Physical Restraint and Verbal Assault

An answer to the question School Discipline: Is It Ever Okay to Physically Restrain a Student?

Yes. If physical restraint is the only way to prevent a student from physically harming to another person, it is not only “okay,” but necessary to physically restrain the student.

But this article asks a different question–if or not physical restraint is appropriate in the case of a verbal assault.

I think answer to the question of if or not a security guard should be allowed to “physically restrain a middle-school student for a viscous verbal assault?” lies in the answer to this question:

Should the security guard be allowed to physically restrain a colleague for the same offense?

In Oatey’s somewhat vague recounting of the events, the child in question “told the security guard that ‘he [the child? the guard?] fucked his [the child’s? the guard’s?] mother’ after being told numerous times to be quiet and walk away.”

Whichever it was (“I fucked your mom” or “You’re a mother-fucker”) obviously upset the security guard, whose initial response (Be quiet. Go away.) wasn’t wholly inappropriate. (But does beg the question — what precipitated this exchange?)

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that, feeling frisky and put out because I feel he’s acting like a jerk, I, an adult, tell this security guard that I think he’s a “mother-fucker.” He’s likely to take the same offense to my comment, but he’s not likely to attempt to physically restrain me, now is he?

And I think that’s where the answer to this question lies: not in the socio-economic make up of the neighborhood of the school, the particulars of the student’s genealogy, or the unfortunate criminal activities of other students. Verbal assault (or, as a citizen of the United States of America might call it, “the exercise of free speech under the Constitution of the United States of America”) is not sufficient reason to resort to physical assault (which is what my lawyer would probably consider laying hands on me).

The guard in question did manage to prove, conclusively, that he is indeed a mother-fucker (in the colloquial sense that he’s a jerk). He also managed to aptly demonstrate to this particular student, those who witnessed the exchange, and any who have heard of it, that physical force is an appropriate response to speech you don’t like.

* * *
I was asked, in a follow-up comment, what I thought the right course of action would be.

I disagree with your assessment of the situation as I understand it [that the kid was the first to escalate the situation]. The guard’s initial response was to escalate the situation; the student responded in kind.

I think it is rarely appropriate, as the adult in an interaction, to bait, escalate, or otherwise engage in a pissing contest with an adolescent. It’s especially inappropriate for an adult who is hired to work with adolescents to do so.

A standing army will eventually be turned on the population it was originally convened to protect . . . what is the thinking that goes into setting up an adversarial relationship between students and security guards? How does a security guard coming down on a student for what the student has said make anyone safer or provide security to anyone at the school? How did the job of security morph from being one of providing a safe place to study to being one of policing the children?

I think the security guard should have diffused the situation rather than escalated it. I have had, in my years as professor, as well as my time in customer service, had a number of times where infuriated persons have screamed at me for a variety of reasons — and in each case, I diffused the situation, generally by referring the person to the dean, or my boss.

“Ah, young peacocking boy, I can see that you feel I am a mother-fucker, and I am sorry that you feel that way. If you’d like to discuss my performance with my boss, here’s h** contact information. Better yet, I shall use my trusty radio to summon my boss, and you can discuss my job performance and lodge a complaint right now.”

Such a cordial invitation, delivered with a smile, has the most sail-deflating effect. The diffusing adult in the situation has acknowledged the issue, and provided a clear path to resolution. Even the most riled up boy with a chip on his shoulder is generally going to decline the offer. Or, he might take the security guard up on the offer, and express to the (head of security/principal/superintendent) that he feels the security guard is, indeed, a mother-fucker, and the conversation can go from there.

Telling the kid to shut up and go away is just not really every going to work, you know what I mean?

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5 Responses to Physical Restraint and Verbal Assault

  1. Elizabeth Conley says:

    Perhaps a viscous assault involves lobbing something with the consistancy of motor oil about!

    I saw it, but I left it alone.

    Personally, I won’t associate with anyone who uses profanity, nor will I hang around a place where profanity is regularly used.

    Since students can’t recuse themselves from public school, I do think there should be restrictions on profanity.

  2. Jen says:

    Well . . . I wasn’t going to mention it (viscous/vicious/vivacious . . . whatever). 🙂
    If it were viscous, it would also be a physical assault, no?

  3. maggie says:

    Jen! did you notice that the verbal assault was “viscous” as opposed to “vicious?” Smirk. High-school English teacher, indeed. maggie

  4. Jen says:

    In 2008, we went to see Naomi Wolf’s lecture on Letters to a Young Patriot when she was in Spokane for GetLit! You can see roughly what I saw here.
    At the end of the one here in Spokane, she said, “It’s a fucking democracy, people! How hard can it be?”
    But I think a bunch of the problem stems from our system of schooling — how can our children, who spend their entire childhoods having their rights trampled, suddenly become 18 year old Americans?
    There isn’t any constitutional liberty that children in public schools may truly exercise. Not one.
    So how can we expect them to graduate and assume the burden of the democracy, when they’ve been raised and schooled to hand over their inalienable rights their entire lives?
    How can we expect them to defend liberties that are foreign to them?

    PS: (I hope your answer is always affirmative, because your mom might be kind of pissed to find out she’s a lousy lay).

  5. Michelle says:

    Hell yes, Jen. Physical restraint should only be used when the person being restrained was a danger to himself or to someone else. Somehow kids are such a threat to adults now that preemptive restraint must be used in order to keep said child from making good on the threat. Cops here remove middle school kids in shackles, something they can only do to adults who are dangerous. Kids just don’t matter in the public education system. That should scare the shit out of all of us.

    My favorite response to “I fucked your mother” has always been “Was she any good?”

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