There’s an old joke. Driving around New York City, a tourist rolls down his window and asks a passerby “Excuse me, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer: “Practice, practice, practice!”
“Suspensions and expulsions often disengage and disconnect students from school, feed students into the juvenile system and criminalize children at increasingly younger ages: instigating a Cradle to Prison Pipeline. Harsh and punitive policies, including zero tolerance and the overuse of suspension and expulsion, can devastate the lives of children. We are committed to educational equity and reform to ensure the highest quality education for all students.
“In 2013 and 2014, AASA and The Children’s Defense Fund entered a partnership to explore alternative school district practices and system wide solutions for school leaders to bring back to their districts. This initiative was funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies….”
One of the school districts supported by this initiative has been Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“A group of Pennsylvania teachers is sharing horror stories of getting beaten up by pupils as young as 6 — and begging their school district for help.
“I have been kicked, punched, hit, scratched. I’ve had a student physically restraining me in front of my other students… And many of the personal things that I have bought for my classroom have been broken or destroyed,” first-grade teacher Amanda Sheaffer told the Harrisburg school board at its meeting Monday, according to the news website PennLive.
“Many minutes are spent each day dealing with violence that is happening in the classroom,” Sheaffer said. “How am I supposed to have a safe, nurturing learning environment when this behavior happens?”
“Sheaffer was one of about a half-dozen elementary school teachers and several parents who implored the board for help in dealing with increasingly violent and troubled kids.
“We aren’t complaining. We are here begging for help so that we can help those students,” said Harrisburg Education Association president Jody Barksdale.
“Barksdale represents some of the teachers asking for help and brought similar concerns to the board in January, according to PennLive.
“At least 45 teachers resigned between July and October because of kids terrorizing their classrooms, Barksdale claimed, according to Fox 43.
“Teachers and students are being hit, kicked, slapped, scratched, cussed at … and observing other students flip over tables, desks and chairs,” she said. “Teachers have had to take the rest of their class into the hallway to protect them during these outbursts. Not much has changed since last January.”
Indeed, these include schools (Harrisburg, PA) in which the disciplinary reforms had been instituted only a few years ago. It is clear that the students have learned something: they have learned that there are no meaningful consequences for misbehavior at these schools. It is not yet clear whether the administrators have learned anything.
I teach in a law school. For several years now my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.
They cannot learn until their minds are freed from that prison. This year …, I found my students especially impervious to the ancient wisdom of foundational texts, such as Plato’s Crito and the Code of Hammurabi. Many of them were quick to dismiss unfamiliar ideas as “classist” and “racist,” and thus unable to engage with those ideas on the merits. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, I decided to lay down some ground rules…
Here is the speech I gave them.
Before I can teach you how to reason, I must first teach you how to rid yourself of unreason. For many of you have not yet been educated. You have been dis-educated. To put it bluntly, you have been indoctrinated. Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.
Reasoning requires you to understand truth claims, even truth claims that you think are false or bad or just icky. … And reasoning requires coherence and logic. Most of you have been taught to embrace incoherence and illogic. You have learned to associate truth with your subjective feelings, which are neither true nor false but only yours, and which are constantly changeful.
…[Y]ou should not bother to tell us how you *feel* about a topic. Tell us what you *think* about it. If you can’t think yet, that’s O.K. Tell us what Aristotle thinks, or Hammurabi thinks, or H.L.A. Hart thinks. Borrow opinions from those whose opinions are worth considering. As Aristotle teaches us in the reading for today, men and women who are enslaved to the passions, who never rise above their animal natures by practicing the virtues, do not have worthwhile opinions. Only the person who exercises practical reason and attains practical wisdom knows how first to live his life, then to order his household, and finally, when he is sufficiently wise and mature, to venture opinions on how to bring order to the political community.
Accordingly, one of Professor MacLeod’s ground rules for his course is
If you ever begin a statement with the words “I feel,” before continuing you must cluck like a chicken or make some other suitable animal sound.
