Today’s topic is the state of our public schools with an emphasis on school discipline. So let me begin, for those who haven’t heard my podcasts before, by saying that I am a former middle and high school teacher. In fact, I taught in three middle schools and three high schools in Oregon. During my 34 year tenure as a teacher, I received five nomination as Oregon Teacher of the Year. And, the last district I worked for thought enough of my abilities that after I retired in 2015, they immediately hired me as a mentor for first and second year teachers. Normally I am loathe to discuss my accomplishments, but feel it’s important so you understand that I have some inside knowledge of the workings of the public school system. With all that in mind, let’s get started.
My substitute Nightmare experience
My husband and I moved to a small community in Washington a year and a half ago. Not quite ready to be fully retired, I decided to sign up with the local district to substitute teach. I began subbing at the middle/high school in the fall and was horrified by the lack of discipline at the institution. My first assignment was for a language arts teacher (English teacher). I got to school early and read the teacher’s notes, but naturally was a little nervous given I didn’t know any of the students. When the students entered, they were loud and had a hard time settling down. One student decided to lie on the floor. Unruffled, I asked him to find a desk and sit down. He proceeded to tell me that “Amy let’s me do my work like this.” I asked who Amy was and was astonished when he responded that Amy was the teacher of this class.
For those who don’t know anything about teaching, Amy broke the first rule regarding maintaining a professional demeanor with students. Calling teachers by their first name creates a sense of familiarity and friendship. Some progressives might think this is a great idea, but simply put, it’s not. Students begin to think of the teacher, not as a person in charge or a person of authority, but rather as a chum. You can be friendly to students without becoming friends with them. This is a slippery slope.
Anyway, the rest of the period and the day was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. An older male student plugged his phone into the teacher’s audio system and cranked up his music while I was trying to give instructions. I unplugged it and handed it back to him while he glowered at me. I circulated around the room encouraging students to work, but little was accomplished.
It was easy to see the students ran this classroom and if they didn’t want to work, they didn’t. One young man, noticed that I had been taking notes on student behavior, so when the dismissal bell sounded, he grabbed the pencil from my hand, found the note I wrote about his behavior, and scratched it out. When he handed me the pencil, he said, “I’ve been around a lot of subs and I can tell when someone likes their job. You obviously don’t.” I didn’t respond; it was pointless. I went on to endure three more months of this type of behavior before I called it quits. For $128 a day, it just wasn’t worth it.
My husband, ever the optimist, asked me to consider subbing at the elementary school. I was reluctant because I knew enough to know that young students were a “different animal” than I was used to. I wasn’t sure I was cut out for it, but I gave it a try. To my astonishment, I enjoyed it and the students. Since my entire career had involved teaching older students, I never touched students. But, elementary students are different. They want to hug you and hold your hand. Initially, it felt awkward, but after a while it became an endearing part of the job.
Fast forward to yesterday. I was asked to sub for a 6th grade class. The minute the students entered the room, I knew I was in for a long day. They were raucous and would not settle down. I was told that at this particular school to get students’ attention, the teacher should hold her hand up and say the words, “Give me five.” That method works well with younger students who immediately hold up their hands and stop talking, but with older students, the teacher just looks like a fool asking to be recognized by the students who just ignore said fool. I repeated the magic phrase, “Give me five” several more times with little results.
So, using my teacher voice that I had long ago learned to project, I said, “That’s enough! Sit down and please be quiet so I can give instructions.” Well, that got their attention. I also told them that this was the worst behaved class I had subbed for thus far this year. That was mistake one. I also told them I was supposed to sub for them next week as well, and I might have to rethink that. That was mistake two.
I got the students through several activities based on the lesson plans the teacher had provided, made it to lunch, and was geared up for the afternoon. I had just begun giving instructions for a new activity when a counselor came in, took over instruction and said the principal wanted to see me in the office. When I got to the office, the principal had me sit down, and asked me if I had told the class they were the worst class I’d ever had. I was truthful and said yes, although I corrected the phrasing to the worst behaved class. She then asked if I had told the students I was not going to sub for them next week. I again replied in the affirmative.
She went on to tell me that a student had called his dad and said he couldn’t learn because he was afraid of me. What? I thought. Not one student had acted fearful, nor did I verbally abuse anyone, or raise my voice in anger. Then, the principal said, “I’m sending you home for the day.” I couldn’t wrap my brain around this turn of events. The students misbehaved and I was being asked to go home. You might call it “suspension” for the rest of the day. It was a humiliating end to an otherwise stellar career, for you see, I will not sub or teach again. What’s the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” There’s something seriously wrong with this district. Or, is there something bigger at play?
