They're not angels

Michael the Archangel shadowed his daughter through a day at her “good” public high school, which happens to be his old high school. Things have changed.

While the (math) teacher was presenting his lesson, the students came and went from the classroom as they pleased. They talked in little groups, not about what the lesson was about but regarding phone conversations, who likes who, etc. One student (girl) sat on the desk (rather than the seat) with her back to the teacher as he tried to present his lesson, she was chatting with her girlfriends. When the teacher asked her to at least sit in the desk, she made a face and a growling noise – this happened three times (and she never did actually sit in her seat) when he finally told her to go sit in the hall. The good news, I finally saw what/where his limit was, the bad news, her sitting in the hall wasn’t do her any good and I suspect didn’t bother her much.

On the door to Spanish 1 was a sign that said, “No Food or Drink – water allowed. Please turn off all electronic devices.”

Yet as I sat in that class, again students were up and walking around, there was a little more control regarding the coming and going in and out of the classroom, but not much. Again, students talked amongst themselves and usually not in Spanish or about Spanish. I saw students eating lots of stuff, including candy; I saw lots of liquids being consumed that weren’t water. . . . I also witnessed a couple students using their cell phones, one was either text messaging or taking pictures with it, the other was whispering in it.

P.E. is the only class where discipline is enforced, the dad found. Students get no credit unless they dress for gym and participate.

He wonders how high schools can raise academic standards if it’s impossible to enforce discipline in academic classes.

I’ve visited high schools and not seen quite this level of disorder, but I have seen students eating, drinking, applying make-up and chatting to each other in class.

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Comments

  1. Carl Larson says:

    The urban neighborhood high school I teach in has the same lack of basic discipline that Michael the Archangle describes in his post. It’s probably worse at my school, although not quite as bad as what Mr. Babylon talks about in his blog at http://hombreblanco.blogspot.com/.

    I could not agree more with Michael the Archangle contention that academic reforms will face little traction unless fundamental changes are made to the way the educational system currently handles discipline and safety.

  2. Sadly, here in California, teachers are often held accountable for such negative student behaviors yet lack the authority to impose meaningful sanctions designed to correct these disruptive actions.

    This is where a talented site administrator can make all the difference in maintaining an orderly (yet nurturing) learning environment.

    One concern that I have regarding the extension of NCLB to the high school level is that I haven’t heard anything about extending “accountability” to the students themselves regarding their own academic achievement.

  3. Bluemount says:

    What would you do if students were made more accountable? Throw them out, arrest the parents, or create more military settings in schools. We have lots of security, police, zero tolerance discipline, graphs, charts etc… None of it helping.

    The problem with doing a bad job of education is you live with the consequences for a long, long time and I suppose expanding opportunities in rural prison systems will help the jobless recovery. But their are other solutions.

    Empower parents, make sure parents have the time and resources to spend with small children. Parents figure out discipline real quick when they have to live with it. Maybe less daycare would help. Get rid of peer leadership programs that pair the performers with the non-performers (we know that helps the performers but not the non-performers). If you want to help a kid and their families empower the teachers who really want to do that.

    Empower the teachers who choose the more difficult kids with choice and resource. Let them develope their own curriculum when the problems aren’t mainstream problems. Let them identify the people and resource they really need. I’d put my money on a thinking individual who sticks with it over any program any day.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    Why not make high school voluntary. Let the students who want to hang out all day talking of their cell phone do it at the mall instead of school. Then the student who want to learn can actually learn and teachers can toss any student who does not want to learn.

    The other question to ask is: Can you force someone to learn who does not want to learn?

  5. Mr. Davis says:

    The way to empower parents is school choice. Anything less means that the responsibility for the child’s education is removed from the parents shoulders and assumed by the state. The results of compulsory education are as effective as the results of a compulsory draft. How about All Volunteer Students?

  6. superdestroyer wrote:

    “The other question to ask is: Can you force someone to learn who does not want to learn?”

    I agree. Why do schools feel that they have the responsibility to solve many of the problems of society – at the expense of those who do care and do want to learn. What is more important, the average level of education of all students or providing the best educational opportunities for each individual student?

    This requires public schools to separate those who can and do want to work from those who can’t or won’t. As long as public schools will not set specific grade-by-grade standards, continue social promotion, use full-inclusion and spiraling curricula, and will not separate out the problem kids, there will be problems.