…Disagreement is not expressing one’s disapproval of something or expressing that something makes you feel bad or icky. To really disagree with someone’s idea or opinion, you must first understand that idea or opinion. When Socrates tells you that a good life is better than a life in exile you can neither agree nor disagree with that claim without first understanding what he means by “good life” and why he thinks running away from Athens would be unjust. Similarly, if someone expresses a view about abortion, and you do not first take the time to understand what the view is and why the person thinks the view is true, then you cannot disagree with the view, much less reason with that person. You might take offense. You might feel bad that someone holds that view. But you are not reasoning unless you are engaging the merits of the argument, just as Socrates engaged with Crito’s argument that he should flee from Athens.
Read the whole article here: http://tinyurl.com/yao5xyhe. Perhaps there are lessons for all of us.
The following article by Paul Day appeared in the Virginian-Pilot on October 29, 2017.
I APPRECIATE The Pilot exposing the student discipline problems in Virginia Beach schools. As a retired police officer and now a substitute teacher in Virginia Beach City Public Schools, I have witnessed firsthand the discipline problems in our schools.
I have seen students curse out teachers and threaten them with physical harm without any ramifications.
Technology can be a useful tool, but the use of cell phones and computers during class time has become a big problem. Students text each other during class, watch movies and more, yet teachers feel powerless to enforce discipline.
As The Pilot’s story said, teachers are fearful. They are fearful of reprisal if they speak out against the administration because they have been told to reduce the number of student referrals.
A recent teacher survey conducted by the Virginia Beach school division indicated that nearly one-third of students in Virginia Beach middle and high schools do not know the consequences of misbehavior. The survey also found that one-third of middle and high students do not respect their teachers. If boundaries are not set and consequences not given for breaking the rules, discipline problems will continue to worsen.
Teachers have an increased workload due to larger class sizes. They are required to take more professional learning courses, and they have testing requirements that can be overwhelming. Recently, teachers were required to complete cultural awareness training, which is part of the administration’s effort to reduce suspensions of minority students.
“Restorative justice” is the term used for the new discipline procedures being used in Virginia Beach schools and in other school systems across the country. It focuses on mediation and agreement rather than punishment. Teachers become counselors, along with all the other tasks they have been assigned. It’s amazing that teachers have time to actually teach lessons, grade papers and assist students with their educational needs.
On Nov. 13, 2015, the Virginia Department of Education issued a directive for schools to implement different strategies for student discipline. These strategies include PBIS (Positive-Behavioral Intervention and Supports). This directive states that exclusionary discipline practices (punishment and suspensions) have a negative impact on the learning environment.
I wholeheartedly disagree with Virginia Beach School Board member Trenace Riggs’ opinion that teachers need more training in developing relationships. I would counter that not providing punishments to unruly students has a very negative effect on the ability of teachers to teach effectively and for well-behaved students to learn. I also disagree with Superintendent Aaron Spence’s statement that “the discipline process should not be about punishment.” There must be consequences for misbehavior when students break the rules.
It is not the role of government to counsel students and teach them how to behave. That is the role of the parent. If the parent is notified of a student discipline problem and the behavior does not change, then ultimately the parent is the one responsible for the student’s actions, not the government. It is the role of the government to provide a safe learning environment for all students and to enforce the rules set forth by the School Board.
These problems are only getting worse because local officials are not addressing them and are not holding students and parents accountable. Parents need to speak out and get informed about what is happening in our schools and demand that discipline be enforced.
I encourage Pilot readers to write to the Virginia Beach School Board and demand that its members come up with a solution to these concerns shared by teachers. Student discipline and safety should be a priority.
VB SPARK Education Association, a new organization, allows the voices of parents, teachers, staff, students and community members to be heard on issues that affect the city’s students. Addressing student discipline problems in our schools is at the top of SPARK’s agenda.
