Why Through a Kid Out of a Classroom
An academic colleague just asked me why I threw a student out of public middle school class. It does sound heartless. I lived a few hours from the Florida HS mass shooting and lived within 20 minutes of the Sandy Hooks massacre of 22 1st graders. The response is how press, government and the academic elite deflecting the deeper causes of violence in US schools. This is what I wrote:
If I may, I would like to rephrase your question from “Why throw a student out of a classroom?” into, “What is causing the escalating this chaos to the point of mass murders.” Which leads to the second question and that is, “Why are higher academia, politicians and the wealthy so clueless on violence in US schools?” It feels like we are in a dystopia movie, perhaps because we are.
I mean this in the kindest way. Because I understand you are university faculty. Just to ask me why I would throw a kid out of the room is a question a US public school teacher would not ask. A teacher would ask "What did this one do?' You see, I do it to protect the other children who need to feel safe in an unsafe class. FYI that 8th grader I threw out told me I was a "dictator" and would "kill me" while stomping out the room streaming four-letter words.
Way too many US public classrooms are very out of control, and they have been for some time. School systems can start off with hundreds of subs and end up with only a few in a couple of months. Remember the book “Crisis the Classroom” from the 70s. Things are far worse than Silberman forecasted, and for many of the same dehumanizing reasons the book points out way back in the 70s.
When we stand in front of a typical American classroom, there are a series of deteriorating forces
First a culture of entitlement that thinks "I don't have to work hard and will still do better than my parents.' This is aggravated by entire subcultures in schools such as country music and thug behavior that pride themselves on being uneducated and underpaid.
Second is mass media and music that have a dehumanizing effect on people, including that humor and bullying are one of the same things. In our schools, kids commonly call one another gay, faggot and blacks call one another nigger. It is a form of self-deprecation that declarers failure as a way of life right out of the pages of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Because behavior in many US classroom is so foreign to wealth and the big schools they simply do not see what is going on. Sort of plausible denial.
Third, is the impact of US poverty runs deep into the middle-class with single moms slipping into severe poverty categories. Parent-teacher conferences frustrate teachers who repeatedly meet parents that are angry, exhausted, frightened, overwhelmed, stoned or just don't care.
Fourth is US classroom childhood trauma, We can split hairs about the statistics, but they are very bleak. My typical school classroom has: 27% child of alcoholics, 12% addicted parent, 1 in 6 sexual abuse, 50 % divorce with many really mean step parents. Hunger and clothing are huge issues. In wealthy Fairfield County, CT over half the students are on food assistance. Teachers often reach into their own pockets to pay for some kids lunch. Way too often in first-period class kids come up to me and sheepishly say they are hungry and “Can I please run to the cafeteria.” The American classroom looks OK from the outside, but inside it is suffering.
Fifth Media role models, The storyline of Disney, Nick, and Cartoon Network teen sitcoms are basically the same; Parents are not around, the most prominent scam artist gets the pretty girl, teachers, and police are idiots. Yes, we had this with Rebel Without a Cause and The Breakfast Club movies. However, these films were not mainstream afternoon TV for middle school youth. Today disrespect is the norm. While this is funny on the TV, the patterns replicate it in the classroom. I am not even mentioning that Marvel and DC themes preach to fix something - someone must die.
Check out this scene from Marvel's the Punisher on Netflix, Hard to believe its own by Disney. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZPHmXzF8F0
Bottom line is, thug behavior is idolized. Today's youth also does not have an idea of what horror is. Many of my kids still think the AR 15 is cool because it splatters people in video games.