    The solution is easy. The onus for doing well belongs with the students and parents, not the school. However, schools have the responsibility to set high standards, use proven curricula, show results, and to separate those who can and will work from those who cannot or won’t. In this age of full inclusion, social promotion, developmentally appropriate ideas, and lawsuits, I’m not sure this is possible. By the way, if the onus is placed on the students and parents (where it belongs), then they should have the power of school choice. Ah, there’s the rub.

  7. We HAVE school choice in NYC…so? There’s no accountability at home, so none at school.

    Schools–trust me–schools and teachers do not “feel that they have the responsibility to solve many of the problems of society”. We are TOLD to do that. We’d really just like to teach a good book now and then. Maybe teach the scientific method? Perhaps the FOIL method?

    Even at a GOOD school, the whole day is taken up with CONSTANT VIGILANCE! Until parents work shorter hours, spend more time with their kids, take responsibility for their kid’s behavior, and (here’s a tough one) we cut the amount of time kids spend vegged in front of TV/Computer/Video games, we’re not going to see any changes. And there are LOTS of changes that need to be made.

    I was the teacher everyone wanted, but I could never MAKE any kid learn. I had a principal who supported all of my discipline decisions, but that didn’t mean EVERY kid was respectful (though I never had behaviors like those above). Kids today are in an environment and schools that we adults simply would not recognize as “school”–I hope EVERY parent shadows their kids for a day.
    It think it would change a lot of things!

    And, to the previous comment–the solution to all of this is FAR from easy. If it were easy, we’d have done it already. Everyone agrees there’s a problem–but it’s mighty complicated.

  8. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Superdestroyer for Superintendent of Schools.

  9. “I was the teacher everyone wanted, but I could never MAKE any kid learn.”

    Bully for you, but who ever said that you had to MAKE any kid learn. Your job is to teach. If you are having discipline and poor performance problems that hinder those students who wish to work, then the school has a responsibility to remove them from the class. If the school cannot or will not do that, then they are failing in their primary mission. The solution is simple. Whether or not it is politically feasible is another thing.

    Saying that nothing will change unless parents and kids change sends a very bad message to those kids who are willing to work. It says that you are not going to even try to help them because there is nothing you can do. Individuals are important and there are things that can be done.

    The solution IS very simple; affluent parents do it all of the time. (There is a big world outside of NYC.) Whether supply will meet demand is another issue, but I see public school systems fighting tooth and nail against charter schools and vouchers, while at the same time failing their primary mission.

    By the way, there are a lot of school systems that have such bad curricula that they don’t even know what the “FOIL method” is. You can’t put all of the blame on kids and parents. Many K-8 school curricula are abysmal. Don’t high schools ever go back and tell the lower schools to fix their curricula and standards, or do they just blame all of the poor preparation on the students and parents? In our neck of the woods, discipline is not a problem. Bad curricula and low standards are.

  10. Why do schools feel that they have the responsibility to solve many of the problems of society – at the expense of those who do care and do want to learn.

    Because schools are government run institutions.

    What is more important, the average level of education of all students or providing the best educational opportunities for each individual student?

    Since most schools operate on socialist ideals, their response would be the average level. They’re perfectly willing to sacrifice those who do want to learn for the benefit of those who don’t, as long as everyone ends up “equal”. The whole situation is summed up perfectly here:

    “People in the education and political establishments pretend they’re not motivated by such ‘callous’ motives as greed and profits. These people ‘care’ about us, but from which areas of our lives do we derive the greatest pleasures and have the fewest complaints, and from which areas do we have the greatest headaches and complaints? We tend to have high satisfaction with goods and services like computers, cell phones, movies, clothing and supermarkets. These are areas where the motivations are greed and profits. Our greatest dissatisfaction is in areas of caring and no profit motive such as public education, postal services and politics. Give me greed and profits, and you can keep the caring.” –Walter Williams

  11. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I am proud to share initials with Williams.

  12. “P.E. is the only class where discipline is enforced, the dad found. Students get no credit unless they dress for gym and participate.”

    That sounds like one of those schools that takes the following approach to “discipline”. Run the PE classes like boot camp, and let the jocks “police” everyone else in the name of the all-mighty god, Socialization.

    And yes, I agree that students need the right *not* to attend schools (or the overcrowded sardine cans that pass for schools.) There will always be some people not interested, or who lack the talent or inclination – and these people are the ones who will cause trouble.