Friday, August 10, 2012

School discipline and families

Articles like this (click here for the text) make me unhappy.

Not because of what he does, but because people treat it like it's a sudden revelation that's never been thought of in the history of the world's civilizations.

"Hmm, treat kids with respect and talk out their problems instead of blindly punishing them?"

Well, how about I put it like this; every time you make a lane change without looking over your shoulder, you get a ticket. Some magic MacGuffin is in your vehicle watching you and whenever you change lanes, regardless of circumstance, gives you a ticket for not looking over your shoulder.

Does looking over your shoulder make you a safer driver? Certainly! Does NOT doing so constitute grounds for punishment? Certainly not!

That example right there is the equivalent of what many kids go through at schools.

We're going to break this entire article down section by section and not only take a look at what is being said, but also what is not being said.

Section 1: The Dark Underbelly of School Discipline

Dark underbelly? No, we all know exactly what is going on, no one wants to admit it. If you have kids and are in the least bit attentive and use your brain, you'll know something's wrong with the way discipline works. First, every time a news article throws segregated statistics at the public, they continue to propagate the idea that race determines one's limits.

Eric Harris and Dylan Keibold

If the names are unfamiliar, then that is unfortunate. They may not be the direct cause, but they certainly contributed to the "Zero Tolerance" policy most campuses have adopted. Those boys are the two shooters in the Columbine shootings, where they injured/killed 36 people including themselves.

You can ask any one who's had a gun aimed at them and shots fired with the intent to kill (like our brave solders), it is in those moments that you find out the limits of your mortality. You try to save your life. Teachers are no different, we will try everything in our power to protect our students, but there is a threshold where the instinct to survive overwhelms everything else and we are compelled to run too.

It was in the spirit of preventing this tragedy from happening again, and creating a drug free environment that "Zero Tolerance" was created.

This isn't to absolve parents of their own idiocy though. I've said it before, parents are stupid. Teachers are NOT a substitute for them and yet they expect teachers to raise their children. Okay, fine, we'll raise your children too. Then we get grief for not raising them the way the parents wanted.

TOO BAD.

If you are a parent who's abdicated your responsibilities to your child's teachers and don't like the outcome, it's YOUR FAULT. YOU are to blame, your lack of interest in the human being YOU brought into the world is not their fault, if you didn't want a child then have an abortion or give it up for adoption! You'll never hear a teacher say any of that because they're too scared, the moment a teacher speaks out about the subject they get fired so fast it makes their heads spin and it's not the principal's fault. The principal has to do it to protect the rest of the school from the rest of the stupid parents who will flood the school and the district office with complaints. So what do we do? Fire the teacher who told the truth and pretend everything is A-okay.

These knee jerk reactions are why we use "Zero Tolerance", teachers know that two kids pretending to stab each other with pencils are only goofing off and pretending they're in a horror movie. But, we have to write them up and send them to the office or else we get in trouble.

Suspensions were supposed to be a hefty slap to the face, used only in extreme situations where the principal really didn't want to expel the student. But, for many of the lower achievers who are proud of that mark, they see it as a badge of honor. How can you be cool of you don't get suspended for telling a teacher "you're a dumb motherfucker if you think I need to know how to read this bullshit"?

That's the kind of language that gets thrown at teachers by some of these students. The sad part is, sometimes they believe it too. Most of the time they say things like that to see if they can make the teacher explode. We're good at shrugging it off, but it will eventually wear us down.

Suspensions are not bad, they may be overused, but they're not bad. I applaud the Principal in the article for actually practicing alternative methods, and to the rest of the educational community, I say "why haven't YOU joined in too?"

Actually I know exactly why: we're outmatched. With class sizes pushing 30:1 in favor of students, we just don't have time to do that with every single problem student on top of everything else. Its not an issue of we don't want to, it's an issue of there are not enough hours in the day.

This section of the article finishes with a mention of alternative learning schools (ALC's) and how they're bad. I flat out disagree. There are some people out there who just don't care about school, they don't want to be there and they will do everything in their power to get out. Laws require them to be in school so why not put them somewhere where they won't disrupt those that are learning and taking their education seriously.

The article tries its hardest to tell us that each child is unique but should be treated equally. That's nonsense, everyone is different and should be treated differently. Before you get your undies in a twist about me being a racist or something, I will be clear about what I mean. Every child requires a different approach in the pursuit of convincing them that education is important. Every child reacts to information differently. Every child learns differently.

I once taught a trombone player who no matter what he did, could only play one note. No matter where the slide was on that instrument, the same sound would come out. I sat with him for three days trying every method at my disposal and making new ones up, but nothing worked. Eventually I could find no other way to explain the concept he needed to learn and I just told him what I wanted in college terms. I used explanations that were 10 years ahead of what his understanding should be. I explained the science behind what he was doing and all of a sudden it clicked for him. In another two lessons not only could he could play the trombone successfully, he was able to self teach the rest of his materials.

With that diversion aside I want to stress that ALC's are not pretty, but I dare a single parent to say they want their kids sharing a class with someone who routinely brings a lighter to school and has no qualms about setting fire to the building just so he/she doesn't have to be in class. Tell me that's not disruptive behavior, I DARE you to tell me.

