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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

School of bullies

Sometimes students misbehave -- not because their needs haven't been met or their teachers aren't sufficiently sensitive to their culture or because of systemic inequities, but because of human nature, writes Daniel Buck on First Things. If adults have no authority, he writes, the strong will prey on the weak.

One day, two girls known for insulting and threatening teachers and inciting arguments with other students were taunting a new classmate. He sent them to the office. After five minutes, they were back. "No punishment, no detention, not even much of a time-out." The new girl left school and never returned.

Another day, one of the girls kicked a boy, a frequent target of bullying, between the legs. He sent her to the office. The dean of students returned with her a few minutes later to ask him to take her back in class. She'd admitted kicking the boy, but claimed he'd insulted her. There were no consequences for a physical attack. The victim left for another school.

Before the pandemic, the ­Illinois legislature limited out-of-school suspensions and called for teachers to be trained in “the adverse ­consequences of school exclusion” and “justice-system involvement,” writes Buck.

"Student behavior and school culture and climate deteriorated" after the law changed, concluded a survey of Illinois teachers. Pollsters said it was because teachers lacked sufficient training in alternatives to punitive discipline.

Education officials believe that "bad behavior is always the communication of an unmet need or a flaw in the system," writes Buck. "The ideal school is so full of meaningful activity and communitarian vibes that no child will feel the urge to misbehave. In the rare instances in which a child might act out, the proper response is a conversation with a counselor: What caused this, and how can we fix the system so that it doesn’t happen again? Maybe a snack will help, but certainly not a detention."

An angry seventh-grade girl tried to assault a classmate, writes Ronak Shah, a science teacher in Indianapolis, on Chalkbeat. He thinks less testing and more engaging curriculum would help. "Talia is one of my brightest students," he writes, "but like many young people, she couldn’t see herself in the learning, and the seed of frustration grew into something worse."

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