Sunday, March 18, 2018

Should We Let Them?

Should We Let Them?

Last week students throughout the country demonstrated their concern and memory for the 17 students and educators who were killed at their high school in Florida.   The reactions to the question: “Should we let them?” were across the spectrum from “no, and there will be consequences if you do”, past benign neglect all the way to the other end where administrators facilitated the event and faculty participated with students.
My first reaction was why the question was even asked.    Many years ago the Supreme Court made clear that students do not leave their first amendment rights at the school house door unless the demonstration of those rights would disrupt the education of others.
Of course, the supporters of “there will be consequences” immediately jumped on the disruption factor.   Yet in school systems that either allowed but did not facilitate and in school systems that facilitated and participated there were no disruptions.   The students and their supports walked out of class for 17 minutes, mostly stood in silence with heads bowed, then reentered their schools.   In some communities, students had assemblies and discussions on the event and their very strong feelings that they did not want this tragedy to touch their school and what could be done to prevent that.
We have universal education at public expense in our country.   We even limit the liberty of children between 5 and 16 (mostly although the end limit varies) to do anything but attend school.   It is expensive so there must have been a good reason for this requirement.
Although it is often forgotten, the reason was that as suffrage expanded we needed an educated electorate to make these elections work.  The need to train workers for the economy is a relatively recent reason to fund public education.
If we go back to our roots in public education, we still need an educated electorate.   Our students need more education in civics than they need chemistry or trigonometry.  The students who left their classrooms last week were not only speaking out for their cause but they were demonstrating an understanding of how a democracy works.  I found it particularly confusing that the advocates for punitive consequences for the students leaving school for 17 minutes and, thereby, disrupting their education was to promise that they would be suspended for a day causing their education to be further disrupted.   Where is the consistent value here?

We have no business asking the question should we let them.   Our job as educators is to not only “let” them but to encourage them to think more about their values as citizens in a democracy and how those values will be played out by their civic activism and their voting record.   The children of the 1950’s were repeatedly reprimanded for being the apathetic generation.   Now our children are no longer apathetic.   They want to take up the discussion and make change.   And we have the nerve to ask the question- Should we let them?  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Shoot 'Em Up

Shoot ‘Em Up
There are dumb ideas and then there are really stupid ideas.   The notion to arm teachers in the wake of the most recent school invader shooting certainly ranks as a really stupid idea.
What are these people thinking!?  There are so many reasons this idea is so bad that it is hard to begin.
Let’s begin at the beginning.   The solution to the problem of a violent, probably mentally ill person in a school is to provide more armed people with guns in a school.   Has it ever occurred to people that there are some teachers who also may have mental health issues?   But Trump says some teachers might have a knack for guns and those teachers should be trained and, perhaps, even given a bonus for being willing to be armed.
A teacher’s first job is to teach children.    However, we already know that a number of children find their parents’ guns and use those guns to create harm either intentionally or unintentionally.   How will we protect students and staff from some students finding the teachers’ guns and using them to settle a school argument.   What will happen to a teacher’s gun when she/he goes home from school?  That gun will go home with the teacher.  Now we have a significant increase in the number of homes with guns.   Not a good idea.
Then there is the faith that a teacher trained to use guns will demonstrate that training in skilled way if the school is invaded.   The teacher, in the heat of the crisis, will be able to distinguish the intruder from the plain clothes resource officer who may be in the area, also with a gun who may be shooting.   The teacher will get a straight shot at the invader.  The invader will stand still so the teacher can take a good shot and the students will all move out of the way so they are not hit by a stray bullet.   The entire scene will freeze in time to allow this marginally trained teacher to be calm in the moment using the pistol to fire in the direction of the automatic rifle that is being fired.   Really!!   What fantasy island do you live on!
Our solution to the problem of violence is to create the opportunities for more violence.   A person may be a straight shooter but that is not straight thinking.
Our society has become increasingly violent.  Many reasons for this violence have been advanced.   Media in the form of games, movies and popular music have exposed us to increasing amounts of violence so that our threshold for outrage keeps getting higher.  Mental health treatment gets minimal attention in our health care system.  School are becoming bigger and bigger so kids aren’t known to teachers as feeling people but rather as potential test scores that could raise or lower a teacher’s rating.  It is no wonder some kids feel alienated from the very group whose attention and caring they want.

The United States already has the largest number of guns per capita among first world nations. There are approximately 50 million children in our public schools.   Tragically 200 of them have been killed by armed invaders.   Giving more guns to more people, particularly teachers, solves nothing.  It just gives people more opportunity to shoot ‘em up.

Monday, March 5, 2018

When She Was Bad, She Was Horrid

When She Was Bad, She Was Horrid
Many of us remember the old nursey rhyme about when she was good, she was very, very good; but when she was bad she was horrid.   Evidently many, many people feel that way about kids with disabilities.  Suspension and expulsion rates for children with disabilities are two times higher than they are for plain kids.  This information is based on data from the U.S. Office of Education.
According to the report, children with disabilities make up 12.46% of enrollment in traditional public schools.  Yet they were subject to discipline at roughly twice that rate.  In fact, 11.56% of children with disabilities had been suspended and .26 % had been expelled. 
It is interesting to explore the possible reasons for this huge difference.  The most simple reason is that kids with disabilities are just not as well behaved as plain kids.   But simple reasons are mostly easy answers. 
A better reason is that in spite of the requirement in the law that the manifestation of a child’s disability may not be used for disciplinary reasons, it is happening all the time.
Another reason is the huge push towards fully including children with disabilities into traditional classrooms.  When this happens most of the training received by teachers is designed to meet the academic needs of the students.  There is little to no training regarding behavioral management of children with disabilities nor how to manage their differing social and emotional needs.
One of the aggravating factors for children with disabilities is academic frustration and embarrassment that they cannot keep up with their peers.  General education teachers are not trained in differentiating instruction in ways that are needed by children with learning challenges.   They have little to no training in understanding children with autism and how that impacts the child’s perception of the world.  Teachers need to be trained in the causes of those challenging behaviors not just keep reacting to them with suspensions which only lead to more disconnection with the class.  Teachers need to be trained in positive behavioral supports.   For the most part they are not.  The ability to recognize the purpose of the behavior to the child as opposed to the teacher’s analysis of what the teacher thinks the purpose is cannot be overstated.  It is a science to determine what is motivating the CHILD not what the teacher thinks is motivating the child.

Just maybe all these kids with disabilities really are very, very good when they are understood instead of being treated as if they were horrid.