Friday, January 20, 2012

John versus the Board of Ed, et al

The acrimony surrounding the state of our school down the road is almost as upsetting as the conditions inside the school, itself. This sort of upheaval, dividing parents and administrators, including calls for dismissal and wide-ranging expressions of disgust are not an unexpected response when the fortunes of our children are at stake.

We have to keep in mind that the problems presented by the loss of discipline in the classroom are not entirely due to anything the school system has or has not done. The chaos inside the minds of children reflect long-term trends in our society, and are especially concentrated in the lower strata of the socio-economic spectrum.

Typically, we live in these separate strata, and so the problems of one seldom matters to the occupants of another. Racial divisions have long existed along these lines of separation, and the injustice of people of different races attending separate schools is something Americans have worked to solve since the days of Brown v. the Board of Ed.

The desire to move to a color blind culture is the noble imperative behind the legislation that put children together in the same classrooms who before were not. And out of this, the collision that occurs is to some degree the inevitable pains of merging across distinct sets of experiences and expectations.

Out of control behavior by students is nothing new in our schools. My first teaching job was at a school for emotionally disturbed teens that charged $51,000 a year to take these children off the hands of parents and school districts that could afford the tuition. This kind of mania is not isolated to the lower rungs of the economic ladder. However, the frequency and youth of students given to these outbursts is noticeably greater in communities where more children have fewer parents with less education and income.

Our integration of school children is an attempt to break the isolation of minorities in settings that tend to lead to a cycle of poverty. And so we have, after redistricting, more and younger students who are not coping with the classroom setting to the point that the entire student body suffers a consequence. What used to be somebody else’s problem is now ours. And the classrooms that were supposed to be a ticket to a better life succumbs to the chaos that happens when a critical mass of students decide to tip the apple cart just for the hell of it. I saw this happen on many occasions in Haddam Killingworth in the 90s. It is happening today in Farm Hill, but to a degree that is orders of magnitude worse – to the point where it can no longer be tolerated if learning is to occur at all.

We cannot, and should not look to keep people separated by geography that mimics economic, and in turn racial differences. But we must separate the students who disrupt the education of others, and stand to learn nothing in the process. After so many strikes, you have to leave. When violence occurs, and threats are real, even a child does not have the right to stay.

We want the new families at Farm Hill to have an opportunity to send their children to a school where their children can learn and lead to a new future. Redrawing lines on a map without addressing the challenges this poses falls short of meeting the needs of all our children.

Setting standards for student conduct required to earn a seat in a classroom is necessary, overdue, and nowhere in sight in this district. Children can and will respond to adult leadership, as they will falter without our clear and considerate guidance. Until students are clear on what they absolutely can and cannot do in a classroom, this school will not be where I send my children to get their education.

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