Wednesday, December 10, 2014

School "discipline" talk a sham unless teaching and home environment enters the discussion.

Does anyone around here remember the “controversy” stirred up by the Kent school district over the policy of security personnel putting handcuffs on kids as young as six for talking back to teacher, as if they were felons? Remember how the local NAACP tried to make an issue of it and have it stopped, while the bleach-blonde white female school district administrator stood steadfast in defending the policy—most likely because this Republican wasn’t going to “pushed around” by some “radical” black group? Remember how she and the district went on a public relations scam, claiming that Kent “embraced” diversity? Of course you don’t; after all, some people actually supported handcuffing kids if it served a “disciplinary” function—and teach the “punks” a lesson. 

Kent seems to have quietly done away with the handcuffing kids policy, but some things never change. A recent Seattle Times story talks about Kent’s “disciplined” approach to school punishment. The piece starts off by talking about a couple of kids, judging from their names, probably white—Times reporters don’t talk to minority kids—who claimed that they were “attacked” and subsequently suspended or threatened with such for being “victims.” What—“attacked” for no reason? They and their friends were not talking “smack” to the wrong people? There are no racist “cliques” in Republican Kent schools? 

The Times reporter does mention the handcuffing issue, but it seems that as long as it was only minorities who were complaining, who cared? It is only when white parents start complaining about their kids being “disciplined” when trying to “protect” themselves from said minorities that now something has to be “done.” White kids have to be protected from punishment and their own deception; “discipline” has to be “tailored” to ensnare only the “guilty”—meaning minority kids.
But give Times reporter Claudia Rowe her just due; she knows how to write a soufflé of a paragraph straight from a third level English class:

“Instead of the old, zero-tolerance approach, principals now have more discretion to weigh the factors behind kids’ behavior. School-safety officers act as mediators rather than just security guards. And many of the violations that once sent teenagers home for a week, or a month, get addressed through in-school suspension — generally, a drab classroom where students spend entire days reflecting on their poor choices and, in theory, keeping up with classwork.”

Uh, maybe. But while there is a lot of talk about how suspensions for sometimes obscurely defined crimes like  “disobedience” and “defiance”—in fact, it seems the majority of “discipline” is due to such cases—and lengthy suspensions of a month or more do nothing to advance “learning,” the core issue is never really discussed, just touched on by the following observation by black students who were chronic “offenders,” as related to the reporter through a detention hall “mediator”: 

“They talked about teachers giving them the sense that they couldn’t achieve, that we had given up on them.” It was also noted that these kids saw detention less as “punishment” than as just a respite from the school “routine”; some students had done nothing at all sometimes joined them for the peace and quiet.

That probably more than anything else explains the problem. And it isn’t just teachers who just do rote work every day, who just do their “job” and if a student doesn’t observationally seem to “care” or isn’t learning, then that’s his problem. The teacher goes home every night and doesn’t have to worry about it, or his or her job. If a few kids get “As” in class, that’s “proof” enough that it isn’t their “teaching” that is the problem.
And, of course, it goes beyond even any of that. It all really starts in the home. Many parents of these kids have attitudes toward education that are little more elevated, and see school as just a free form of day care, or just to get the kids away from them. They might get mad at their kids for being disciplined or suspended, but that just means that they are either at home or on the street getting into more trouble. These kids and their problems have to be addressed early, before they get to high school. Everyone is capable of learning, and innate practicality and common sense which allows a person to function in the workplace (even if they are not as rote memory “smart” as the kid who was sitting next to them in class years ago, but now doing the same mundane job), can be taken advantage of in teaching as well

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