Recently on the “Anomalies” Klat blog I posted an article entitled “To the time out room,” a succinct reminiscence of a place once located inside Southwood Elementary in Bloomington, Minnesota when it played host to a pilot program named Family Focus in the 1980s. Targeted at special needs students, these kinds of school rooms have been defended in some circles as providing a means to protect staff and students. It is not just my opinion but bitter personal experience that leads me to believe they must be banned instead.
As I noted in my post to “Anomalies,” Family Focus had a four-step disciplinary program. If you crossed the line in class, you got a “reminder;” if you crossed it a second time you got a “check mark;” if you crossed it a third time, you got stuck into a cubbyhole equipped with a hard plastic chair where a timer was placed before you set for either three or five minutes. If you crossed the line after that treatment, it was off to the “time out room.”
The “time out room” was located in a converted classroom located at the head of the T-shaped hallway system in the building. It was filled with more cubbyholes equipped with hard plastic chairs as well as their heaviest artillery: two cubbyholes with narrow rectangular windows which you would get locked into for the same amount of time as in the cubbyholes.
Did I ever wind up in one of those cubbyholes or booths because my behavior threatened myself or others? No! Not once was I banging my head on my desk, trying to cut myself, or seeking to attack somebody.
In my “Anomalies” post I wrote that I got into trouble because I had (and still have) a hard time with strict rules and was in general rebellious over having to be at Family Focus, but that is a generalization. The nitty gritty facts as to why I would get into trouble stemmed from frequent outburst of crying when I was frustrated, scared, or just plain overloaded. I got no sympathy, even from my counselor, one Thomas Cook. All they wanted me to do was shut up and conform, and whenever I wouldn’t, the vicious cycle of reminder, check mark, time out, and getting hauled off down the hall would revolve again and again.
The memories that linger aren’t pleasant. The most unpleasant of the bunch is the day that I stood before a man seated at the desk by the time out room door. He had curly black hair and wore dress pants, a white shirt, and a black tie. I still remember with extreme distaste how he looked at me with stern eyes and asked an equally stern voice “Are you ready to go to the film festival?” To which I replied in a trembling voice “What?” as I recoiled inwardly at the very thought of having to attend yet another school activity with the power to send me into sensory overload thanks to the kids and adults almost always whooping with laughter at whatever flick was playing and tearing the heck out of my concentration in the process. My memory is dim, but I do believe his words set off a wild round of crying and agitation from me, though I can’t remember if I was punished or got dragged to the classroom showing the movie.
At best that man had looked at me like I was some kind of troublemaker, or a wild animal at worst. Regardless, wherever he is now … well, I don’t send him my regards because I think he ought to be ashamed of the way he treated me, because I am not a wild animal but a human being!
Some of my memories from when they would shove me into one of the booths are downright surreal. I remember once defacing the wall of one of those with my spit because I had nothing else to do as I resisted whatever they were forcing on me that day; another time I actually slept in that hellish contraption until a boy locked up in the other booth began calling my name. The staff quickly quashed our attempts at conversation like we were prisoners in a cell block.
All the times I got hauled down the hall to that room severely taxed me both emotionally and physically. While the punishments they meted out did not break me because I am stubborn to the core of my very being, the sensation of being helplessly hauled off by force despite my desperate attempts to break the grip of the teacher’s assistant hauling me down there ultimately inflicted emotional harm. In fact that experience, coupled with the fact that my father as an abusive bully, gave rise to two great emotions within as I grew older: a deep sense of being unable to protect myself from anyone or anything, and a deep sense of mistrust in other people which helped stunt friendships.
Call them what you will: “seclusion room,” “time out room,” whatever. Based upon my own experience and what I have read of others, I believe they must be banned from all schools both public and private. They are little better than what you would find in jail, or a POW camp, and contribute nothing to the growth and development of our children because they are a legal form of child abuse.