Scene from the 1962 Orson Welles film 'The Trial' based on the novel by Franz Kafka
In Virginia a middle school student named Ryan Turk was arrested and then suspended from school for allegedly stealing a $0.65 carton of milk. Officials claim that the student tried to conceal the carton of milk and are also charging him with larceny. This charge could impinge Turk's record which could also lead to further difficulties down the line.


Comment: "Like a dog!" he said, it was as if the shame of it should outlive him." ― Franz Kafka, The Trial


According to the arresting officer, Turk was acting "erratic" while he arrested the middle school student and Turk claims he "yanked away from him" and told him that the officer wasn't his father. Turk was later searched for drugs in the principal's office because of his behavior which involved laughing and fidgeting.

Both of these things contributed to Turk not only being suspended for theft but also for being "disrespectful".

But there's a problem: Ryan Turk is on the free lunches program.

So even if we could excuse the way that Turk was treated for "stealing" a milk carton, the reality is that there was no justification for the Graham Park Middle School to keep these charges against him. Instead, the school has decided to reinforce the rough handling of the student by appealing to "cellphone use" and "disrespect".


Comment: "I see, these books are probably law books, and it is an essential part of the justice dispensed here that you should be condemned not only in innocence but also in ignorance." ― Franz Kafka, The Trial


The latter of these two things was a perfectly normal response to a ridiculous and controlling situation. Students should not have to feel unsafe and micromanaged in places where they are supposed to be learning. The way the officer handled someone who was presumably much younger and weaker than them speaks to the mindset that you are instilled with as a police officer.


Comment: "In front of the law there is a doorkeeper. A man from the countryside comes up to the door and asks for entry. But the doorkeeper says he can't let him in to the law right now. The man thinks about this, and then he asks if he'll be able to go in later on. "That's possible," says the doorkeeper, "but not now". The gateway to the law is open as it always is, and the doorkeeper has stepped to one side, so the man bends over to try and see in. When the doorkeeper notices this he laughs and says, "If you're tempted give it a try, try and go in even though I say you can't. Careful though: I'm powerful. And I'm only the lowliest of all the doormen. But there's a doorkeeper for each of the rooms and each of them is more powerful than the last. It's more than I can stand just to look at the third one." ― Franz Kafka, The Trial


Turk's mother, Shamise Turk, summed up the charge of larceny well, "They are charging him with larceny, which I don't have no understanding as to why he is being charged with larceny when he was entitled to that milk from the beginning,"

But even if Turk hadn't been entitled to the milk, would charging a student with a crime that could go on their record the best way to handle this? Is the first option that this police officer had to forcefully pull at someone much younger than them? Couldn't the officer have simply asked Turk if he was entitled to the program or not?


Comment: "They're talking about things of which they don't have the slightest understanding, anyway. It's only because of their stupidity that they're able to be so sure of themselves." ― Franz Kafka, The Trial


The lack of administrative oversight and unfair treatment of Turk and his family brings to attention the lack of control students and their parents have over state-run school systems. Students are compelled by law to attend these institutions and then are subject to many rules and policies that they never had any say in.


Comment: "The books we need are of the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that makes us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, lost in a forest remote from all human habitation" ― Franz Kafka, The Trial


These policies and rules are then enforced by overbearing police officers and administrators who allegedly just want what's "best" for the students. But the students are the ones who are more likely to know what is best for themselves, not the administrators, police officers or indeed, adults in general.


Comment: "No," said the priest, "you don't need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary." "Depressing view," said K. "The lie made into the rule of the world."Franz Kafka, The Trial


These facts explain the long-running success of self-directed learning within the Sudbury Valley School (SVS) in Framingham, Massachusetts which has existed for over 40 years. SVS has over these decades dedicated itself to allowing for an environment that encourages students to express themselves as freely as possible without harming others.

There are no grades, homework or bureaucratic and authoritarian administrative regimes to force the students into compliance. Students are encouraged to ask questions and use the time they have at the school in whatever way they want. Sometimes students use this time to just play outside or play video games and other times they use this time to read.

Whatever they decide to do, students often make the most out of these opportunities because they are responsible for them. There are staff members who are there to be helpful facilitators but their role starts and stops there. Students often learn how to read, write and do basic math either through play, direct experience or through the usual learning process, but on their terms.

If we want to build a world where administrators can't treat students as if they're their property over a carton of free milk, then we should consider alternatives such as democratic schooling. In addition, unschooling and homeschooling are other alternatives that give much more power and control to youth as opposed to adults, who'll continue to think that they know what's best.


Comment: "If he stayed at home and carried on with his normal life he would be a thousand times superior to these people and could get any of them out of his way just with a kick." ― Franz Kafka, The Trial