The War on Kids, a Critique of Public School Culture


Cevin Soling’s lively documentary lays out in hair-raising detail the authoritarian underpinnings of America’s child-centered culture, in which a pervasive climate of fear distorts perception of the dangers posed by and to children. Marshalling an impressive array of level-headed wonks (sociologist Henry Giroux, education theorist Alfie Kohn), some inspired teachers, and an enchantingly mouthy young pupil, Soling shows how, in the service of controlling rather than educating students, we hem them in with prohibitions we ourselves wouldn’t tolerate (what adult would agree to being forbidden to go to the bathroom?) and punish them too harshly for activities we overindulge in (drink, drugs, too much television and Internet). With their “zero tolerance” policies, public schools have come to function like prisons. Kids are overdiagnosed and overmedicated to a dangerous degree, not to mention deprived of the civil rights that would teach them how to live in a democracy. What’s missing from this essential, if not exactly new, information is the social context in which schools operate, and a dissenting voice to point out that some kids (and their families) do benefit from medication, that some schools are located in such high-crime areas that no security at all would be pure folly, and that some safety-obsessed parents refuse to allow their children to walk to school by themselves, yet drive them up to the front gates dressed like hookers.