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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

‘Sit Down and Shut Up’

In Sit Down and Shut Up, Cinque Henderson recalls his year as a substitute teacher at high-poverty schools in the Los Angeles area. “Discipline can set students free,” he argues.

On his first day in the classroom, Henderson was cursed and threatened by one of his students. He called a monitor to escort the student to the office. He was back within five minutes with a note saying, “OK to return to class.”

Henderson blames the legacy of racism, fatherless ness, traumatic experiences and “the false promise of meritocracy” for classroom chaos.

Henderson rejects the cliches about kids’ rights, writes Larry Wilson, who’s on the Pasadena Star-News editorial board.

He quotes a teacher in J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: “The want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.” Solutions: “Teach impulse control … Bring back reform schools … and reform them. Reinstate classroom ejections … Hire more black men to teach. Make middle schools the most important schools. Bring back (limited) tracks. Crack down on cursing. … Sue school districts to compel rules around some basic level of parental involvement.”

Now a writer for television, Henderson left teaching because of an abusive principal. He told his story to Jay Mathews in the Washington Post and wrote about the principal’s eventual downfall in Medium.

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