Education

For The Record

January 25, 1984 3 min read
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Following is the text of the President’s Jan. 7 radio address.

My fellow Americans, this is my first radio talk in 1984, so happy new year.

My prayer for you this new year is that you and your families will prosper in health and happiness. When I spoke to you last Saturday on New Year’s Eve, I made one request to everyone: When we drive, let’s drive sober. Well, I was delighted to hear some very heartening news from Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole. Last New Year’s weekend was the safest on our highways in 35 years. Our efforts to keep drunk, violent drivers off the road are beginning to show progress.

Today I want to talk about a subject ... [that] is on our minds as the holidays end and our children go back to school: the problem of classroom discipline. The sad truth is, many classrooms across the country are not temples of learning, teaching the lessons of good will, civility, and wisdom important to the whole fabric of American life. Many schools are filled with rude, unruly behavior and even violence.

According to a 1978 report by the National Institute of Education, each month 3 million secondary schoolchildren were victims of in-school crime. I don’t mean ordinary high-jinks. I mean crime. Each month some 2.5 million students were the victims of robberies and thefts, and more than 250,000 students suffered physical attacks. In large cities, the problem was so bad that almost 8 percent of urban junior- and senior-high-school students missed at least one day in the classroom per month because they were afraid to go to school.

Now maybe you’re thinking: That was back in 1978. Well, a study released in 1983 indicates this 1978 report probably understates the problem today.

Just as school violence affects our sons and daughters, it also affects their teachers. That 1978 National Institute of Education study found that each month some 6,000 teachers were robbed, about 125,000 a month were threatened with physical harm, and at least 1,000 teachers each month were assaulted with violence so severe that they required medical care. One psychiatrist who treats teachers says many of them suffer symptoms identical to those of World War I shell-shock victims. It’s that bad.

Today, American children need good education more than ever. But we can’t get learning back into our schools until we get the crime and violence out. It’s not a question of anyone asking for a police state. It’s just that--as Albert Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers put it--"We’re not going to get people interested in English or mathematics or social studies and languages, unless we solve discipline problems and take out of our schools those students who prevent teachers from teaching.”

Today, I’m asking Americans to renew our commitment to school discipline. Here at the national level, we’re directing the federal government to do all it can to help parents, teachers, and administrators restore order to their classrooms.

The Department of Education will study ways to prevent school vio-lence, publicize examples of effective school discipline, continue its joint project with the National Institute of Justice to find better ways for localities to use their resources to prevent school crime.

The Department of Justice will establish a National School Safety Center. This Center will publish handbooks informing teachers and other officials of their legal rights in dealing with disruptive students, and put together a computerized national clearinghouse for school safety resources. I’ve also directed the Justice Department to file court briefs to help school administrators enforce school discipline.

But, despite the importance of these efforts, we can’t make progress without help from superintendents and principals, teachers, parents, and students themselves.

I wish I could tell you all the stories I’ve heard of schools that have been turned around by determined local efforts. At Southwestern High in Detroit, once one of the city’s most violent schools, firm discipline has raised the attendance rate from 53 to almost 87 percent.

In my home state of California at Sacramento’s El Camino High, a discipline compact between parents and the school has helped achievement levels soar. And in the Watts section of Los Angeles, George Washington Preparatory High School recently established a policy of strict discipline with impressive results. Just five years ago, only 43 percent of the school’s seniors expressed an interest in going to college. Well, last year, 80 percent of the seniors did go to college.

So please--if you have discipline problems at your school--find out what you can do to help. By working together, we can restore good order to America’s classrooms and give our sons and daughters the education they deserve.

A version of this article appeared in the January 18, 1984 edition of Education Week as For The Record


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