Last week Kris Allen wrote an intriguing article for the Richmond Times Dispatch titled “What Public Schools Could Learn from Amazon’s Move into Groceries.” Allen, who is President of the Virginia Education Coalition, wrote that
“Education and grocery stores are different businesses, but both have much to learn from Amazon. Like traditional grocers, public education’s business model is based on a command-and-control, geographically based, product delivery system that has worked the same for decades. Both take advantage of technology to improve their business model, but in different ways. Grocers use technology to minimize product delivery costs to the store, squeeze 2 percent profit margin from high-volume sales, and compete on price. Public education uses technology to expand and enable its administrative state, increase cost, and compete as a geographic monopoly…
“Amazon’s disruption of the grocery industry is possible because, in a free market, competitive advantage depends upon product differentiation and the lowest cost to deliver the value proposition; firms that provide complementary or substitute products are allowed; and competitors’ barriers to market entry and exit are low. Unlike public education competitors, Amazon entered the grocery industry without being required to build a chain of brick-and-mortar stores, which were required by law to serve a specific zip code — nor was it subjected to compliance with ubiquitous and ever-growing requirements imposed upon it by the industry it disrupted.
“…A similar positive disruption in public education is possible, if the barriers-to-entry are eliminated and parents are allowed to choose their child’s mode of education.”
Allen then cites the example of Summit Public Schools, a charter school with operations in the San Francisco Bay area and in Washington State. Summit’s pedagogical model is individualized, project-based, and self-directed. Teachers, mentors and technological resources provide support and content delivery.
The article concludes
“The Summit model is scalable, inclusive, and effective. Today, nine schools are in operation, serving 2,500 students in grades 6 through 12. Eighty percent of [the students] are non-white; 42 percent are low-income; and 12 percent are English language learners. Per pupil expenditure is $7,000, compared to Virginia’s $11,745. Ninety-six percent of Summit’s graduates are accepted to four-year colleges. If Virginians want educational outcomes like Summit’s, they must demand that elected representatives remove the barriers to entry for non-traditional educational solutions.”
This is definitely something to consider as we approach the Virginia gubernatorial election. Read the whole thing here: http://tinyurl.com/y9eaxj8j.
An article in today’s Virginian-Pilot (https://tinyurl.com/y8wdvyo2) informs us that “Virginia Beach schools see a drop in suspensions. But teachers feel less safe.” These changes have followed the adoption of certain disciplinary practices that have already been implemented in numerous other school districts throughout the country. Termed “restorative justice,” these practices seek to reduce the number of suspensions by employing alternative interventions. Such an intervention could range from a teacher-student dialogue to a more formal conference involving students, staff, teachers and family members; in any case, the goal is to encourage students to reflect on their actions, take responsibility for them, and resolve to be better behaved in the future.
Although the number of suspensions has gone down in the past year, this reduction has come at a price. According to the Pilot, “more than 1 in 8 teachers said their school did not provide a safe and orderly place to learn,” about double the ratio from the previous year. The article continues, “Some students are more comfortable acting out…because they’re not worried about punishment.”
Let’s have a look at the effects that these disciplinary policy changes have had in other school districts. In New York City, according to a study published by the Manhattan Institute, there have been fewer suspensions; however, there have been dramatic increases in violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. Furthermore, the non-elementary schools with the greatest percentage of minority students have suffered the worst declines in climate. The same study reports that in Chicago, a teacher told the Chicago Tribune that the new disciplinary policies resulted in “a totally lawless few months” at her school. Says Max Eden, the study’s author, students in Denver threatened to harm or kill teachers “with no meaningful consequences” under the new practices. A teacher is quoted as saying “classes are being disrupted, student learning is being decreased…in all grade levels” in the Omaha World-Herald. In Oklahoma City, “Good students are now suffering because of the abuse and issues plaguing these classrooms.” (See the full report here: https://tinyurl.com/ybggk628.)
It is clear that these are not trends we would like to see in the Virginia Beach schools. Disciplinary policy reform for reducing the number of suspensions is a laudable goal. The challenge, as ever, is to reduce the number of disciplinary cases by getting to their organic causes. This should not be done at the expense of school climate and classroom safety. Let us work with the school administration, teacher advocacy groups, our elected officials, and other concerned members of the community to ensure that these policy reforms are truly in the best interests of our children and teachers.