The following post was written by Kristen Burroughs in response to Frank Beard's, "How My School and District Failed its Students." Burroughs holds an MA from Yale University in Philosophical Theology and a PhD from the University of Chicago in History. She taught high school science and history at a private school, humanities and philosophy at a community college, and religion and politics at a state university. Her three kids have been schooled in public, private, charter and home environments. She's currently writing a book on teacher tenure.
I'm a mom who pulled her three kids out of school several years ago, in part because of the lousy curriculum and lifeless teaching, but in larger part because of the other kids.
I’ve noticed that "good" suburban schools have disruptive kids, so much so that parents like me are pulling their children out. I suppose we could rightfully blame lousy parenting for the disruptive kids, but that doesn't correct the school ambiance. Please note: this isn’t an urban problem, though it is probably worse in high-crime areas. And it is not a consequence of poverty, as poor parents often have delightful kids.
So, moving past lousy parenting, are administrators the real culprits? I’m not so sure. Can administrators do anymore than they're doing? Are their hands tied by PC regulations and rules, including the threat of lawsuits and judicial reprisals? If an administrator expels or deals with more kids of color than white kids, as is often the case, won't he/she be accused of racism? And, is disciplining more boys than girls is sexism? Is there a place to which administrators can send their worst kids (other than prison)?
Are teachers the culprits? Some teachers can't control the classroom -- true. Most teachers could control the classroom sans about ten to twenty-percent of the troublemakers, I'd presume. So it's that bottom cohort of miscreants that ruin a school.
From my perspective, the bottom line is we have an educational culture that excuses poor behavior, fears courts, demonizes parents who remove their "special snowflake" as a "helicopter parent," chastises parents who pull their kids out of the huge mess, offers few if any viable options for administrators and teachers who want to be rid of the problem children, etc.
Here's my advice:
1. Push for universal charters with selective admissions policies. Let artsy kids go to artsy schools, nerds attend math/science academies, traditionalists use Saxon math, etc. Let the kids -- or their parents -- self-sort into whatever schools fits their needs. This applies only to the kids who behave in class. The rest … well, read on.
2. I’m sure many will detest this suggestion, but kids need to be tracked and grouped according to behavior AND ability, interest and talent. Specialized charter schools with objective entrance requirements -- cut-off scores, for example -- could permit self-tracking. Within a school, let a kid take any level of class, but be clear to that child that he or she is responsible for the consequences of taking a class that may be too difficult, or easy. If a bright child enrolls in remedial classes, a teacher or counselor could suggest, gently, that the child take more challenging classes, but ultimately, that choice is for the child to make.
3. Kids who are disruptive get sent to military-like schools by administrators. And administrators must deal with any child sent to the “office” by the teacher. Period. We can't allow the majority of kids who are well-behaved to be poisoned by the minority who need discipline. Let the state deal with the most poorly behaved kids, perhaps in boarding schools or reform schools. Kids who could be easily mainstreamed into schools, without too much extra time and effort by the teacher, should be allowed to enroll in whatever school fits their fancy. Those who consistently misbehave need to feel the consequences of their behavior. There's nothing wrong with telling a teenager that her or his behavior has been so reprehensible that the options remaining have been limited to X, Y, or Z. But always -- and I mean, ALWAYS -- give a child a goal and plan to earn his or her way back into mainstream schools, perhaps by earning points or doing particularly well in a "reform" school.
4. View all forms of education -- home, tutored, private, charter -- as viable options to be considered by all parents. There should never be a preferred form of schooling that functions as the default option. All schooling is schooling. Period. Again, public schooling IS schooling by any parent or institution. We're all part of "public." We all have a stake in our country.
5. Give up on the idea that there’s a single public with a single ethos – this isn’t the 1950s. The time of neighborhood schools has passed. We’re a permanently fragmented society. Let each family, then, choose whatever school best represents their ideals and vision; let their fragment fill its niche among the bits and pieces that make up our society. Again, the notion that there’s an American “center,” represented by the local public school (usurped by federal strictures and demands) to which all American families must acquiesce, is risible. To the extent that we keep on trying to fit all kids into a neighborhood school – the smart, dumb, quirky, misbehaved, mentally ill, oddly talented, untalented – we will fail.