, his mother asks, “What are you going to do now?” “I don’t know.” says James.
Another “talk it out” session followed that act.
The final act showed James visiting his father. He confesses about being out of school for three months. His father is enraged. James continues, “I’ve spent my whole life not to be you.” He replies, “You don’t even know me! How can you try not to be me?! You can be so different. Making mistakes does not make you a bad person. It only makes me human.” James snaps, “Everybody tells me I’m nothing.” “Don’t listen to them! Don’t listen to them!”
I honestly believe the play was amazing. It was nothing like I’ve ever imagined. I learned about the harsh statistics in school discipline, realizing how my past suspensions truly impacted my life. I learned about how zero-tolerance solves nothing, but creates so many different issues and problems. I can see “Talk it Out” making a dramatic and wonderful change in schools across the nation.
Stella Connel Levy from Restorative Schools Vision Project quoted Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”