Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Friday, March 02, 2007

What can we do about out-of-control schools?

That is a question asked by The Quaker Agitator. I have some answers. Not answers that he, as a practitioner of non-violence, is likely to agree with, but answers.
  1. Acknowledge that for a significant number of students, the correct environment is more akin to a juvenile detention center than to a traditional school. This isn't a popular notion, but I should not have been required to teach students who had probation officers due to having committed violent crimes. Neither my principal nor myself had the training nor the backup personnel or facilities available to deal with violent criminals. These students need to be in a more institutional setting where there are personnel trained to deal with violent criminals and "timeout cells" available for removing violent criminals to spend time if they disrupt a class. They don't need to be in neighborhood schools where they disrupt the education of children who wish to learn.
  2. Fix the system of discipline for special education students. The current system gives perverse incentives to principals to refuse to discipline said students, because if the student is suspended or expelled the district is require to provide home schooling for the student, and the money to do so is taken directly out of the school's budget. With 20% of students now "officially" being classified as ADHD, there is a hard core of "special ed" students who will basically tell you, as a teacher, "you can't discipline me" -- and they're right.
  3. Fix the system for financing schools. Right now, schools are financed on either a per-pupil or average-daily-attendance basis depending upon the state. This gives a principal a perverse incentive to not expel (or in ADA states suspend) a violent student, because if he expels a violent student, he loses money for educating the kid. Losing $6,000 out of the school's budget due to expelling a single student might mean, for example, that the school is no longer able to purchase toner for the copiers, we're talking a big deal here. Principals should continue to receive money for students who've been expelled or suspended due to discipline infractions.
  4. Fix the basis for assessing principals' performance in the discipline arena. Discipline assessment should not be done by counting up the number of suspensions and expulsions and patting the principals on the head if they have fewer suspensions and expulsions than their peers. Assessment of principals should be done by, for example, issuing survey forms to teachers where said survey forms are then turned in anonymously so that they cannot be tracked to a particular teacher (otherwise retaliation becomes an issue). Principals should not be rewarded for ignoring discipline problems, but currently they are.
  5. Quit deferring to criminal parents. I'm serious. There are a significant number of parents who have been convicted of violent crimes, who are currently drug abusers, or otherwise not suited to make any sort of positive contribution to the education of their children. Yet when their child is disciplined, they are quick to come to the defense of their child in ways both legal and non-legal, both with threats of violence (mock drive-by shootings are quite effective there) and with threats of legal action. In many cases the principal and school administrators back down. Instead, those parents need to be arrested for making threats, and there should be mandatory jail time for threatening school personnel, rather than the current situation where at best a judge will fuss at them and fine them. Violence is one area where I support the notion of zero tolerance.
  6. Require local police departments and judges to properly protect schools from violent criminals. Often local police departments simply refuse to respond when a principal or teacher calls them due to violent crime happening on-campus, basically saying "none of our business." But violence is the reason police departments exist in the first place. If a student is behaving in a violent manner, the police need to respond, and if they do not, there needs to be a legal infrastructure in place so that top police department personnel can be punished for refusing to respond.
  7. End the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs rewards kids for violent behavior, as they use violence to defend their "turf" from others who would sell drugs in that neighborhood. Often this violent behavior is brought into the schools themselves. We need to quit rewarding violence.
Some of these are going to be controversial. The notion that children can be violent criminals who need to be treated like violent criminals, for example, is offensive to many people who insist that children are innocents and not capable of evil. But reality doesn't care about us being offended. Reality simply is.

Chances of ANY of this happening? None. Nada. No way. Everybody prefers to simply stick their head in the sand and refuse to admit we have a problem with violence in our schools. Far, far better to ignore the problem than admit that it is a problem, and that we're going to have to spend time, effort, and money implementing often-controversial proposals in order to solve it. And so it goes here in the United States of Delusion, where reality is something that other people worry about...

-- Badtux the Former Teacher Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/02/2007 12:40:00 PM  


Badtux, I couldn't agree more. Your experiences as a teacher come disturbingly close to mine as a cop, dealing with criminal kids, criminal parents, and a system that, by and large, doesn't care and can't be bothered to care.

I think a lot of this stems from what I've heard referred to as the "Lake Wobegon philosophy"... "all the children are aboce average." It is our generation (since I assume we are roughly the same age... err, 40+) that is probably most at fault. We were the ones who took the lessons of the 60's and 70's and tried to apply them to our children. I think we can all agree THAT didn't work too well.

I notice you mention ADHD. I have a question for you (and for other commenters): do you think the increase in ADHD diagnoses is due to:
(a) an actual increase in the number of cases,
(b) better screening identifying cases that might have been missed previously, or
(c) arbitrarily "diagnosing" ADHD in kids who aren't hyperactive, but rather are bored by the dumbed-down schools they have to endure?
# posted by andrew618 : 2/3/07 3:18 PM  

Well, I would probably be diagnosed as ADHD if I were in today's schools. You know the drill, bright, can't sit still, underperforms in school, yada yada. But hanging that label on me wouldn't have made me perform any better in school or anything, it would have just made my parents feel better. Since I don't give a shit whether people "feel good" or not -- all I care about is results -- most (but not all) ADHD diagnosis don't make any sense to me. The kid doesn't learn any more because he's got that label on him, it just makes his parents feel better.

