Education Opinion

Are Disruptive Students Outliers?

By Walt Gardner — May 11, 2016 1 min read
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The media love to feature stories about how students are turning schools into blackboard jungles (“Taken Out of Context by Jesse Watters, Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News Ministry of Truth - The False Narrative of Out-of-Control Kids,” Huffington Post, May 6). When Larry Strauss, who wrote Students First and Other Lies ( Kindle, 2016), was invited to appear on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, he correctly sensed he was going to be used. Yet there is more to this story.

Strauss is a veteran teacher and coach in a South Los Angeles high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has mistakenly been shot at on an outdoor basketball court, taken away weapons, and broken up fights, but he argues that depicting inner-city schools as hopelessly violent is hyperbole. He does not deny that a few students are truly incorrigible and should be permanently removed, but he is against the existence of police in the schools. He says that in 25 years, he has never known one “truly dangerous” student.

I want to be fair in my remarks. Strauss is correct that zero tolerance policies have been a failure, that students have a right to an education without fear for their safety, and that not all inner-city schools are horrendous. The problem is that teachers are primarily in school to teach. They are not there to act as parent, psychologist or police.

Strauss is naive to believe they can play all those roles and still do the job they were hired for. Perhaps he can, and I take my hat off to him. But I couldn’t. I can’t speak for other teachers across the land, but I don’t think they can either. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 20 percent of public school teachers reported being verbally abused, 10 percent reported being physically threatened, and 5 percent reported being physically attacked in schools. (To put these percentages in proper context, there are 3.2 million public school teachers ).

But that does not mean the media have acted responsibly either. They know that sensationalism is what attracts readers and viewers, which is why they play up stories involving student violence. Nevertheless, when Strauss attributes the problem to “teenagers trying to stave off the tedium or express themselves amid the anonymity and alienation or just express their opposition,” he unintentionally enables them.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.