Friday, June 4, 2010

All children left behind...

(The first part of this essay is in the link at the top of the page.)

Fingerpointing would make one dizzy in an attempt to make a single source the culprit on the situation that arose from this social firestorm-- schools allowing racism, parents accusing schools of racism (even when racism was not involved), suing, threats, segregation among students, prejudice among parents, etc. Schools for their part, in order to avoid lawsuits of any kind, attempted to avoid disciplining students at all and parents seemed amiable with this arrangement. And so did the kids.

The first schools to face this deterioration were schools in metropolitan areas (which makes sense as they were actively integrating students while small towns were largely the same population as before). I personally spent my elementary and middle school years in small towns in Oklahoma and Kansas during the seventies and discipline was an unquestioning part of our day. Students were known to get in trouble, but the consequences were still dire and parents rarely (if ever... I don't recall any that did) intervened. In 1979, I began attending a large high school here in Denver- and the differences were stark. Gang activity was rampant and students sat on the lawn of the football field smoking marijuana during school hours. While some students might have faced some disciplinary procedures, the atmosphere was as casual about poor (a.k.a illegal activity) behavior as sex was in this post-sexual revolution. If you got caught you there   might be a bit of heck to pay. 

The tacit agreement of "mum's the word" about children's behavior was bad enough, but as the schools shifted to a "business model" (more on this later), schools were required to report suspensions and serious disciplinary procedures so that parents could use these numbers to judge the schools as school choice became a way to force schools to compete for education dollars. So, if schools have a lot of suspensions, their ratings go down. Since parents were looking at these numbers in order to choose the best schools, it was no longer unspoken- it was a command- we will not suspend children unless we have no choice (and generally that meant that they would not act unless they believed that whatever bad behavior the child committed was a worse public relations problem than the poor rating they would receive. For example: In 2000, or sometime thereabouts, several middle school boys sexually assaulted a girl on school grounds. As reports hit the local papers, it was obvious that behavior at the school was out of control long before this incident. Once it hit the papers, however, officials at the district would be shocked and dismayed and heads would role! Mostly the principals.) 

In more recent news, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide just this past January after having been hazed by the "Mean Girls" after they spent months harassing her via twitter, Craigslist and Facebook (Hollywood PLEASE stop moralizing- they never get it and if often winds up glorifying the very thing you think you are "educating" your audience about!). An article in a major paper asks a question... the question we should all be asking,  "WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?" 

Ultimately schools can do nothing where discipline is concerned as long as they fear the wrath of parents- whether it be threatening to file lawsuits, changing a student's school as soon as they are held accountable for behavior, or stepping in to thwart what little disciplinary procedures the school does attempt. (I cannot tell you the number of stories that are told among teachers of parents who, when they call to get a parents aid with a child's behavior, begin calling them names or asking what they, the teacher, had done to cause the child's behavior. Also, a word on the shift in the parental role might be appropriate here, but that is a LONG topic which would require it's own space were it to be given the proper attention.) But the demise of discipline within the hallowed halls of the public education system was just the beginning of the end and isn't nearly as significant as the assault on WHAT the teachers taught. 

In her book 'Kingdom Coming' Michelle  Goldberg (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) does  extensive research on the rise of Christian fundamentalism that had as it's goal the establishment of a theocracy. She traces the origins of political ambitions of the fundamentalists to where they began-- the Scopes Monkey Trial. Although the movement did not immediately march forward like the Christian soldiers that met the onslaught of the Muslim hoards-- they nevertheless began a lockstep that would propel them into the future as they faced an ever strengthening adversary - the well-educated American public. 

It was not until the 70s and the wild abandonment of the Hippee movement that the anti-intellectual campaign evolved into a potent force. As students all over the country rose up in protest against the Vietnam war and the use of military force to protect corporate interests, ever so subtly, the societal questions that were asked were shifted into moral ones as a way to marginalize and subdue the subversives. Susan Jacoby, in her book 'Age of American Unreason' (also reviewed elsewhere on this blog) connects the dots on the anti-intellectual movement that was established and it's connection to the hippy movement, explaining how fear was generated by the eruption of rebellion giving the religious right and establishment types a foothold into suppressing the radical ideas that emerged amidst the drugs, sex and communes. So the very real and valid critiques that students had were invalidated by their connection to their "moral failings" (at least as defined by the American conservative mainstream which was and is still heavily influenced by their puritan ancestors). 

Thus, the moral majority found a way forward. 


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