Response to School Violence Is Inadequate

If violence-prone kids can be helped by social workers and counselors, that help should start in kindergarten and first grade. Teachers know who the troubled kids are, but they don’t have time to give them the attention they need. The kind of intensive support Huberman envisions for 15-year-olds might make a difference for five-year-olds.

Of course, most troublemakers aren’t deeply troubled. They go to disorderly schools where name-calling, fighting, and disrespect for authority is tolerated. Without strong parents teaching them better at home, these kids go with the flow.

There are many “no excuses” schools -- private, charter, and district-run public schools -- where low-income minority students do well. Not one tolerates disorder or disrespect. Led by strong principals, these schools show students how to behave, and rules are enforced. Children feel safe. Teachers can devote classroom time to instruction. Fewer students fall behind and act up to avoid the frustration of not being able to read or solve a math problem. These schools don’t need metal detectors or specially trained security guards to create a “culture of calm,” as Huberman calls it.

It’s not fair to compare regular public schools with charter schools or private schools, many teachers say. Schools of choice can get rid of disruptive students. Neighborhood schools have to deal with unruly, unwilling, and troubled students -- and their dysfunctional parents.

In a speech to the City Club, Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart said that chronically disruptive students should be taken out of regular classrooms and put in a separate school until they learn how to behave.

Stewart was talking about nonviolent but perpetually misbehaving kids who make it impossible for teachers to teach and for motivated students to learn. Teachers send these students to the office and they “boomerang” back, Stewart said.

If teachers had the authority to enforce classroom rules, exiling the most defiant students, the vast majority of go-with-the-flow kids would follow the rules. It would be the new normal.

A small number of children would need to go elsewhere to learn self-control. If some never learned, at least they wouldn’t destroy the learning opportunities of others or drive teachers out of the profession.