Thursday, April 19, 2007

Out the door with a bootmark on his backside!

A couple of weeks ago, Education Wonks did a post about the student who mooned his teacher in school. His parents then sued the school because they felt the punishment for their little darling was too harsh. That punishment: to send him to a new school for the rest of the year. Too harsh?

As bad as this one is, it's not as bad as others that occur. Last year, I had an exchange of "letters to the editor" with a junior high school teacher of 26 years in St. Paul who had been beaten up by a student. The punishment for that student--you guessed it--transfer to another public school. In another incident two years ago a student in Kansas intentionally threw up on his Spanish teacher. Although he had a lawyer to argue his case when he went to court, this kid was sentenced to four months of cleaning up after people who threw up in police cars. Now, that's my kind of judge!

It is my very strong belief that teachers need to be given the power to have disruptive students removed from their classes, and I also believe schools need more power to expel students. Whenever I say that I feel compelled to propose solutions regarding what can be done with kids who are kicked out. There are some kids, however, who I don't think we should have to do anything for. Every so often there is a student who should simply be sent out the door with a bootmark on his (or her) backside.

Our nation has just witnessed a terrible tragedy at Virginia Tech University. A very disturbed young man decided to kill as many people as he could before taking his own life. He did what he did, and he knew he was going be dead when it was over. I don't know how we stop that. But the incidents I've talked about that have happened in high schools aren't like that. They happened because the students involved assumed that nothing serious would happen to them. They assumed that their outrageous actions would be well worth any slap on the wrist they might receive.

This happens because of our concept in America that students have a right to an education. Because of Supreme Court rulings in the 1970s, if a school official wants to take strong action against a student, he or she risks being sued. In his book, The Death of Common Sense, Philip K. Howard argues that this has done more damage to public education than anything else over the last forty years. I agree. Howard also argues that education should be considered a benefit provided by a democratic society, and not a property right.

In Minnesota, and I assume in other states, if a student does something outrageous enough to be expelled, the public school district is still responsible for paying for his education. A few years ago there was a teenage boy who committed some sort of sex crime and was put into an institution, and our school district had to pay $16,000 per year to that institution because his mother moved into our community. The boy, himself, never set foot in one of our buildings. We also had to pay for the education of another "student" who got sent to prison for a brutal rape-murder of an infant!

One of the best common sense statements about disruptive students was this one from Albert Shanker, the late president of the American Federation of Teachers: "We are about to create a system of choice and vouchers, so that ninety-eight percent of the kids who behave can go someplace and be safe. And we're going to leave the two percent who are violent and disruptive to take over the schools. Now, isn't it ridiculous to move ninety-eight percent of the kids, when all you have to do is move two or three percent of them and the other ninety-eight percent would be absolutely fine?"

I've used this quote frequently, so one person who disagreed with me on this subject used the two-percent figure, and calculated how many kids we would "lose." The problem with his line of thinking is that, because of that "two-percent," we are losing a lot more than that now.

When I argue that we should not have to come up with some sort of alternative education for every malcontent who behaves so badly that he should be kicked out of school, I'm not saying they should never be able to come back and try again. They should be able to do that on a strict probationary basis after a year or even after just a semester. But if they fail to show an understanding that they are going to have to behave, and if they continue to act as if education is something that society owes them, they should be sent right back out the door again.


Blogger Parentalcation said...

I agree with everything you said, but with one caveat.

I think the punishment for the mooner was a little harsh. Loads of detention, but being kicked out of school.

As a teacher, what is the more pressing priority, pranksters or true juvenile delinquents?

4/19/2007 7:36 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Rory, I think you know I respect your opinion, but I disagree with you about the mooner. It is an understatement to call that a blatant act of disrespect, and I don't think the school can afford to tolerate that. I think it is healthy for other students to see that he was gone the next day. I would even say that it was generous to allow him to go to another school so he could graduate this year, but public schools have no choice in that. After all, he has a right to an education ; )

I understand what you're saying about detention. For you or me, detention would have probably been a very effective punishment. The problem is that a lot of kids aren't bothered by it. And the kids least likely to be bothered by it are the kids who are consistently the worst behavior problems.

You know how I try to defend public schools, but one area where I believe we are depressingly weak is in the area of discipline. Very often, at least some of the blame rests on teachers and principals, but underlying it all are rules that have been imposed on us by courts and legislatures. If public schools are ever going to improve, we have to toughen up in this area.