Sometimes classes go, what we call, out of control. Most schools have not only police but have staffed behavior specialists (a lovely phrase for discipline aids). With onsite police students getting arrested in Florida schools is commonplace. The new behavior model for desperate staged consequences, First thrown them out of room to next door, if that does not work its counseling. But it really doesn't matter because many students look forward to getting out of the class, stonewall the counselor because they could care less about what the parent says. Sometimes as much as half the period is spent on class management and it is a common trick of students to bate teachers to break some legal boundary that will get them fired. In a shop class in Connecticut, I had a girl breaking dress code with a mid-drift around power saws while using her cell in a shop. I told her to put on a required smock. She did not like it and her father, an NYC attorney, call the superintendent that I made her feel “Uncomfortable.’ The student knows the superintendent is an elected official and will through anyone under the bus. The principal defended me. However, I left the school, too risky. Another faculty at that school warned me that these girls are dangerous to our careers, and yes faculty are afraid of the students and the students know it.
Unlike charter schools, public schools class management is entirely different from class to class. The kids continuously are testing boundaries, and for that reason, the class feels insecure.
We have drifted into a situation with No Child Left behind style funding that schools can only suspend the most extreme cases. In Florida, many teachers are not allowed to fail a student. It is not uncommon for me to have around 4 to 8 students out of 24 doing nothing but teasing or on a cell phone. Most substitutes just babysit and let the class go.
This experience is right out of the pages of Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Download here. http://www.msu.ac.zw/elearning/material/1335344125freire_pedagogy_of_the_oppresed.pdf
I realize what I just wrote may be hard to swallow. Yet I am tame.
Media, such as violent or vulgar styles of rap, is not an inner city thing. Rural and burb kids replica it without really knowing what goes behind most of it. Country music is more subtle however it states cops are dumb, be lawless and get drunk.
Consider this. The Bush era had a goal of creating 2,000,000 new teachers and remarkably achieved it. However, over half walked out within two years mostly because they were not prepared for the emotional strain of a class. It is not just age that has the landslide of teachers leaving. Teachers are caught between a curriculum developed by people that have not been in classroom and student rebellion.
What is tragic is that the kids can be really mean to people who want to help them. Teachers are seeing millions slipping through the cracks, and no one is listening to faculty. Government’s solution is more testing and worksheets. Teaching is breaking the hearts of teachers, and they are leaving.
So what can be done?
Wealthy and higher education’s religion of intellectual arrogance could be humbled by requiring them to enter schools as substitute teachers. If your university Psych and Ed profs spent at least one day a month for a semester subbing in both urban and suburb school settings they would have many rude awakenings. They also would change their methods and theories, such as the mechanics of scaffolding.
So much is broken it is hard to express in an email. Let’s take the foundational premise of “scaffolding” in a Pearson textbook. These expensive books scaffold in ways that are a way to fast for students to grasp. Teachers must stop lessons with drill worksheets for the student to get it. Scaffolding also assumes that there is an emotional entitlement connect to the content of self-motivation, "The knowledge in this class will help me build on my future." This is only true for about 10% of the class. The rest are struggling, and the 10% that get it are pissed because that class is too noisy and boring.
Let me give you an idea of what I have had to handle. Keep in mind that the schools offer me their toughest stuff. In a 6th grade Emotionally Disturbed class with four tourettes, three autism spectrum, a mix ADHD and two I think sexual abused. I get the class rocking and learning in three months, and the administration drops this child in the class. A white child two years younger than the class, homeschool by his junky mother who he found dead two weeks earlier, second-grade level schooling (he can't even use a ruler to count. With autistic behavior, highly aggressive and who’s Father is a state trooper barely keeping it together. I would love to tell you this is rare, but it is not. His disruptions are explosive on a daily bases.
Perhaps what we can do.
Seriously get the faculty and the students in subbing in the schools. Not as observers in the best classes, alone with the typical class for 6 periods. The variations of class behavior from class to class are striking. Some Dewey experiential learning on teaching will be good for the faculty’s soul. Your faculty should also eat in the teacher's lounge with no administrators around. Funny Administrators do not eat with teachers.
We must provide youth with an empowered interactive experience (that is social-career relevant) that would offer them a sense of purpose that with hard work, they can make great things happen. The administration must provide behavior class management methods the charter schools use.