Dave Micelli is a veteran teacher in the Baltimore city school system. Recently, he submitted a letter to the Baltimore Sun, ridiculing the paper’s editorial on the need for “better schools” to serve troubled minority youth. The problem isn’t the schools, Micelli wrote, it’s the students (H/T to Gregory Kane of the Washington Examiner, who reprinted much of the teacher’s letter in a recent column):
“Regarding your recent editorial, ‘How to end the killing,’ your last paragraph made me want to vomit. ‘No doubt, Baltimore needs effective police and prosecutors, ample drug treatment, better schools, and more economic opportunities.’
“How dare you accuse, through implication or otherwise, that the need for ‘better schools’ is a reason there is so much killing. Had you defined the loosely used term, ‘better schools,’ perhaps I and probably others may not have been so nauseated.
“I have taught in the Baltimore public school system for the past two decades. What we need is better students. We have many excellent teachers. I cannot count the number of students who have physically destroyed property in the schools.
“They have trashed brand-new computers, destroyed exit signs, set multiple fires, destroyed many, many lockers, stolen teachers’ school supplies, written their filth on the tops of classroom desks, defecated in the bathrooms and stairwells, assaulted teachers (beyond telling them to perform certain impossibles acts upon themselves) and refused to do any homework or class work.
“Need I go any further? I won’t even bother addresing the other ’causes’ you listed. Too inance. In summary, the problem seems to be a total disregard for life that exists not only in our crime-ridden city, but also in all of the major cities throughout the United States.
“So go blame other root causes, but please leave our city police, prosecutors and teachers out of the finger wagging.”
Bravo, Mr. Micelli, for having the temerity to address the 800-pound elephant in the public education classroom–school discipline, or more accurately, the lack thereof. It’s no secret that many of the nation’s schools are out of control, with marauding students terrorizing their peers and teachers, while administrators are unable (or unwilling) to act.
Indeed, a school principal or superintendent who tries a “get tough” approach may run afoul of the Obama Administration. Writing in the current issue of City Journal, the brillant Heather MacDonald documents administration efforts that have further eroded classroom order, in pursuit of “phantom racism.” The entire article is required reading for anyone remotely concerned about American education; below are a few excerpted paragraphs:
“…the Departments of Education and Justice have launched a campaign against disproportionate minority discipline rates, which show up in virtually every school district with significant numbers of black and Hispanic students. The possibility that students’ behavior, not educators’ racism, drives those rates lies outside the Obama administration’s conceptual universe. But the country will pay a high price for the feds’ blindness, as the cascade of red tape and lawsuits emanating from Washington will depress student achievement and enrich advocates and attorneys for years to come.
This past March, Duncan released some newly gathered national discipline data. The “undeniable truth,” he said, was that the “everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity.” The massive media coverage of Duncan’s report trumpeted the discipline disparity—blacks were three and a half times more likely to get suspended or expelled than their white peers—as convincing evidence of widespread discrimination. (The fact that white boys were over two times as likely to be suspended as Asian and Pacific Islander boys was discreetly ignored, though it would seem to imply antiwhite bias as well.) [snip] The feds have reached their conclusions, however, without answering the obvious question: Are black students suspended more often because they misbehave more? Arne Duncan, of all people, should be aware of inner-city students’ self-discipline problems, having headed the Chicago school system before becoming secretary of education. Chicago’s minority youth murder one another with abandon. Since 2008, more than 530 people under the age of 21 have been killed in the city, mostly by their peers, according to the Chicago Reporter; virtually all the perpetrators were black or Hispanic. In 2009, the widely publicized beating death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert by his fellow students sent Duncan hurrying back to the Windy City, accompanied by Attorney General Eric Holder, to try to contain the fallout in advance of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics (see “Chicago’s Real Crime Story,” Winter 2010). Between September 2011 and February 2012, 25 times more black Chicago students than white ones were arrested at school, mostly for battery; black students outnumbered whites by four to one. (In response to the inevitable outcry over the arrest data, a Chicago teacher commented: “I feel bad for kids being arrested, . . . but I feel worse seeing a kid get his head smashed on the floor and almost die. Or a teacher being threatened with his life.”) So when Duncan lamented, upon the release of the 2012 discipline report, that “some of the worst [discipline] discrepancies are in my hometown of Chicago,” one could only ask: What does he expect?
Nationally, the picture is no better. The homicide rate among males between the ages of 14 and 17 is nearly ten times higher for blacks than for whites and Hispanics combined. Such data make no impact on the Obama administration and its orbiting advocates, who apparently believe that the lack of self-control and socialization that results in this disproportionate criminal violence does not manifest itself in classroom comportment as well.”
As Ms. MacDonald notes, the White House hasn’t come close to proving the supposed link between lengthy school suspensions, higher drop out rates, and gravitation towards a life of crime. But then again, facts really don’t matter to the Obama Administration. Besides, depicting disruptive minority students as “victims” instead of the problem allows the President and his minions to maintain their continuous campaign mode, and avoid any responsibility for serious social and economic problems that have festered on their watch.
The reality is rather clear: America’s schools are (increasingly) held hostage by students who are responsible for the majority of discipline problems. By some estimates, only six percent of pupils generate two-thirds of a school’s major discipline problems, disrupting the education process for all involved. Almost a decade ago, Public Agenda (a center-left think tank), published a study that summarized the school discipline problem rather succinctly; by over-whelming margins, teachers and parents agreed that discipline is essential for the education process. And by similar numbers, they concurred that unruly students are disrupting that process, preventing other students from learning, and forcing some teachers to leave the profession out of sheer frustration.
Judging from Dave Micelli’s letter, the situation has only grown worse over the past decade. While politicians from both parties talk about the need for “better schools,” they continue to ignore the discipline issue. Without “better students” (and firmly-enforced discipline policies), efforts at “school reform” will inevitably fail, and all of us will pay the price.