Teaching the Wrong Lessons
Education Wonks has dug up another article that illustrates one of the problems we face in public education.
SOUTH BOARDMAN — A school custodian was fired "on the spot" and may face criminal assault charges after he became involved in a physical altercation with a 13-year-old male middle school student."We take the safety of our students very seriously and we will not condone or accept this type of behavior," said Forest Area Community Schools Superintendent Matt Cairy. "The physical altercation was very avoidable; this was not a case of self-defense."
The altercation took place Tuesday night as four middle school students allegedly harassed the custodian while he worked in the middle school during a basketball game in the adjoining high school gym, the Kalkaska County Sheriff's Department reported."The kids threw pop on a carpet and then they kept sneaking up and turning his vacuum off and apparently he just lost it," Kalkaska Undersheriff Bruce Gualtiere said. "He saw them hiding in the bushes and he went and got them. It looks like he punched and kicked (the student)."
The student received some scrapes, and his mother filed a complaint with the
sheriff's department.Sheriff's officials completed their investigation and will be requesting an arrest warrant for simple assault, a misdemeanor, from the prosecuting attorney's office.Cairy said the students involved were disciplined for their roles in the altercation."We have high expectations for our students, and any time there is inappropriate behavior toward faculty or staff there is discipline involved," he said. He declined to detail the discipline.
Neither the sheriff's department nor Cairy would release the names of those involved until the suspect is arraigned. Cairy said the custodian had worked for the school less than a year.
Ed Wonks says that we can't condone the response to the harassment by the custodian, and I agree. But I have worked in schools for 32 years, and I've learned a lot. I hate to think about how I might have reacted in a situation like this when I was a young teacher. Ed Wonk also suggests that the students should be suspended or expelled, and I agree again, but this points out a very real problem in public education.
If these students are suspended, it will probably be for about three days, and I'll bet that these kids will view it as a vacation. The only action that could be effective for students who would pull such a stunt would be the threat of outright expulsion. I don't think this incident, by itself, justifies expulsion, but combined with one or two other incidents, it might. But no matter what else these kids have done, that can't happen, because they have a right to an education. That, more than anything else, is damaging public education at the middle school and high school levels.
Before I go on, I should say that it's possible that this incident was not indicative of the normal behavior for these particular students. It's possible that they are usually models of good behavior, and this was just a fluke. But I doubt it. I'm guessing that this behavior was typical for these kids, because I've seen this type of thing so often before.
One of the problems with "the right to an education" is that kids like these learn to play the system so well. The worse kids behave in public schools, the more they learn the lesson that consequences aren't going to be very severe. Kids like these know that if the adult they are harassing over-reacts, he will be the one who will be in trouble. Twice, during my first two years at Warroad, I had students do something blatantly wrong, and then turn to me and say, "If you touch me, I'll sue you." It was no accident that this happened during my early years here, because I was new, and kids like these know that new teachers are the least likely to be backed by administration and the community. I doubt that it was any accident that the students involved in this incident picked a custodian who had been there for less than a year.
Although this incident did not take place in a classroom, the actions of students who do things like this usually reflect the same attitudes that they bring with them into their classrooms. Separate students like these from each other and it's possible that they won't act too badly, but put two or three of them together, and they can make it impossible for anyone to learn. The effect of truly disruptive kids on the overall behavior of a school and the learning that takes place is immeasurable.
I'm sure that many view me as a crotchety old man, and are appalled by my lack of concern for "troubled students." But look at what we are teaching these kids. We are teaching them that the consequences for bad behavior are relatively mild. We are teaching them that the system can be played like a violin, and believe me, they are learning how to play it. We are also teaching them how to play the role of victim. Are we serving them well by doing this?
I know there are teachers who are willing to be much more tolerant of disruptive students than I am because they honestly believe they can reach them, and I know there are programs to help troubled students. I have said this before, and I'll say it again: those teachers and those programs would have a greater chance of succeeding for a greater number of students if they faced a realistic possibility of getting kicked out for consistently bad behavior.
Behavior and learning in public middle schools and high schools would improve greatly if teachers were able to remove disruptive students and if principals could expel them without having to face thousands of dollars in lawyer and court costs. Although the feeling is by no means unanimous, I know that many teachers agree with me about this. But we have been much too quiet. When it comes to fighting for our rights in dealing with administrators, we have been fearless. But when it comes to this issue, which is crucial to providing a safe and positive learning environment for the students in our classrooms, we have been gutless.