I'll sue you!
Last weekend, Joanne Jacobs did a short post on a 15-year-old who is suing his high school because his math teacher woke him up in her class by slapping her open palm on his desk. The fine lad's lawyer called it an assault and battery.
This might strike some as funny and others as ridiculous, but it really is harmful. If there is one area in public education that needs improvement, it's discipline. A major reason for that is that teachers and principals feel like they're walking on eggshells when it comes to dealing with misbehaving students because of the constant threat of lawsuits. This situation is a prime example of that.
In my first couple of years in Warroad, I had two separate incidents in which students did something blatantly wrong, and when I looked at them with obvious displeasure, each of the students said to me, "If you hit me, I'll sue you." Not, "Sorry!" Not, "I won't do it again," but "If you hit me, I'll sue you." Now, I had no intention of hitting either student, but I think this speaks volumes about what these students thought of a teacher's authority. They knew that my options were very limited in dealing with their misbehavior. Nearly all of the worst behaving students in public schools have that mindset.
Part of the reason that I was treated with such blatant defiance was that I was relatively new in the school. I've now been in Warroad for nineteen years, and I've managed to establish a certain reputation, so nothing like that has happened to me since those first couple of years. But I still have more problems than I should have. (When students tell me that I am known in the school for being strict, I can only shake my head in wonder.) I might not have anyone coming out and saying what those two students said, but my worst behaving students still know that there's only so much I can do. The only way a teacher can have real power in dealing with students like this is if they are afraid the teacher might be willing to do something they know he actually isn't supposed to do.
One Warroad teacher, who had the best discipline of any teacher I've known, once told me how he handled a disruptive student. He took the student into a back room, and when they were alone, he got nose to nose with the student and physically threatened him. End of problem. Knowing that teacher as I do, it's safe to say he wasn't bluffing. I have no doubt that the student involved understood that a lawsuit wouldn't deter that teacher. But is that what it should take to have good discipline?
Our nation is the most litigious in the world. We have far more lawyers per capita than almost any other nation on earth; nearly three times as many as Britain, four times as many as Germany, and nearly twenty-five times as many as Japan. No, that is not a misprint--twenty-five times! Do you think there are many kids suing their schools there?