Sunday, April 19, 2009

The madness of keeping criminals in schools

On the tenth anniversary of Columbine, I came upon this article by Caitlin Flanagan as I was going through Joanne Jacobs site. Some of what the article said was music to my ears (or eyes).

Joanne's post also deals with an article that puts the lie to the idea that the two thugs were simply victims of bullying, but this one gives a brief history of the two murderers.

The one aspect of Columbine that seemed unworthy of examination -- when it came to pondering the policy changes that might actually make American schools safer places -- was the fact that the two killers had a long track record of doing exactly what deeply disturbed teenage boys have been doing since time out of mind: getting in trouble -- lots of it -- with authority.

Ten months before their shooting spree, Harris and Klebold were charged and convicted of stealing tools from a parked van. They were sentenced to a "juvenile diversion" program, which was intended -- by dint of counseling, classes, and the coordinated efforts of school administrators, social workers and police officers -- to keep the boys out of the criminal-justice system. According to the records of that experience, Harris reported having homicidal feelings, obsessive thoughts and a temper. Both boys were placed in anger management, although -- strangely, given Klebold's history of alcohol use and his submission of a dilute urine sample to his minders -- they were excused from the substance-abuse class.

Back at school (which they attended throughout their enrollment in the juvenile-diversion program), they smoked cigarettes in the hollow behind campus, cut classes and blew off schoolwork. According to Dave Cullen's new book, "Columbine," when Klebold carved obscenities into a freshman's locker and was confronted by a dean, "Dylan went ballistic. He cussed him out, bounced off the walls, acted like a nutcase." Both boys also picked on younger children and got into fights.

Here's the part that I really liked!
...There was a time when boys like these would have been labeled "juvenile delinquents" and removed from the society and company of good kids, whose rights were understood to supersede those of known offenders against the law. It was once believed that good kids should be neither endangered nor influenced by criminals-in-training.

Maybe it's time we started believing that again.

Joanne's post also includes this quote from Flanagan's article: "...to expel a student in most public school districts is an arduous business. An expulsion hearing is required, and parents may choose to appeal the decision, a process that rains down a world of legal woe on whatever teachers and administrators have been involved in the action."

I don't know about other states, but in Minnesota it's worse than that. The school district that expels the student is still responsible for providing the education for the expelled student. That means hiring a full-time tutor for the student. When considering the legal costs involved and the greater costs of educating the troublemaker outside of school, districts can't afford to expel anybody no matter how bad they are. It's ridiculous!

Flanagan also says this:
It is, of course, the responsibility of the state to provide some sort of education to all its children under the age of 18, and so for a host of legal, moral and economic reasons we end up with an ugly truth about our nation's schools: By design, they contain within them -- right alongside the good kids who are getting an education and running the yearbook and student government -- kids whose criminal rehabilitation is supposedly being conducted simultaneously with their academic instruction.

As someone who taught school for a decade and who has now been a mother for about as long, I can tell you that -- when it comes to children -- the rigid exercise of "due process" in matters of correction and discipline makes for high comedy at best and shared tragedy at worst.

A big "Amen!" to that. The problem is that education is viewed as a right. It shouldn't be. I'm all for our society providing the opportunity for all kids to get an education, but that shouldn't make it a right. If a kid comes into a school and acts like a criminal, he should be kicked out. Period!

12 Comments:

Blogger mazenko said...

Years ago, as I prepared to enter the American education system after five years of teaching in Taiwan (speaking of a disciplined system), I interviewed at a couple schools after subbing for about three months. I noted the lack of willingness to actually discipline kids and make use of "in-school suspension." Two separate principals, and committees, explained that "ISS" is not a punishment, and they want to keep the kids in classes, or return them as quickly as possible, to avoid inhibiting their education.

That pretty much ended my interest in those schools.

Interestingly, I would like to know how much could be alleviated by simply enabling kids who don't want to be there to get out earlier - again reiterating my aim to allow graduation at sixteen, and reserve the last two years of high school for the truly academically motivated.

4/20/2009 11:40 AM  
Blogger Amerloc said...

Agreed: access should be the right, not results.

But federal law currently demands equal results, regardless of access.

4/20/2009 7:12 PM  
Blogger Roger Sweeny said...

If a kid comes into a school and acts like a criminal, he should be kicked out. Period!My God, Dennis, keep that up and you're going to say something really unreasonable, like, "If a kid is in ninth grade, he should be able to do ninth grade material."

4/21/2009 7:49 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

*cheers* Thanks for sharing this. VERY interesting background on the Columbine boys; I'd never heard that before.

You allude to something that is becoming a greater problem in education (heck, it IS a problem no "becoming" about it): a decided lack of responsibility on the student's (and parent's) part, and all the responsibility on the school & teacher. By making the schools responsible for an expelled students' education, they essentially eliminate any responsibility on the student's end. He/she makes a bad decision and chooses to act irresponsibility but has to suffer none of the consequences? Why can't policy-makers see that they are doing a disservice to our future generations - and our country - by not holding students accountable for anything?!

5/02/2009 2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rock on Dennis! When I was in school the gym teacher would make you take off your shoe tell you to bend over, and let her rip. I didn't mess up again and I don't think anyone gave a damn about my "feelings". He wasn't a scrawny bastard either.

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