Teacher jailed for grabbing student’s ear

A New Jersey gym teacher asked an interloper to leave his class three times.  When the student refused and cursed at him, Troy Rushing grabbed the boy’s ear and pushed his back to move him out of the room. The teacher — who will never teach again in New Jersey — was sentenced to 90 days for assault for “protecting the integrity of his class and refusing to be bullied,” writes Gordon Deal on a Wall Street Journal blog.

The religious teachers I had in high school were Brothers of the Sacred Heart. A couple of them served in the military and had taken up boxing as a hobby while enlisted.

. . . I watched the biggest tough-guy in the school get dropped by a punch in the mouth, courtesy of one these Brothers. The kid had a hard time following directions. He figured it out after that.

Assuming the facts are as described, I imagine teachers who read it are either a) silently saying “Amen!” or b) liars, writes Robert Pondiscio, who was punched by a student who refused to leave the room and return to his own class.

The kid was sent back to his classroom and I was given a talking to by my AP for insufficient sensitivity to what “these kids’ lives are like.” It got a little heated. A lot heated, actually. The thing that sticks years later is her yelling at me, “You just want this to be like a private school!”

In sentencing Rushing, Superior Court Judge Frederick De Vesa referred to his history of violating restraining orders filed by his ex-wife and wife.  “He even admits that he is unable to control his behavior when he is under a great deal of stress,” the judge said.

Should Rushing have faced assault charges? Is he unfit to teach?

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  1. The whole concept of assault is screwed up… pinching someone’s ear to lead them out of the room does not in any way harm an individual short of their overblown sense of pride. This has less to do with our education system than our legal system.

  2. Unfortunately, the only appropriate response in this situation is to call campus security and have the offending student removed from the classroom by an authorized security officer. Then follow up with any formal charges, thus criminalizing what might only be rude or thoughtless behavior. Although in this case, it sounds like a charge of criminal trespass might have stitched up Mr Interloper just fine. The word in the halls, “Coach Rushing will have your ass thrown in jail” would probably help improve student attitudes, at least in gym class.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    To the extent that we want teachers to have any authority whatsoever, they have to have power as well. Authority without power isn’t really authority at all, but mere responsibility. At some point, students are going to say “Fuck you I’m going to sit where I want to sit.”

    I have great sympathy for such students: there are strong arguments that once a child is over the age of 12 or so, mandatory schooling is more akin to prison than anything else, no matter how well you dress it up or how much you say it’s for the good of the child.

    But the system that we have says that teenagers are essentially infants and can be ordered to stand up, sit down, and be shuffled around from room to room whether they want to be or not. If that system is going to survive, it needs a way to enforce its imperatives. The mere moral force of authority is clearly insufficient: otherwise the problem student wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. So doing something like issuing a detention slip isn’t going to do anything: if you can’t convince the student leave your classroom after class is over, how on God’s green Earth are you going to convince the student show up for an hour-long detention?

    There are really only two options: the immediate use of physical force (hopefully in reasonable and sparing amounts) or the threat of physical force later. In other words, you can move the child yourself, or you can pick up the phone and dial the police. I’m ruling out calling the Assistant Principal, since the AP is just going to find him or herself in the exact same bind as the teacher, and is going to have to decide whether or not to invoke the force of the state.

    In other words, we have to make a decision as to whether to treat the student as a child — who can be lifted, pushed, pulled, and perhaps (depending on the society and the prevailing mores) even hit — or an adult who can be apprehended by the authorities and prosecuted for trespassing.

    Of course, this is a false choice, because we’re not REALLY treating the student as either a child or an adult. If an adult trespasses on your property, in many (and, I would hazard to guess, most) states you can forcibly eject the person so long as the force is reasonable. Reasonable force apparently can’t be used by adults against students. They are untouchable by any save their parents and the police.

    And that’s both bizarre and unproductive.

  4. michael, what you wrote was spot on. thank you.

  5. I’m ruling out calling the Assistant Principal,

    Then you’re wrong. Calling the AP is what you should do. The AP might find himself in the same bind, but when he calls the cops, the cops will listen and act. The teacher hands it off to the AP and the chain of control and documentation is maintained.

    Under no circumstances should a teacher physically manhandle a student. I find it tiresome when a student complains over accidentally being touched–ie, I had a student declare I “assaulted” her when I closed the door as she was trying to walk out (not realizing she was there). But deliberate manhandling? It’s insane to allow.

  6. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Seems to me that classroom discipline is prerequisite to any teaching (all the homeschooling families I know have a comfortable, working discipline, though I must admit I don’t know a statistically significant number). Why then don’t the teachers unions deal with the issues raised here and make workable classroom discipline a prime goal? Who better to solve the problem than teachers? Who has more first hand knowledge and who knows more about what works and what doesn’t? I don’t get why teachers, through their unions, don’t raise holy hell about this.


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