Blame for problems with schooling in America is often assigned to insufficient funding or the inherent failings of today’s kids. In rare cases, parents, teachers, and administrators are also implicated. However, all efforts to improve the quality of education are doomed to fail if the system itself is not examined and understood to be the most significant impediment. After over six years in the making, THE WAR ON KIDS reveals that the problems with public education ultimately stem from the institution itself. Astonishingly all efforts at reform consistently avoid even considering this to be a possibility and the future for children and American democracy are at stake.
In 95 minutes, THE WAR ON KIDS exposes the many ways the public school system has failed children and our future by robbing students of all freedoms due largely to irrational fears. Children are subjected to endure prison-like security, arbitrary punishments, and pharmacological abuse through the forced prescription of dangerous drugs. Even with these measures, schools not only fail to educate students, but the drive to teach has become secondary to the need to control children.
THE WAR ON KIDS begins with the history of “Zero Tolerance” policy. In the 1990s, almost all schools began instituting guidelines that were originally designed to keep weapons and drugs off campus. Very quickly, school officials began to arbitrarily decide what should be considered a weapon and what should be considered a drug. Hundreds of situations followed where children were (and continue to be) suspended or expelled for possessing food knives, nail clippers, key chains, chicken strips, aspirin, and candy. Kindergarteners were even suspended for playing cops and robbers and using their fingers as guns. Under the guise of Zero Tolerance, administrators have been able to wield tremendous power without the burden of responsibility and this authority continues to be increasingly abused. Students invariably feel despondent and fearful in the Kafka-esque state that has been created.
The film reveals that students’ civil rights have been virtually obliterated. They can be searched, drug-tested, denied the right to express themselves verbally and in print, as well as be physically punished without due process. They are routinely deprived of protection from self-incrimination and in some circumstances can even be strip searched without the consultation of parents. Courts typically uphold the rights of schools to behave in whatever manner they deem appropriate where children’s rights are involved.
Ultimately schools now look astonishingly like prisons in their structure and operation and the film shows that it is hard to tell them apart. A side by side comparison in the form of a tour displays the apparent inferiority of the average public school with regards to prison in terms of its resources and upkeep. Most disturbing of all, the school environment is clearly much more oppressive and dreary.
Schools have become obsessed with security and THE WAR ON KIDS shows how none of the profoundly invasive measures are effective. Security cameras were present at Columbine High School, for example, and did nothing to mitigate the massacre. From the students interviewed in the film, it is clear that cameras are unwelcome and breed paranoia and fear and may actually contribute to creating a hostile environment. Locker searches and metal detectors have been shown to be ineffective and contribute to creating an oppressive environment.
Police footage is shown from a 2003 SWAT team raid on Stratford High School high school students in Goose Creek, SC when the principal suspected illegal drug activity. In spite of the aggressive search involving guns and dogs, no drugs were found. The raid highlights the persistent scrutiny that students are under and the complete lack of boundaries that exist when children are involved.
Beyond physical intimidation, psychiatric abuse in schools is also rampant. Experts are interviewed about the epidemic of ADD and similar diagnoses. The preponderance of evidence is stunning and implicates drug companies in blatantly nefarious activities. Ritalin and other pharmaceuticals that are being heavily prescribed to children are not only physically harmful with lifelong consequences but can and do lead to murder and suicide. What is presented as treatment is more dangerous and debilitating than the condition it is supposed to cure. In addition, the condition itself is clearly dubious, and the kids getting treated are often the ones who question teachers and authority. Invariably, these kids are drugged into submission.
THE WAR ON KIDS shows how schools are authoritarian institutions that by their nature cannot be reformed. Children are subjected to the most invasive forms of control and are deprived of the most basic and fundamental human rights that are afforded even to prisoners of war. The net effect is chilling not just for the kids who are subjected to these extreme forms of control, but also for American society’s future as a generation grows up with no first hand experience or understanding of civil rights in a democracy.
Director: Cevin Soling
Executive Producer: Cevin Soling
Producer: Jeremy Carr, Dawn Fidrick, and Cevin Soling
Cinematographer: Jeremy Carr
Editor: Jeremy Carr
Music: Martin Trum
Press and Awards
Best Educational Documentary – NY International Independent Film and Video Festival
Featured on The Colbert Report and MSNBC
“A shocking chronicle of institutional dysfunction” – New York Times
“A startling wake-up call about appalling conditions prevailing in American schools” – Variety
“Must-see documentary” – The Huffington Post