Education Opinion

Enforcing Student Behavior Rules

By Walt Gardner — October 30, 2015 1 min read
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When a South Carolina deputy threw a student across the classroom after she refused to follow his command, he was summarily fired (“Deputy who threw South Carolina student from her desk is fired,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 28). The incident is already the subject of outraged letters to the editor and op-eds because of its egregious nature. But there’s another side of the story that merits discussion.

What triggered the incident was the girl’s texting in class and her refusal to hand over her phone to the teacher. The teacher was right in making such a demand. Students cannot learn when they are not paying attention. Teachers have always had to contend with distractions of one kind or another. When I was teaching, there were no mobile phones, but there were magazines of one kind or another, or clandestine notes. Fortunately, I never faced a student who defied my authority to enforce what I considered reasonable rules.

But things are different today. Not only have students become addicted to electronic devices, but far more importantly they challenge teachers who insist on maintaining a reasonable atmosphere for learning. It’s this disrespect for authority that I believe led to the South Carolina deputy losing his temper. Yet why was he called there in the first place (“Role of School Police Officers Questioned,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 29)?

Why couldn’t the recalcitrant student have been escorted from class by school personnel? Perhaps they would have been no more successful than the teacher in persuading the student to surrender her phone or leave the classroom. It’s impossible to know. But once sworn police officers are called onto school grounds, the situation immediately changes because they are trained to take law enforcement action. That’s why school resource officers are a better solution. Los Angeles, Houston and Philadelphia employ their own officers, providing them with training specifically geared to school situations.

I don’t accept the argument that petty offenses should be ignored to avoid similar events in the future. Schools are for learning. If they don’t teach students that all actions have consequences, students will eventually face far more serious penalties later in life. Teachers already have enough on their shoulders. They shouldn’t have to contend with miscreant students.

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.