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LETTER: No-tolerance, respectful behavior needed in schools

To the Editor:

For years, I have written about the failure of public education. I did so, always fearful that I was the only reader. Now, someone, in last week’s Twin City TIMES, has responded. I am, of course, truly delighted. (Letter to the Editor:“Teachers have to tolerate belligerent, rude students,” TCT, August 9, 2012)

I have been, I believe, in a precarious position. Convinced that our public schools were failing—and failing terribly—I still harbored a fragile hope that I was mistaken and that someone would rush forward to point to the irrefutable truth of their success.

For me, that would have caused mixed emotions; I would have been overjoyed, but also embarrassed because it would have revealed me as an ignorant fool who should have kept his mouth shut. Actually, I hear that a lot, although not always as clearly expressed. Sometimes, it’s just eye rolling.

I really can’t take offense; I have been wrong so many times, it would be misleading to protest. Still, as ignorant as I might be, I believe I am, unfortunately, usually right about the failure of our public schools.

There are many factors involved in school failure and more than enough blame to go around, so there’s no need to rush forward: we can all claim a portion. Some believe the failure is due to our society being degraded from what it once was. They believe our degraded society can rightfully claim responsibility for many of the causes, and I believe—more importantly—they can accept blame for not stepping forward to correct them.

Whenever, I have sought to place blame, I have chosen the larger perpetrators, those nearest to the problem, the ones with the leverage of nearness and thus able to make the most powerful changes for good or for bad. These have usually been teachers and school board members.

It hasn’t been easy criticizing teachers; except for one or two from my school days, I have liked, loved and respected most teachers I knew. My fault with teachers is when they collect in groups as union members and then collectively place their own benefit over the needs of their students. However, it has always been easy and so appropriate to criticize school board members.

My critic from last week’s paper, bless him, assigns blame to parents who do not properly raise their children. He is, of course, correct. It’s true, the children in our schools are unruly and don’t properly respect their teachers.

When we look at this problem and although we might like to, we can’t change the parents. For many of them, properly raising their children is just one of many of life’s problems they have been unable to solve. But, there are other schools that don’t suffer unruly children.

I offer the following quotes from the book, “Whatever it Takes”:

“Many of the schools followed a system for classroom behavior invented by KIPP’s founders, David Levin and Michael Feinberg, called SLANT, which instructed them to Sit up, Listen, Ask questions, Nod and Track with their eyes whoever was speaking.” Page 160

And:

“The problem at Promise was what Pinder called ‘ticky tack, annoying kinds of behaviors’: disrespecting teachers, chewing gum in class, snickering, eye rolling. But that kind of bush-league misbehavior was no less disruptive than the serious stuff, Pinder believed. It interrupted the learning process and slowed down classroom instruction and that meant lower test scores and that meant it had to stop.” Pages 174, 175

I, as well as my critic, want discipline and respect in our classrooms and I believe it is possible. I have previously advocated for multiple video cameras in classrooms, tried first in kindergarten and first grade. This would be a modern-day improvement on mirrors or teachers with eyes in the back of their heads. And when students are caught misbehaving, they should be confronted and, if necessary, so should their parents.

No-tolerance, respectful behavior is what we need and we have to accept that it won’t begin with the parents. It must begin with our school boards and our teachers.

Dick Sabine

Lewiston

Post Script: I hope to see more criticism. If we discuss our societal problems, one or more individuals—perhaps a school board—tired of hearing us complain may step forward with a solution.  If it accomplishes nothing else, it should make us aware that there is a problem.

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