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Temper tantrums and handcuffs

Pastor Michael Walrond Jr | 4/23/2012, 4:49 p.m.
I have a tremendous respect for schoolteachers. In fact, I am convinced that the most...
Temper tantrums and handcuffs

I have a tremendous respect for schoolteachers. In fact, I am convinced that the most unnoticed and overlooked heroes in many of our communities are our public schoolteachers. When I look back over my life, I can recall many teachers who had a tremendous influence on me and helped mold and shape me in ways that contribute not only to the man I have become, but to the human being I desire to be.

One of the teachers who had one of the greatest impacts on my life was my fourth grade teacher. Her name was Ms. Loventrice King. Ms. King was a beautiful, statuesque Black woman with a rich Alabama accent that reached crescendos whenever she got frustrated with one of her students.

Her passion and concern for her students was evident; I am convinced that a great part of her passion was connected to her experiences growing up in a segregated Alabama. She came of age in a time when Jim Crow laws sought to reinforce the presumed inferiority of African-Americans. I am sure that Ms. King witnessed firsthand and experienced the debilitating impact of racial segregation in an era where the abuse and mistreatment of Black people was part of the cultural landscape.

As Ms. King taught my class of about 30 Black children, you could sense that her commitment to our academic triumph was deeply rooted in her own experience. I am convinced that she believed our educational achievement was one of the keys to our success in a country where our Black skin would not always be looked upon favorably.

Ms. King was not only a master teacher, she was also a compassionate disciplinarian. She had a zero tolerance policy when it came to children whose behavior got in the way of their learning. When a child got out of line, she had a way of speaking to us in that rhythmic Alabaman accent that was intensified by the slowing down of her verbal cadence. That voice was also accompanied by a jarring glance, in which her eyes seemed to pierce your soul in an attempt to help you recapture the mind that had been temporarily lost.

I loved this woman because I knew she not only loved her vocation, she loved children. I wonder how Ms. King would have handled a 6-year-old kindergarten student in Milledgeville, Ga., by the name of Salecia Johnson.

Recently, Johnson, a Black child, had a traumatizing experience that I'm sure will have a long-term affect on her. Like many children her age, she had a tantrum in her kindergarten class. She was accused of tearing items off the walls and throwing books and toys in an outburst at her Creekside Elementary School. School authorities also claimed that Johnson threw a small shelf that struck and injured the principal.

The school's response was to call the police to try to calm the 6-year-old down. When the officers could not calm her down, they handcuffed the young girl and took her away in a police car to the police headquarters. When her mother and aunt came to pick her up, they said she was in a holding cell in handcuffs, complaining about the pain caused by the restraints.

I know that schools have a tough time when it comes to dealing with some unruly students, and in many schools, the presence of police is an effective deterrent to detrimental behavior. I just wonder if the criminalization of a temper tantrum by a 6-year-old is the best approach. There has to be another way!