Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The core of the problem

***WARNING: Bad language follows***

As I usually do (being a schoolteacher and all), I have been giving a lot of thought into why our nation's school system is circling the drain; especially when considering the fact that test scores show that the longer our students are in our nation's schools, the more academically incompetent they become.

I'm sure you have heard all the usual reasons: not enough money for our schools; the achievement gap; kids in poverty; teachers' low expectations of the students; poor teacher training; constructivist education where the students are expected to teach themselves. Believe me, all of these play some part (except for the excuse of the schools not getting enough money - they are getting more money than ever before).

However, when you look past the symptoms and begin looking for the disease, your view of our educational system can look much more clear if you compare our system of today to our system of yesteryear when our nation's schools were the envy of the world. What changed? Among other things, what changed was the whole idea of why our students are in school in the first place. In the last few decades, there has been an undeniable shift in the whole purpose of our schools from that of an academic institution to that of a social institution. Say all you want about our current obsession with standards and test scores; none of that matters as long as the current mission of schools continues to be to keep as many of our kids in these places no matter what the cost. A good way to illustrate this point is to compare discipline policies. What would have happened to a high school or junior high school student in 1960 if he or she had cussed out or otherwise verbally abused a teacher? The default would have been instant and permanent expulsion. How about today? I can give you examples from my own campus, and I can assure you that the situation is similar on tens of thousands of other campuses across our nation. Frankly, it takes a heck of a lot more bad behavior to be permanently removed from school today, than fifty years ago. Because of this, we have a multitude of students who, even though they make up a small minority, are tearing apart the solemn academic environment that could exist if they were permanently removed. But they are not. Keeping in mind what would have happened to these students fifty years ago, take a look at just a few examples of the behavior of some students at my site and what their punishment ended up being for their transgression(s):
  • "[the student] got upset and yelled out loud at me, "You better not be yelling at me, Nigga!" I sent him out of the classroom to the VP's office. On his way out, he exclaimed, "I don't care about this bitch ass nigga." - The student received a two-day teacher suspension from the classroom, and even though the administration received a referral from the teacher, no administrative suspension or expulsion hearing was administered.
  • ...[the student] called me a "crackhead". She was given a consequence earlier this year for calling a teacher a "bitch." - This student received a one day suspension from school for this incident.
  • The sub in his math class sent a referral for [the student]. He was disruptive, Talked to another student and was constantly off task. He told [the sub] to "shut up" and later said, " women never shut-up." He also made a verbal slur saying she had a "Mexican mustache." - This student received a one-day classroom suspension from the teacher, even though a referral was turned in to the administration.
  • [the student] responded to the teacher saying, "stop all that nonsense," by saying, "You are nonsense and I should drop you." - This student received a two-day suspension from school.
  • [the student] was observed hanging out of the bus window as she yelled at a student passing by on the sidewalk to "lick my ass!" I boarded the bus and told the student to come with me to the office. The student refused to leave the bus until she was told the bus would not leave with her on it. Once off the bus, the student refused to follow my instructions to follow me to the office, instead, walking away from me. I followed the student and continued to instruct her to follow me to the office. The student then yelled a string of profanities at me that included multiple uses of the the words "fuck" "fucking" and "motherfucker." - This student received a three-day suspension from school.
Once again, I ask you to imagine the fate that awaited these students at your average high school or junior high school in 1960. Do you imagine their punishment would have stopped at a mere few days of suspension?

With this modern-day mindset permeating our educational system: that it is essentially acceptable for students to talk to teachers this way, it is perfectly natural that you are not going to see a lot of excellence in our schools. You cannot expect students to do well in school if they are surrounded by these kinds of disturbances all day, every day. Keep in mind that these are merely the disruptions that were actually reported. A long slow burn of behavior like this is the norm in so many of our schools - even schools that are thought to be quality campuses in desirable locations.

