Lowering of behavioral standards threatens public education

Published 8:13 am Friday, April 9, 2010

■ Second in a series

In Wednesday’s edition, I covered funding as an impediment to making America’s public education system more competitive in the world.

So then, what of the other impediments? I believe that there are many that can be addressed at the community level without requiring much funding.

Ironically, some of these impediments contribute to the decline of education in America to a far greater extent than do problems with buildings, books and budgets. In the next three installments, I will write about three that come to mind; consider that there has been a gradual development of the following in too many school systems across the once-great landscape of public education in America.

Impediment No. 1: There has been a lowering of behavioral standards in our schools.

With a relentless influx of increasingly bad behaviors, the less—offensive behaviors (which did not even exist years earlier) begin to be tolerated. As soon as an “unacceptable” behavior becomes sufficiently commonplace, it receives diminished discipline, and attention is diverted to the newer, more severe behaviors that are being introduced.

This process is stretched out over such a long time that it is not noticed in a meaningful way, especially in the face of the newer, more severe behaviors. Varying degrees of disrespect (of self and others) have become commonplace and are extremely disruptive to an effective learning environment – and discouraging to teachers who have not yet burned out or acquiesced.

On the rise, by example, are bullying behaviors, and while retaliatory violence and suicides on the part of victims only seldom appear in the newspapers as the tip of the iceberg, varying degrees of student—to—student intimidation and subordination detract from the learning environment to a far greater extent than should be permitted. The insult to this injury is that now teachers also are the recipients of bullying behaviors, not only from certain students but also from some of the parents who arrive at school to defend their misbehaving children by attacking the integrity of the teacher.

On the decline, by contrast, have been behaviors of self—discipline, motivation and drive. All of this happens on such a widespread and persistent scale over time and with inadequate correction that many teachers tend to throw up their hands and eventually either quit education or burn out on the job, handing some measure of control over to the students. Some teachers do maintain effective management of student behaviors, but in too many school systems there is insufficient administrative support for them, and they are left to swim upstream every day.

Most community citizens (even school boards) never hear of many of the outrageous behaviors that occur in schools because teachers are muzzled by administrators who do not want the system to look bad (but is this not like covering an already-infected, untreated wound with a bandage and telling everyone that “It’s not so bad”?).

So how bad is it, and who is to say what behaviors are unacceptable and which are not? Do citizens feel welcome to visit the schools unannounced to see what the learning environment is like (or might they be viewed as a snooping enemy)? How often do school board members visit the schools unannounced and unaccompanied to observe the learning environment and to talk with teachers? Should they not? What would the results be of a survey of parents who have removed their children from public schools and placed them into private schools or home schooling as to the reasons for having done so? We are sick, getting sicker — and we do not want to talk about it.

Whose fault is all this misbehavior in our schools? Rather than being some kind of cultural inevitability or the fault of the students, it has been permitted by the school system over and over, beginning on the first day of school in kindergarten.

It is as easy to place blame on the parents of dropouts, but a K-12 public education system is fully capable of thwarting all kinds of behavior problems and dropouts, too; instead, we keep ourselves behind the eight ball and fail our children accordingly.

If school system administrations and a sufficient mass of the adult population across the community were to have the will to do so, this trend could be reversed without any federal grants, big money, or fancy programs. We already know what to do. We can learn from the numerous schools across the country today that have reformed their learning environment to include strict discipline as a precursor to academic progress with the irony being that after a couple years of high standards imposed upon them, students are far happier than they ever were before.