Section 2: How Mr. Sporleder stumbled across an epiphany in Spokane

I categorize this entire section as a "Nah, really?!" statement. Seriously! Here's a few excerpts from the article to prove my point:

"Severe and chronic trauma (such as living with an alcoholic parent, or watching in terror as your mom gets beat up) causes toxic stress in kids." -John Medina

"Punishing misbehavior just doesn’t work. You’re simply adding trauma to an already traumatized kid."

NAH, REALLY?! So you're saying that being abused is bad for kids and not allowing them refuge from it at school is bad too?!

It really raises my hackles that this is being treated as some ground breaking discovery! Its all true info, just implement it!

Section 3: This is your (damaged) brain on ACEs

This section is one that I rather enjoy, it's where they actually bring in proof to support their claims. Now it is rather unfortunate that several of their claims and numbers are being misrepresented to suit their own desires.
The article cites this chart to back their claims made earlier in the article. I applaud their efforts, but all they've done is shown is that children with traumatic childhoods are more likely to become alcoholics. A brief summary of the chart: the vertical axis is the percent chance a child will become an alcoholic, the horizontal axis is the number of types of traumatic experiences (up to 10) a child has. This chart says nothing about how that info affects school work or discipline.

This chart discusses the chances of developing depression per gender versus the number of types of traumatic childhood experiences. Like the previous chart, it mentions nothing about how it affects school work or discipline.

Now, we can infer that  there is a higher ratio of children with these higher numbers in discipline oriented classrooms (or ALC's), but where is the chart that says just that? The article  gave us great examples, but failed to apply them to the subject at hand: how a traumatic life may affect a child's education.

Section 4: Natalie Turner’s two simple rules for dealing with troubled students

The two simple rules are good, in fact I would love to use them, but I have two issues with it. One, you can not stop class for 30 minutes to have a heart to heart with a student. That gets you in trouble with the principal. You're a teacher, you followed the two rules and the student has connected with YOU. Sending the student to talk to the councilors won't help, the student didn't connect with them, he/she connected with YOU. You can't leave your class unattended to talk to him or her, if anything happens in there while you're gone you're fired immediately. I can't justify using this system until there is a way for me to talk to them without ending the class for the day and disrupting the learning of the others. I fully accept that this student needs special attention and help, but if you are the only one the student trusts to talk about these matters and they won't talk to the councilors, then you better be prepared to put up with not being able to teach anymore.

My second issue is the examples given of complex abuse are things I would call the child abuse tip line for. By the way, if you suspect a child is in one of the living situations listed in this section and may be in dangerous living conditions, call (800) 4-A-CHILD and leave an anonymous tip. It's free, it's guaranteed anonymous for your protection so don't hesitate to call and protect someone who can't protect themselves.

Section 5: The red zones of Lincoln High
I'm not a fan of buzz words but if it works, then use it. The important thing is that it gets them to calm down and working thins out like adults. I whole heatedly support this idea, teaching them to calm down and work out their differences verbally and politely is a huge step to preventing them from becoming future criminals. Unless you're Jason Borne, you don't start a fist fight with a level head. This idea of cooling off should be applied to the political world as well. I am a rather big fan of two opposing ideologies sitting down and working out their differences peacefully. So perhaps our leaders can learn form the examples provided by the students of this school.

Section 6: What else do the kids say?

This is a look at what the kids of the school have to say and how they're doing. I'm happy for them, happy that they are overcoming their problems, able to learn to deal with them and are becoming successful. Each one of them had a rough time, I feel especially for the young bullied girl because it should have never gotten that far, yet it did. The young boy who was removed from his family and sent to foster care has done admirably in dealing with the difficulties of his personal life and I hope he is able to accept that those issues were not his fault in any way. These are good kids who needed help, help from an over worked system of underpaid teachers and administrators and they finally got what they needed.

Section 7: School’s ACE survey helps kids, teachers understand each other

They give us a sampling of the questions they ask and some of the results, a rather unfortunate look into the lives of these kids. Then the article goes on to once again draw a conclusion that this causes diseases in the future. I still can not accept that these are related directly to physical health. I can accept a direct correlation to mental health and an indirect link to physical health, but not direct physical.

Section 8: The Health Clinic at Lincoln High

Children are impressionable, we have always been aware of that and what possesses some people to have families then neglect their offspring is nothing but sickening to me. I am not surprised at the revelation that kids need more mental help than physical, now the data backs up what teachers have instinctively know for a long time. Kids from broken or damaged homes need help. The fact that they built a health center to help teach these kids to heal and be safe mentally and physically all through volunteer efforts is an admirable achievement. There are many school districts that could learn from this and make great changes for so many disadvantaged students.

The rest of the article wraps up the whole story of this school and its principal, their desire to continue improving this new program, and the wish for a successful example towards other school districts. I wish them the best in this endeavor.

My personal conclusion about the entire article is that it is foolish to treat this like a novel concept when in fact it should have been done long ago. I would personaly condemn many states and communities for neglecting their disadvantaged populations for so long, but it is also important to keep in mind the limitations created by the parents. If you should take anything away form this, take this; if you ever want to be a parent, be active and positive in your child's life. If you're irresponsible enough to blow your government assistance on a tv as opposed to keeping your family fed and clothed then consider birth control or abortion. Don't let a child be born into a family that will abuse it.


If you suspect ANY child is in an abusive home or situation, do not hesitate to call  (800) 4-A-CHILD or else YOU are part of the problem.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)

(applies to women too)