To the Editor:
All teachers have experienced the task of getting students to behave while walking down the hall. Many find themselves confronting students who are talking and can’t keep their hands to themselves.
In response, many schools have adopted policies designed to remediate this issue. Yet there are a few schools that take this task to extremes—they force their students to walk in “ducktails,” where the children place their hands behind their backs so that each student creates an outline similar to a duck’s tail. The students must then “duck walk” down the hall. Many people find this offensive, especially when the practice occurs in high-poverty areas, where a majority of students are people of color, because it is reminiscent of prison culture.
For schools, the effects on students who are forced to walk in “ducktails” seems to be unimportant as long as the students are behaving in the manner deemed appropriate by those in authority. This leaves me to ask: Is it enough to simply evaluate “ducktails” based on outcomes, or should we also consider the psyches of the students?
In today’s world of police shootings and communities’ mistrust of authority, schools cannot continue to promote practices that undermine human dignity and restrict freedom. “Ducktail” walking as a tool for compliance does both. It takes away the human dignity of a K-5 student by indicating that he or she cannot be trusted to walk down the hall appropriately, and it restricts freedom without just cause. Simply put, these students must follow orders similar to those given in prisons.
The most damaging lesson educators can teach students is that their actions cannot change their situations or circumstances.
Anthony M. Rodriguez
Elementary and Special Education
A version of this article appeared in the March 25, 2015 edition of Education Week as ‘Ducktails’ Discipline: Disrespect Writ Large