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.