A short history of the promise program & restorative justice
What I had experienced subbing in this district is what is known as restorative justice. In 2011, Superintendent Robert Runcie who hailed from Chicago and had previously known Barack Obama, was tasked with bringing down the number of students of color entering the school to prison pipeline. He instituted a program called Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Interventions, Support, and Education (otherwise known as the PROMISE program). The program began in earnest in 2012 as a method of handling the district’s high number of school-related arrests which was over 1000.
An agreement was drawn up between the police, the district, and some organizations like the NAACP. An essential part of of this program is called Restorative Justice. It’s main aim is to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions, especially among students of color and those with disabilities. It also is a manifestation of the social justice theory that says, “…if kids are better understood and if there is a reduction in the number of suspensions and expulsions, then they will be less likely to drop out of school, turn to drugs or crime, and end up in prison.” That’s a nice theory on paper which is where the minds of progressives usually are…in the clouds full of pie-in-the-sky unproven techniques and theories.
In 2014, Obama sent a letter to all US school districts where he tied the PROMISE program and restorative justice with federal dollars and said that if a school district disproportionately suspended students of color they could be in violation of federal civil rights laws. So, of course, most school districts bought into the program. Basically, instead of punishment, the offender engages in talk sessions called healing circles with the students he/she has been bullying to seek reconciliation. The program appears on paper to be a success because fewer and fewer students were suspended or expelled, but the results in the classroom are not as rosy as the stats portray.
chaos in the classroom
According to Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, “This [restorative justice program] can lead to incredibly dangerous dynamics in class…Teachers know they can no longer rely on their principals for support and kids know that.” According to Education Writers Association, about 500 school districts were investigated following Obama’s “guidance” letter, and they were threatened with the loss of federal funding.
In the LA County school district, willful defiance is no longer grounds for removal from class, and I might add the same is true for most districts throughout the country today. Instead, students participate in a talking circle and other methods to build trust. You don’t have to be a teacher to imagine how this can impact a classroom. Let’s say you ask little Johnny to move to a different seat because he’s talking to his neighbor rather than working. Johnny can tell the teacher to take a flying leap and he will not be removed from class. Instead, the teacher must use valuable class time to form a magical talking circle to discuss feelings. What about the feelings of those students who actually want to learn? What is this actually teaching Johnny about respecting adults?
United Teachers Los Angeles school representative Art Lopez said, “My teachers are at their breaking point…Everyone working here is highly aware of how the lack of consequences has affected the site. Teachers with a high number of students with discipline issues are walking a fine line between extreme stress and an emotional breakdown.”
8th grade teacher Michael Lam told the LA Times that restorative justice methods just don’t work and they allow unruly students to undermine their classmates’ education. Amazingly, even Superintendent Ramon Cortines says restorative justice discipline creates classrooms that are “out of control.” By the way, guess how much implementing this program is costing schools? Well, in LA, the district had to hire 25 restorative justice counselors which cost the district $7.2 million. Couldn’t that money have been spent hiring more teachers? Just sayin’.
And, the LA School District isn’t alone. In Madison, Wisconsin, 87% of teachers believe restorative justice has made student discipline problems worse. The Madison School Board gave teachers a survey about restorative justice discipline and found that the problems with the program include inadequate consequences for misbehavior, lack of staff to support those with serious behavior problems, insufficient training of teachers, and loss of instructional time due to disruptive behavior. Really? Who would’ve thunk it?
What does the public think of these programs?
So, what does the public think about this restorative justice program? Let’s take a look a 2015 Education Next Poll. Here are the stats asking participants how they felt about “policies that prevent schools from expelling or suspending black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students.” 51% of the public oppose it. In addition, 54% of parents and 60% of teachers oppose such a policy. Among Republicans, the numbers are not surprising with 62% opposing the policy, and even Democrats were in opposition; 42% disapproved of such policies. So, let’s look at the races. 44% of Hispanics oppose this policy as well. It is only African Americans that support such policies at 41% approval. Surprise, surprise.
an increase in assaults on teachers
Okay, so we know that these policies since implementation are not working and are wasting valuable class time while creating chaos in the classroom. But, did you also know that teachers are currently being assaulted by students in great numbers, particularly in urban areas. I don’t know if this has to do with the restorative justice program, but I sense it has some hand in it. When students know they can curse and be defiant with a teacher and suffer no real consequences, it stands to reason the next step would be assault. Let’s listen to 68-year-old substitute teacher Pewu Johnson explain how he was attacked by a student so severely that he lost consciousness.
Body slammed by an out of control teen. And, what you didn’t hear is that he’s going back to subbing. Perhaps that’s his livelihood. Me? I don’t financially need to sub, so I called it quits. I was mainly doing it because this small district has very few subs. Their loss.
Okay, now you’re going to hear a news report about a female African American teacher in Baltimore who gets punched in the face by a female student, also African American. The quality of the clip isn’t that great, but I think you’ll get the gist of it.