Now, why is this behavior tolerated like it is? That brings us to the next big problem, and that is our lawmakers. So many legal protections have been instituted to keep these students from facing the consequences of their actions, that to act the way they do has become practically painless. The painful truth is that the default behavior of young people can be quite savage unless there is some kind of outside influence to contain their natural instincts. That is what we adults are for, but as the adults in charge of our nation's schools, we have been hogtied by state education codes that create a labyrinthine set of rules to which we must comply before a disruptive student can finally be dealt with. And even then, when a student is actually expelled, he is, more often than not, back the following school year. So an expulsion isn't even an expulsion anymore.

I have a student who is currently serving a five-day suspension for bringing a steak knife to school. This is his second offense now for bringing a knife. Last year, he was kicked out of summer school for bringing a knife and actually threatening other students with it, including even chasing them. Not only that, this student was expelled from school last year for exposing his genitals to a girl on the bus. This was the second time he had exposed his genitals to a girl, and he also has been in trouble for touching girls in inappropriate ways. But there's more. This student has received multiple suspensions this year for leading a little posse of cohorts on our campus and randomly attacking smaller, weaker students, including one assault that was caught on one of our school's video cameras. After this latest incident with the knife, the admin referral that I read on our system says this student "will possibly be recommended for expulsion." This latest five-day suspension now gives him a total of 19 days this year that he has been suspended from school. Keep in mind, that after all I have told you that this student has done, he continues to sit in our classrooms and patrol our campus every day, intimidating other students and making miserable the lives of students and teachers alike.

Lawmakers and squishy high-level administrators will tell you that students like this must be kept in school because by law, all kids have a legal right to a free and appropriate public education, and that keeping him out of the classroom or the school is violating that right. My retort is to always ask about the effect on other students and their right to that same education when they are being abused and intimidated by this student and many others just like him.

It was when public education went from being a privilege to being a right that we lost our educational system in this country and we began losing generations of Americans to the personal prison of ignorance and our country to a path toward decline.

What was it Thomas Jefferson famously said? "A nation that expects to be ignorant and free... expects what never was and never will be."

Good Day to You, Sir


Anonymous said...


JoAnn said...

As a former teacher with many friends who still teach, I am so disgusted with our educational system. My best friend just left her position as a para-educater in a mod-severe class due to the lawsuit threats from the parents. Even the kids (6-8th) would yell in the adult's faces and let them know that they were going to get their a** sued off! After a boy came to school with a screwdriver and hurt a young mute girl with it, the school gave the boy a day suspension with in-house detention. My friend told the girl's mother about the incident (since the girl is a mute) which made the administration angry. But my friend hoped that this girl's mother would sue the school for a safe environment for her daughter as the bullies control the campus. The schools are so afraid of the lawsuits that they allow certain students to abuse, violate and bully other students and even adults (I won't go into the student who assaulted an aide in class!).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for shoring up my sometimes weak resolve to support my wife homeschooling our children.


Anonymous said...

The "students" don't care about education, the parents want their kids to be treated like little members of royalty, even as they and the parents treat the teachers like garbage. They sit in the classroom and take up space with no aspirations for the future and no concern about the present. I am expected to treat them all with love and kindness although they treat the world with cruelty. Unless we actually begin to require these children to behave like students they will never accomplish anything and America will fall into the toilet.

Anonymous said...

I finished my sophomore year of high school in 1960. There were no consequences for language such as that in my high school simply because THERE WAS NO LANGUAGE LIKE THAT IN MY HIGH SCHOOL! In 1961, the night before graduation, two boys pulled a prank and climbed onto the roof of the school. They were caught and immediately expelled from school. They did not attend graduation: they did not get their diplomas: they did not graduate. EVER! Justice was sure and swift. It was a great school. Safety was not even thought of because it was simply accepted as being.

The Vegas Art Guy said...

One problem my school faces is that we have 2 deans for 2400 students. They literally cannot stay caught up. We've expelled and BPd several dozen students (BP is when they are sent to a behavioral program school), and it's going to get worse with the budget situation.
Finally you forgot to mention the loverly parents who swear their kids are 'angels' and would never do anything wrong...

Darren said...

Here's a similar tale.

Ahermitt said...

Thanks for your entry to the Carnival of Educators:

Polski3 said...

Very well said.