4/20/2007 5:17 AM  
Blogger M said...

definitely! I agree totally.

4/20/2007 6:15 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Part of that, Dennis, is because detention is not punishment in any behavioral sense. At least, not usually. It suffers from a lot of defects -- it is not immediate, is usually not aversive, applied inconsistently, and starts mild and gradually increases in severity. This combination means if you're lucky the detention itself will have no effect on behavior. If you're unlucky the detention will worsen behavior.

Schools are prohibited from using physically punishing techniques. Teachers generally are not allowed to strike students. This is a good thing, because although punishment techniques can be effective, their requirements are difficult enough that schools and teachers are not prepared to implement them.

Schools do, however, allow some forms of true punishment. Humiliation, both blatant and subtle, is allowed (yes, not every form of humiliation -- but humiliation can be done in ways policy or reality does not prohibit, while physical pain cannot be administered legally). I suspect it is often the poor use of punishment that leads to bad behavior.

The problem lies more in schools not being able to reinforce properly. Curious students may be reinforced by learning. Socially deprived students may be reinforced by contact, or praise. Teachers may not praise, or may give students no new information, or students may be reinforceable only through some other manner. Additionally, there may be competing sources for reinforcement. The student looking for praise or social contact may look to other students rather than the teacher. Curious students may start bringing in magazines or letting their attention wander. Schools are also deficient in extinguishing unwanted behaviors, primarily because they have trouble getting rid of extraneous reinforcers.

One of the beauties of DI, which you'll see if you look at the ADI website videos and read Zig Engelmann's book, is the strong use of reinforcement. Keep in mind the videos are of what was one of the WORST disciplined schools in Baltimore. Zig's techniques eschew punishment, the worst that's done being physical restraint (which is still often illegal in many places, unfortunately).

Your examples of the voluntary emetic and thug are pretty extraordinary, Dennis. Both of those are assault, and kids like that should be transferred -- to institutions that specialize in dealing with that sort of behavior, and involve onsite living quarters (fixing THOSE institutions is a separate matter).

4/20/2007 7:49 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Crypticlife, as usual your comment is well thought out, and it's tough to argue with anything you say. I'm not sure if you mean it this way, but what I read into your comment is that if schools would do a better job, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, we wouldn't have the type of students that I'm talking about. So the solution is for us to do a better job.

As you probably know, I am very impressed by what I've heard about DI, and I would certainly encourage elementary people to look at it. Maybe if they did, you'd turn out to be right, and we'd have a lot fewer of the kinds of kids that I talked about in my post. I'm not sure about that, but it's certainly possible. But I don't expect that all to happen tomorrow.

I'm a high school teacher, so I don't see kids until they are in the tenth grade. I can't do anything about what has already happened in their education; I have to deal with them the way they are now, and so does every other high school teacher. There is no question in my mind that we could be much more effective with the kids who are behavior problems if there was the very real possibility that they might get kicked out. Right now, that is not a real possibility, and nobody understands that better than those kids.

4/20/2007 2:51 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

That lack of enforcement of discipline isn't doing any favors to the perpetrator. The lesson he will learn is that he can engage in disruptive or assaultive behavior and get away with it. When he gets a little older, he will do something much worse, and maybe then he'll go to prison and many years after that, wonder why nobody stopped him sooner from traveling down the path he was on.

4/20/2007 6:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Ward said...

The real problem here is the parents.

I know that is what all teachers say, but what kind of parent would fight for their son after this behaivior?

The kind of parent that is causing the public schools to have to worry more about proving their case. I know that where I work, the number of cameras going in is astounding. Because people want to have proof instead of believing the teacher.

What would happen on the job if someone mooned a boss?

Teachers are starting to be viewed more as prosecuting attorneys that need overwhelming evidence. If the school wants to kick anyone out, they should be able to without appeal.

I can't even imagine what my parents would have done to me if I had done this.

4/22/2007 8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm surprised you didn't take your virginia tech reference another direction. check out the buchanan blog on the subject; seems to fit in better with your theme:
"If there is a lesson to be taken away from this horror, it is that we, as a society, are becoming too tolerant of the aberrant. For, in retrospect, the signs Cho was a disturbed and dangerous young man, who belonged not on a campus but in an institution, are many."

4/23/2007 8:13 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Rob and Anonymous, I'd have to say that you both made better points than I did. And Rob, great picture!

4/23/2007 11:48 AM  

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