by Kung Fu Zu 11/4/15
While visiting The American Spectator today, I came upon the following article by Dr. Thomas Sowell: “Ignoring the Obvious“. I spent some time as a substitute teacher in one of the better school districts in Texas and was both pleased and disappointed with the doctor’s piece.
I was pleased as his is the first article that I have seen, by a nationally known and respected pundit, which points out the single most important reason for our failing schools. I was disappointed for the same reason. As Dr. Sowell notes, the facts are obvious yet nobody until now seems to have been willing to call a spade a spade.
How bad are things? Within one week of my becoming a substitute teacher, I could see the main reason for the failure of our public school system was the lack of discipline in schools. I will be generous and estimate that only about 70% of the problems within the classroom would be solved by reinstating strict rules. Now I am not saying that there were not disruptive students in my day, but schools had a number of different sanctions, which are not available to today’s educators.[pullquote]Basically, teachers have no real power of sanction and the students know this.[/pullquote]
During my junior and senior high years, I can remember hearing the school intercom being switched on, followed by a light tapping on the microphone to be sure it was working. The principal or assistant principal would then recite something like the following: “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention. This is what happens to those of us who decide they are above following the rules.” A pregnant silence was then shattered by a loud, whack—– whack—– whack. This would be followed by the principal thanking us for our attention and signing off. This broadcast always had a certain edifying effect on the student body.
Not only the principal and assistant principal could administer justice, so too could the gym teacher who had his own wooden paddle. I suppose he had a special dispensation as boys are apt to get somewhat over enthusiastic in a gym setting, with fights breaking out every now and then.
There was no accumulating demerits before one had to stay after school. There was no “sub-school” to which delinquents were happy to be sent, as they wished to avoid class. Retribution was swift and memorable. If a student was disruptive enough, suspension and then expulsion would follow.
Today, it is unusual to even throw a disruptive student out of the classroom as it is more like a reward than punishment. Some teachers are able to force their will upon classrooms, but even they can be hobbled by the all-too-common lout who is dim and looking for attention. Basically, teachers have no real power of sanction and the students know this.
Those who I hold most responsible for this fact are the school administrators who too often wish to avoid any and all inconvenience or controversy. More often than not, the administrators do not have the teacher’s back. Such policy inevitably leads to the lunatics running the asylum. It is therefore not surprising that those teachers, who still have energy, pick and choose their battles, while many (probably most) simply give up and try to put in their time. Not surprisingly, many come to the conclusion that the prize is not worth the battle and go on to other fields.
The reasons discipline has disappeared in our public schools are many and this piece is too short to go into them. But there is no doubt in my mind that this is the single biggest problem facing the future of American education. Nothing else comes close to it, not boredom due to rote teaching, not a lack of creativity in students, not the problems with teaching to the test, not over reliance on computers and other tools which allow too many students to avoid thinking. And I should also state that the gross relaxation of discipline and overall slide in academic standards are clearly related. I am not sure which has more influence on the other, but there is some sort of negative synergy at work.
Until this problem is clearly acknowledged, and discipline is reinstated in the public school system, the U.S.A. will continue to be badly served. (Everything else is just nibbling away at the edges.) Public schools will continue to spew out functional illiterates who over-estimate their abilities and under-estimate their ignorance.
American public schools are turning out generations of ignorant egotists who do not have the first idea of the past, are lost in the present and will have a very bleak future. Unfortunately, the nation and world will suffer mightily as a result.
Kung Fu Zu is a conservative prognosticator who has traveled widely and lived outside the United States. He was last seen at the Conjunction Junction.