When Education Isn't a Right
In case you're wondering why I've been so quiet lately, I've been gone on the annual Fermoyle family vacation for the last nine days. We went to sunny Florida, and managed to break their drought by bringing Alberto with us. (For the first three days of our vacation, the most commonly heard phrase from any member of the Fermoyle family was, "Sunny Florida, my a--!") I actually felt guilty leaving my fellow bloggers without a word, but since I use my real name, and I've told everybody where I live, I didn't think it would be prudent to announce over the Internet that my wife and I would be gone from our house for a week. In any case, I'm back! And I'm armed with all kinds of new knowledge after reading Blogging For Dummies (I even understood some of it!), and Jay Greene's Education Myths (which Anonymous Teacher shamed me into finally reading). I also read Caleb Carr's The Alienist, while laying out by the pool working on my future skin cancer, but I'm afraid that won't do much for my blogging skills.
I have to admit that I was thrown off by the comments on my post about "the right to an education," especially the ones by Anonymous and DCS. I did not expect so much agreement. I thought that some would view me as an angry old man who can’t wait to start kicking kids out of school. Just before I left for my vacation, I prepared a follow up to deal with that. Even though I didn't get the disagreement that I expected, I'm still going to go with it, because I think it really helps make the case. What I want to do is to describe an educational situation that I have been involved in for 32 years where kids don’t have the right to be there--high school hockey. Granted, being on a high school athletic team is not the same as being in the classroom because being on the athletic team isn’t compulsory. Nevertheless, I think there is something to be learned here. And by the way, I am admittedly plagiarizing from my book, but I can’t find anything that makes my point better than this.
Playing on a high school athletic team has not been interpreted as a right, so coaches can dismiss players if their actions are hurting their team. Because it is clear that coaches have this authority, it rarely has to be used. For example, during my seventeen years at Warroad, we always had between thirty and forty players on our varsity and JV teams. During that period, only two players were dismissed for failing to live up to our team’s behavioral standards. And believe me, the behavioral standards for our hockey teams have definitely been higher than those of a typical classroom.
I can only imagine what it would be like if coaches didn't have this power, and players simply had the right to be there, as they do in a public school classroom. The effort of players in our hockey practices is excellent, and most of that is because they want to be good, but part of it is because players know that a lack of effort won't be accepted. Because of the energy our players put into our practices day after day, our teams and our players get better and better as the season goes on. What would happen if a disgruntled player could simply quit trying, but depend on being able to continue playing on the team because he had a right to be there? What would happen if a player could skip practices, and know that he could return whenever he wanted, and also know that the worst thing that could happen to him would be to have to serve detention? There is no question that our teams and our other players would not be as good as they are. Yet, this is exactly the situation our society has decided to tolerate in our classrooms. Considering this, one has to wonder if our society really believes that academics are more important than athletics.
There are those who think that giving teachers the power to remove disruptive and apathetic students from their classrooms is a radical idea, but it is really just common sense. Up until the late 1960s, this was the way things were done in public schools, and there was never any public outcry that students’ rights were being abused. Masses of students were not being thrown out of schools for spurious reasons. In fact, most people believed the system worked pretty well. But then some Supreme Court justices decided to step in and fix what wasn’t broken, because some students had been suspended for political protests in their schools. Making decisions to guarantee political and due process rights to students might have seemed reasonable at the time, but I wonder if those justices could have foreseen that their decisions would eventually lead to a high school student in Kansas thinking that he could intentionally vomit on his teacher and get away with it. I wonder if they had any idea how many students they were condemning to worse educations.