Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Violence on the Playground and Against Teachers

Winslow Homer's Snap the Whip

This week two stories have drawn national attention that indicate a breakdown of discipline in public schools. One is the case of a teacher in the Baltimore city school system who was assaulted by a student. The case prompted the Baltimore Sun to probe the extent to which city teachers are subjected to violent behavior from students and what the consequences are for the perpetrator when the violence is reported.

The second is a report in today's Washington Post that a principal has been forced to prohibit children from playing tag during recess, because it had become a game of "intense aggression" resulting in injuries--this in an elementary school in up-scale McLean, Virginia.

To me both of these stories shine a light on not only the state of our schools but the kind of culture that is producing violence as a way of life for children--both poor and not-poor. It also raises the issue of the breakdown of discipline in the country's public schools. In my view, we are reaping the results of a prevailing culture that views inconoclasm, subversion, and rebellion as politically correct. By this I do not mean the probing and questioning of ideas or values that enter into the meaningful back and forth between children and parents and children and teachers. I mean the predisposition to resist and flout any rule or norm or morality simply because it is a rule and the individual wants to resist any boundaries. Of course, children who resist boundaries and find that indeed the boundaries stretch with their unruly will often push, are in fact invited to push, to the next level of misbehavior. Lack of common-sense discipline also feeds a child's insecurity, since a child is smart enough to know that something is out of whack if he or she is running the show. This insecurity, in turn, makes it very difficult for a child to concentrate--to work--because the child feels anxious and unsafe.

Kay S. Hymowitz, who writes on family issues for the City Journal, wrote "Who Killed School Discipline" in 2000, which sheds some light on the way in which teachers and principals have been backed into the corner and forced to accept indiscipline and violence in the schools.

There is a lot to think about how to revitalize our country's schools so that we produce educated adults who are able to meet their responsibilities as future parents, and I invite any and all comments.

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