"As children grow older, parents must give them greater freedom, including greater freedom to make mistakes. "

Public Schools in Decline Thanks to Discipline Fads

For the record, I believe in the concept of public (aka, taxpayer-funded, government, “free”) schools. I attended public schools and obtained an excellent education that challenged my intellect and imparted a broad understanding of the world and my place in it. I am forever grateful to my teachers. Some were more likeable than others, but they were all dedicated to their craft and mission.

I began having misgivings concerning public education during my kids’ school years. The schools they attended were less than challenging and often driven, it seemed, by educational fad (e.g., outcome-based education, open classrooms, new math). In addition, parents and teachers – the latter, mostly – were beginning to tell me stories of classroom discipline debacles of a sort that I never saw or even heard of when I was a student. Since then – over the past forty years, that is – the discipline problems teachers are expected to deal with have only gotten worse, by much.

The further problem is that over that same time, teachers have been slowly but surely stripped of permission to punish. According to educational and psychological ideologues, punishment is demeaning, lowers self-esteem, leads invariably to resentment, and other things it is and does not. Research done by social scientists who possess an abundance of objectivity – increasingly hard to find – contradicts all the politically-correct propaganda pertaining to punishment.

In a nutshell, the best research finds that mild-to-moderate punishment works far better than any alternative (rewarding, ignoring, talking) at correcting misbehavior; that the most obedient kids are also the happiest; and that the highest student achievement is associated with teachers who employ moderate criticism and create teacher-centric classrooms.

Characteristic of an ideology-driven institution is a blind eye to facts that do not affirm the ideology in question. Concerning America’s public education system, that description seems to fit. Consider the following statement from a teacher, who echoes the complaint of nearly every public-school teacher to whom I’ve spoken of late:

“We are told we need to ‘understand their behavior’ and use ‘restorative justice’ to help a student through a bad behavior episode....NO consequence should be given for the behavior because it is a ‘teaching moment.’ How do we get the education system to realize that coddling kids is not the answer?”

First, the attempt to “understand” the circumstances and motives surrounding a child’s misbehavior is a form of enabling in which an adult helps a child construct a justification of one sort or another for an offense. The assignment of blame must be avoided at all cost because, theoretically, the perpetrator is as much a victim as the actual victim. He’s wrestling with “issues,” supposedly. Restorative justice – offender-victim reconciliation – is the logical outgrowth of that counter-productive process. Mind you, restorative justice is the default approach even when the victim is a teacher. In the Brave New World of the American public school, teachers and students are equals and students rate their teachers based largely on how well they succeed at being liked.

Eventually, ideologies run out of new ideas and begin recycling old ones under new nomenclature, and so it is with this supposedly cutting-edge approach to school discipline: it is nothing more than a new spin on the “I’m okay, you’re okay” silliness that took America by storm in the late 1960s. Combine restorative justice with academic relativism – there being several equally correct ways to spell “alphabet,” for example (red ink lowers self-esteem, doncha know?) – and the inevitable result is ever-increasing classroom (and intellectual) anarchy.

This explains why so many people who were once very good teachers are now working in the private sector, where the meritocracy and common sense continue to prevail, albeit hanging on for dear life.

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