Thursday, June 08, 2006

PESPD'S MYTH # 3: Education Should Be Every Student's Right

How can anyone argue against education being a right? I know how bad it sounds. It’s like arguing against Mom and apple pie. The idea of education being the right of every child sounds so good, but there’s one problem. It doesn’t work very well. It’s bad for schools, it’s bad for teachers, it’s bad for students who get stuck in classes with disruptive and apathetic students who ruin their education, and it’s even bad for most of the disruptive and apathetic students.

The way education is now treated as a right began with court rulings in the 1960s. First, the Supreme Court said that students don’t leave their rights at the schoolhouse door. Later, they declared education to be a student’s property right that can’t be taken away without due process of law. Then, they ruled that students could sue school officials who knew or should have known that they were denying students their due process rights. Congress and state legislatures couldn’t wait to jump on the students’ rights bandwagon, so they have passed legislation reinforcing this concept.

Philip K. Howard, in his book THE DEATH OF COMMON SENSE, argues that nothing has done more harm to public education than declaring education to be the student’s right. I agree. This has made it impossible for schools to deal effectively with most disruptive and apathetic students. It has led to horror stories like those described by Elizabeth in her post, THE DISASTER WE CALL PUBLIC EDUCATION. If a student brings a weapon to school, then that student might get expelled. But for anything else, it is either impossible or prohibitively expensive to do so.

Let me make myself clear. I have no problem with students having the right to enroll in our school, and I have no problem with them having the right to be treated fairly while they are here. But they should not have the right to just be here. That should be contingent on whether or not they are willing to make a reasonable effort to succeed, and whether or not they are willing to follow reasonable rules. If some kids are determined not to do those things, there is nothing good that can happen from their presence in school, and it should not cost thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees and court costs to get rid of them.

The rights of disruptive and apathetic students to remain in school has effectively taken away the right to an education for millions of students who actually wanted one since the Supreme Court made their rulings. But as I said earlier, this does no good for the disruptive and apathetic kids who are supposedly being protected, either.

Most students behave, in part, because they don’t want to get in trouble. They don’t want teachers to get angry with them, they don’t want to serve detention, and they definitely don’t want to be suspended. Disruptive kids aren’t deterred by any of these things, but many of them do want to remain in school. Most students want to earn good grades, and they want to avoid bad ones. Obviously, apathetic kids aren’t terribly motivated by grades, but again, many of them do want to remain in school.

I am convinced that many disruptive kids would improve their behavior, and many apathetic kids would actually start to make an effort if they thought there was a real possibility that they could get kicked out if they didn’t. Wouldn’t this be the best possible thing we could do for these kids? And if they are totally unwilling to change, what good does it do them to be in school?
I am all for offering incentives to troubled students to do well, and sometimes those incentives work. I am all for those few teachers who are so full of love and empathy that they can reach kids that nobody else can. Nevertheless, I think these "carrots" would be effective a lot more often if we also had a stick. As it is now, when it comes to dealing with disruptive and apathetic students, public education doesn’t have a stick.

6 Comments:

Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

Dennis, I think we're on a roll here...I'm agreeing *kinda* with you again.
I do think schools need more leverage when it comes to dealing with disruptive/apathetic students. Right now, what can we do? Suspend them for a couple days?
There are those students that even the most kindhearted and patient teacher cannot reach, even I can admit that. But I've seen those students work when they're on their last chance. Kick them out of a traditional school. Put them in a school where they have to either succeed or quit getting an education...from my experience, I can tell you which most of them will choose to do.

But schools have to be able to show students they're serious. Students can't get try, after try, after try, after try...because what do they learn from that? "I screw up, but I'll get another chance." I think if educators can take a more tough love approach, we'd have fewer and fewer students taking advantage of the educational system.

Bet you thought I'd be the last person to agree with this post, huh?

6/08/2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Anonymous, I will sleep well tonight!

6/08/2006 3:13 PM  
Blogger Princess of the Portable said...

I agree with the anonymous teacher. In my district, teachers, administrators and parents tend to pity the students. In my opinion, there is nothin worse than to pity a student. "Ohhh, poor thing, his/her life is so terrible, let's give them a second (or millionth) chance. Too many people are willing to cut too many kids too many chances. I will bend over backwards and twist myself into a pretzel to help the kids who really want to be there. There are instances when a kid doesn't even realize he/she wants to be in school and those are my favorites. They can be reached and are often shocked when they realize school doesn't have to be a trial.

I wish there was another solution for the kids who have decided they don't want an education. They do get a bazillion chances and all they learn from that is no is serious when they say behave or learn or stop behaving like a fool. The sooner we realize that school can look different for different kids, the better off we'll all be.

6/08/2006 8:01 PM  
Blogger the anonymous teacher said...

Dennis, I'm glad I've given you at least one good night of rest.
And, princess, I will bend over backwards and twist myself in a pretzel for those students who don't want to be there, but I've learned that sometimes even that isn't enough. There are those students who just need a knock upside the head that even I can't give them. And that's where this whole getting serious thing comes in.

6/08/2006 9:01 PM  
Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

More and more when I analyze my disruptive nine year olds (there's always one or two) to try and understand what the problem might be my most violent students (the ones I can't seem to turn around) are those who live in very chaotic, dysfunctional environments. We are expecting these kids who probably know much more than we did at that age to come into a very structured, orderly environment and perform. Is it any wonder they act like bucking broncos attempting to get us off their backs? As one of my more violent former students stated, "It's too hard to do the right thing. I can't." Regular teachers don't have the time or the expertise to help certain kids. Their disruption, their violence, is a cry that they are in the wrong place. Alternative school isn't and should be a bad place. Many of my kids who have ended up there have done very well because they are in a much smaller environment (2-3 students per room). I simply feel that if we truly don't want to leave a child behind we must realize that some children cannot be educated in a regular education classroom. It's not fair to the child and it's certainly not fair the other children.

6/09/2006 4:49 PM  
Blogger DCS said...

Like The Anonymous Teacher, I'm "kinda" agreeing with you here. Without a doubt, schools have to get serious when it comes to dealing with disruptive students.

Yes, we should hold students and their parents accountable. At the same time, I think that many public schools can do a better job when it comes to student and parent engagement.

I believe Elementaryhistoryteacher makes some very critical points:

"Regular teachers don't have the time or the expertise to help certain kids. Their disruption, their violence, is a cry that they are in the wrong place. Alternative school isn't and should be a bad place. Many of my kids who have ended up there have done very well because they are in a much smaller environment (2-3 students per room). I simply feel that if we truly don't want to leave a child behind we must realize that some children cannot be educated in a regular education classroom. It's not fair to the child and it's certainly not fair the other children."

I'd like to see school districts offer more support and professional development to help teachers work from a position of strength with disruptive students.

6/15/2006 1:47 PM  

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