The audio doesn’t do it justice. The video shows the severity of the impact from the punch to her jaw. I’m sure this teacher didn’t think she would need body armor to protect herself from her students.
Here’s one last audio about an attack on a teacher.
All right, I know the Bible says turn the other cheek, but Romans reminds us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” And I Peter explains, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
If I had been physically assaulted by a student, I guarantee you I would press charges with the police; the heck with the magical circle. Students need to learn there are consequences for every one of their actions. To provide a program where there are virtually no consequences for negative behavior just invites more chaos, more assaults, and less learning for all students.
school massacre tied to promise program
Consider the case of Nikolas Cruz, the psycho killer of 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In middle school, Cruz was suspended 67 times in just one and a half years, and his problematic behavior continued into high school. However, Cruz was entered into Robert Runcie’s PROMISE program for three days early into his high school tenure after he had vandalized a school bathroom. Unfortunately, it seems he did not complete all three days, and no one in the district can explain why.
Records indicate Cruz was a deeply disturbed young person who needed help and intervention. His school discipline record shows four full pages of infractions beginning with many incidents of using profane and obscene language to fighting to disruptive behavior to vandalism and culminating with assault. However, because of the PROMISE program, every year students get to start over with a so-called “clean record,” so Cruz basically escaped dealing with the law for years.
Here’s Ryan Petty, whose daughter Elena was killed by Cruz during the massacre at MSD High School, explaining how the PROMISE program led to this catastrophe.
Well, Mr. Petty summed it up nicely. The school district and the police department in Parkland failed to protect the students and districts using this program are creating an atmosphere of chaos and confusion.
Leave it to beaver vs reality
Long gone are the Leave it to Beaver classroom situations like the following.
Let’s see, respect from the class. Check. Manners from students. Check. You couldn’t see it, but all students were quietly sitting in their desks ready to respond to Miss Landers. Check. Okay, that was the wayback machine.
Now let’s listen to the reality that many teachers face today. This is the trailer to an upcoming documentary entitled Silenced Classroom.
Many of my rural elementary school friends won’t be able to relate to this, but I can only point to the little incident that happened to me in a town of 2000 to say, yes, this is happening. The students are not punished; oftentimes it’s the teacher who is punished. The one thing I did not agree with in the audio is the man at the end who said government needs to swallow its pride and take care of this. As Ronald Reagan once said, “Government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.” Has anyone considered that what’s going on in schools today is a product of no prayer in school and lenient progressive so-called “discipline” procedures?
trump tries to halt the insanity
Fortunately, President Donald J. Trump came through yet again. He has rescinded the “Dear Colleague” letter sent to every public school district which tied federal funds to the reduction of the number of suspensions and expulsions of students of color. December 21, 2018, the Trump administration officially got rid of the “lax discipline” rule that Obama inflicted on the entire country’s school districts. The Education Department led by Betsy DeVos and the Justice Department under the supervision of Matt Whitaker revoked the controversial policy.
Betsy DeVos explained the decision saying, “Our decision to rescind that guidance today makes it clear that discipline is a matter on which classroom teachers and local school leaders deserve and need autonomy.” Senator Patty Murray of Washington State (where I currently reside), made clear she is not a fan of the decision. She said, “Secretary DeVos and Acting AG Matthew Whitaker are…making it harder for students of color to learn without being discriminated against.” Puhleeze! All you need to do is go to YouTube and type “teacher assaulted by student” in the search section. It looks to me like it’s the teachers being discriminated against by thug students.
So, here’s the bottom line. The rule, the mandate tied to federal funds, no longer exists, so if schools like the ones I have subbed at still employ restorative justice, you as a citizen can question this ineffective policy. Think about attending a board meeting and if your schools seem out-of-control, ask about the PROMISE and the restorative justice programs. Ask the board to justify their decision to continue with a failed program. Remember, you may have teachers siding with you. Many of them do not like this policy either.
Make sure to tune in next week, when we continue this topic with an emphasis on the indoctrination of our youth in public schools. Let’s end today, as we always do, with prayer for our beleaguered teachers and for all students in our public school system. And, remember Be the Light Daily as you seek to make positive changes in your community schools.
a needed prayer
Heavenly Father, Victorious Warrior, Commanding King of Kings, Mighty Conqueror, we come to you today humbly asking for help for our nation’s schools, students, and teachers. Hebrews 12 tells us, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” Additionally, Job reminds us, “Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves. So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty…”
We are living in a time of leniency and indulgence, Lord, but we need your discipline. Many of our public schools are out of control or simply so lenient that the children are not learning respect for authority. Father, we ask you to breathe on our schools a refreshing breath of truth and light that will wake up those in charge in the schools so they once again take the reins of true leadership and control. Discipline is never fun, but our nation’s children need it. We know that you are in charge, Lord, and we place these children, teachers, and schools in your hands. In Jesus’ name, Amen.