That said, there are kids who go beyond this stereotype and have actual physical problems that require interventions beyond what are normally done in a regular classroom. I taught some of these kids, most of them were born addicted to drugs and have other associated problems due to that prenatal drug use, but there were some just born that way. Insofar as we're catching these kids too due to the "big net" being cast for ADHD, it's a good thing. But by and large, I think most of the current ADHD diagnosing isn't useful and probably reflects an overly broad definition of ADHD thanks to the current "feel good" culture where, if a kid is performing below his ability, the parents want an excuse to make them feel good.

I might add that the discipline situation doesn't help ADHD kids either. With so many disruptions in the classroom, it is damnably hard for ADHD kids to stay on task. Recent changes caused by Every Child Left Behind and such don't help either, since they force drill-and-kill tactics upon teachers in order to get the required test scores. And finally, some kids just aren't cut out for the regular classroom environment due to basic disposition. In days past they dropped out around 8th grade or so to go to work or to go to vocational school, but now we're keeping them in school until age 18. We're doing neither these kids nor the schools a favor by doing so... we need to either provide an alternative learning environment for them, or admit that some kids simply aren't cut out for schooling, and find some other place for them in our society.
# posted by BadTux : 2/3/07 4:13 PM  

Yes, I probably would have been diagnosed ADHD also, and for the same reasons. Underperforming in school, in my case, was reading 4-5 years beyond my grade level (if not more). I knew I was in trouble when I went from a private school in NYC -- where we bought our textbooks -- to a reasonably good public school in Connecticut to a normal public school in CT... and used the same English book for three years running.

And now to really put you on the spot: which of the three choices do you think is correct? Or is there a fourth I missed?

And for what it's worth, the captcha thingie spelled out "eeuuuu"! Pretty good commentary from an auto-generated thing.
# posted by andrew618 : 2/3/07 4:23 PM  

1. Everyone has to put money back into the system. They cannot learn if the building is falling apart around them.
2. Limit class room sizes. Write that into the national program. Start and stop there for that national program. 20 is a good max about 4 times what a good manager can handle. And teach the teacher to be a manager.
3. Stop all this rewriting of the text books. changing our history. Bad, teach truth to power like we were taught as children. Teach critical thinking.
4. Respect them, they are our future leaders, they have to know how to run our country and the business they are going to have to start. Our current businesses are all running out of country to make money from us.
5. Start working on your cities to limit TIFF, cut back as much as possible, make the business show you what is necessary and the ideal for them to make money in the future.
6. Tell those business that they cannot sell unless they pay money for wages, it keeps the parents at home longer, maybe they will start cooling little johnnies heels. And he will learn.

see ideas aren't hard to come up with, money and time from the parents is, they have to "work" not for enjoyment but for decreasing wages. So they get less involved.
Better screening don't work, because the quick way is to say they all need the drugs. Sunshine and rainbows mean less wages and creativity.
I was one of those bored kids, and I didn't have money so joco was for me. At times I had 3 jobs just to feed the family. And times were still tight.
See how far we have gone back since the "50"'s.
# posted by Anonymous : 2/3/07 5:45 PM  

Hey, I'm older than you kids, don't get me started.
# posted by BBC : 2/3/07 7:21 PM  

Well, Andrew, I have to say that it's hard to give an easy answer to your question. Yes, screening is better and more kids with ADHD are caught. Yes, there are kids diagnosed who have no actual problem. No, I don't think there's an actual increase in the number of "cases", I do think that we've defined ADHD to catch a lot of kids who actually have no disability other than "not compatible with the school system".

It's not a case of "dumbed-down school system" necessarily. There have just always been kids who aren't compatible with the way we teach school. All that has happened is that, while in earlier days they were tolerated in elementary school and allowed to drop out once they got past 6th grade, now we force them into classrooms that are ill suited for them, and rather than change the classroom, we try to change the kids.

As far as money goes, I've already mentioned the fact that money was a big reason why I left teaching. With my education I can make far more money in other jobs for far less work, not to mention not having to worry about violent students (I never had a student actually strike me, but that was more a matter of luck than anything else because I was definitely not shy about putting myself into situations where other teachers feared to go). But while money is important, you'd have to pay me a six figure salary before I consented to teach in today's schools again, and even then I'd have to think hard about it. Until we fix the schools, no amount of money is going to keep bright well-educated people in the teaching profession past their first few years of teaching, because the current system is just plain misery both for the teachers and for the students.

- Badtux the Former Teacher Penguin
# posted by BadTux : 2/3/07 10:07 PM  

I was reading this article and the whole time thinking about your post.
# posted by NewsBlog 5000 : 3/3/07 6:55 AM  

your points are very well taken. i have one sister who is a high school teacher in an arts academy setting, but she has done the classroom wars thing too. you're absolutely on target with the criminal behavior of some of the parents. that one even intruded on my home during the past year. the "rote learn and regurgitate on command" stuff is really killing the kids to boot. i have a niece who is 11 and often has two or three hours of "homework" each night. mainly consisting of rote drilling of the things mandated by the federal testing. that is taking a bright, curious and adventurous kid and turning her against not just school, but learning itself. one night while at my house she literally fell asleep over her math drills. i finished them for her. it was not learning, it was pounding the same concept over and over. it is very disturbing.
# posted by The Minstrel Boy : 3/3/07 8:16 AM  

Great ideas.
# posted by nunya : 4/3/07 5:47 PM  

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