By Dr. Bria McDonald, Dean of Education for the Potter's House
As an educator with twenty-plus years of experience in both public and private schools, I am both amazed and saddened by the trend of young violent offenders in our schools today. Simply stated, many of these are Out of Control Children [OCC]! As in the case of the 5-year-old at Fairmount Park Elementary featured in the St. Petersburg Times, the child was "deliberately" assaulting the teacher and administrator. It was suggested that she had total control of the situation by being "out of control." All around the country parents and educators cried out in disbelieve that our schools are faced with such dilemmas. Many called in on radio talk shows or left messages on Internet chat sessions to debate the discipline methods used, the Police involvement, the suspected "lack of good parenting skills", and the appropriateness of the child's placement in a regular classroom despite her assumed psychological or physiological issues. Most inquired, "What's going on in today's schools?" Others questioned, "Are we bringing up a generation of Conscientious Objectors?"
As a day-to-day school administrator, it is especially hard for me to understand the level of disrespect, violence, rebelliousness and disruptive behavior in our youngest children, ages 3 to 5 years old. The OCC not only spit and bite, but they punch with tiny fists, clinch their teeth, use intimidating voices and body postures, throw things, make weapons, draw "death threats", climb on the furniture, and verbally abuse everyone, including their parents, their peers and the school personnel. Unlike years past, when you might have had a handful of these disobedient students in the upper grades, the OCC are now present in every classroom, at every grade-level - even kindergarten! Teachers are finding it increasingly more difficult to cover the prescribed curriculum due to the rising number of classroom disturbances and physical assaults. Their cries for help from parents of OCC are falling on "unsympathetic" ears. Parents of OCC are unlike the parents of earlier generations, who would stand with the teacher to correct their child's misbehavior. The parents of OCC, time and again, verbally attack the teacher's motives or blame his/her classroom management style as the source of conflict. The parents of OCC rarely recognize that "parenting methods" used in the home might account for a good deal of their child's lack of self-control. Much of this "blaming" discourse between teacher and parent occurs in front of the child. The public display of distrust undermines the authority of the school's personnel and lessons their ability to govern the child in the parents' absence. Worst yet, it encourages the child to push the limits even further. Sadly, it also removes the child from the lessons to be learned by accepting the responsibility for and the natural consequences of his/her inappropriate choices and behaviors.
For years educators have been promoting the idea that every child can learn. However, every child is not teachable. Namely, in regular classroom environment, without another specialist assigned to assist the child, an uncontrollable-child is an un-teachable child. An un-teachable child can be defined as a child who does not respect the rights of others and will not comply with a reasonable request. A reasonable request is defined as a request that does not violate the child's basic rights, endanger the child or humiliate the child among his peers. Examples of reasonable request are, "Please raise your hand before speaking. Please wait your turn. Let's keep our hands to ourselves. Please take your seat so we can continue with our lesson. Please stop what you are doing and refocus on our activity. You don't have the right to hit me. Please go to the Principal's office with Mrs. Smith." These are reasonable requests most likely made by teachers everywhere. Non-compliance by even one child will disrupt the learning activities and divert all attention to the disturbance. Reviewing the incident at Fairmount Park Elementary, it is clear that the child met the definition of an un-teachable child. All instruction stopped, her classmates had to be relocated, the situation was escaladed because the child did not respect the rights of others (as indicated by the hitting) and did not comply with numerous reasonable requests made by the school personnel. The story states that the mother has secured the services of an attorney because her child's right have been violated. Most of the responders to this story expected the mother to apologize for her child's misbehavior and offer assurance to the school personnel that the child would comply with the rules in the future. While this matter will most likely be resolved in court, parents are encouraged to consider the bigger picture. Kids that are out-of-control will be unsuccessful in school. As an educator, on behalf of educators everywhere, I beseech you to minimally teach your children to respect the rights of others and to comply with reasonable requests.
Long term, the educators and lawmakers must consider more complex issues than just the rights of the child offender. They must also consider the rights of all school children and personnel. There are many unanswered questions that will need to be addressed in the days to come. Such as, "What are the rights of the other students who come ready to learn? What about their right to a free and appropriate education in an environment that is conducive to learning?" After all, these outbursts and assaults substantially interrupt the educational process and endanger the safety of the whole class, not just the child in crisis. Conversely, "What about the rights of the school staff? Don't they have the right to teach in a non-violent, non-hostile, work environment? Who protects the teacher or administrator, his/her right to teach, reputation and/or personal safety?" With our aging teacher population, the rise in young violent offenders, teachers are at greater risk today of having their careers ended prematurely, being permanently disabled, or killed by their students. "How will we replace this aging generation of educators? Considering the potential for personal assault combined with the lowest salary range of a degreed professional, how do we attract new college students to choose teaching as a viable career option?"
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