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Authoritarianism Means Never Having to Apologize Over Spilled Milk

In Virginia a middle school student named Ryan Turk was arrested and then suspendedfrom school for allegedly stealing a $0.65 carton of milk. Officials claim that the student tried to conceal the carton of milk and are also charging him with larceny. This charge could impinge Turk’s record which could also lead to further difficulties down the line.

According to the arresting officer, Turk was acting “erratic” while he arrested the middle school student and Turk claims he “yanked away from him” and told him that the officer wasn’t his father. Turk was later searched for drugs in the principal’s office because of his behavior which involved laughing and fidgeting.

Both of these things contributed to Turk not only being suspended for theft but also for being “disrespectful”.

But there’s a problem: Ryan Turk is on the free lunches program.

So even if we could excuse the way that Turk was treated for “stealing” a milk carton, the reality is that there was no justification for the Graham Park Middle School to keep these charges against him. Instead, the school has decided to reinforce the rough handling of the student by appealing to “cellphone use” and “disrespect”.

The latter of these two things was a perfectly normal response to a ridiculous and controlling situation. Students should not have to feel unsafe and micromanaged in places where they are supposed to be learning. The way the officer handled someone who was presumably much younger and weaker than them speaks to the mindset that you are instilled with as a police officer.

Turk’s mother, Shamise Turk, summed up the charge of larceny well, “They are charging him with larceny, which I don’t have no understanding as to why he is being charged with larceny when he was entitled to that milk from the beginning,”

But even if Turk hadn’t been entitled to the milk, would charging a student with a crime that could go on their record the best way to handle this? Is the first option that this police officer had to forcefully pull at someone much younger than them? Couldn’t the officer have simply asked Turk if he was entitled to the program or not?

The lack of administrative oversight and unfair treatment of Turk and his family brings to attention the lack of control students and their parents have over state-run school systems. Students are compelled by law to attend these institutions and then are subject to many rules and policies that they never had any say in.

These policies and rules are then enforced by overbearing police officers and administrators who allegedly just want what’s “best” for the students. But the students are the ones who are more likely to know what is best for themselves, not the administrators, police officers or indeed, adults in general.

These facts explain the long-running success of self-directed learning within the Sudbury Valley School (SVS) in Framingham, Massachusetts which has existed for over 40 years. SVS has over these decades dedicated itself to allowing for an environment that encourages students to express themselves as freely as possible without harming others.

There are no grades, homework or bureaucratic and authoritarian administrative regimes to force the students into compliance. Students are encouraged to ask questions and use the time they have at the school in whatever way they want. Sometimes students use this time to just play outside or play video games and other times they use this time to read.

Whatever they decide to do, students often make the most out of these opportunities because they are responsible for them. There are staff members who are there to be helpful facilitators but their role starts and stops there. Students often learn how to read, write and do basic math either through play, direct experience or through the usual learning process, but on their terms.

If we want to build a world where administrators can’t treat students as if they’re their property over a carton of free milk, then we should consider alternatives such as democratic schooling. In addition, unschooling and homeschooling are other alternatives that give much more power and control to youth as opposed to adults, who’ll continue to think that they know what’s best.

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Nick Ford is an anarchist without adjectives currently living in Massachusetts but always finds himself on the move. He enjoys comics (the funny kind but more so the superhero kind), slacking off and talking about Voltairine de Cleyre.

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