Don’t Talk Back — Unless You’re Working Out Some Personal Issues

 

Restorative-Justice-Ven-DiagramYou may have heard me say it here before: California is the world’s largest open-air asylum. I’ve always thought that, but it became much clearer to me after I decamped from my native Golden State to Tennessee last year. Now every time that I sent foot back on California soil — as I did last night — I’m struck by the air of unreality that characterizes the place. All you have to do is look around for a few minutes before you start thinking “Is it possible that there’s a gas leak in this entire state that no one knows about?” That’s about the same reaction I had reading through the San Francisco Chronicle this morning, which notes this — ahem — innovation taking place in Oakland schools:

Mouthing off in class or failing to follow a teacher’s instructions will no longer lead to suspension in Oakland schools, a ban that will be phased in and be fully in effect just over a year from now, the school board unanimously decided Wednesday night.

Oakland Unified will become one of a handful of California school districts that restrict suspensions to more serious offenses and eliminate the punishment for willful defiance — a broad category of misbehavior that includes minor offenses such as refusing to take a hat off or ignoring teacher requests to stop texting and more severe incidents like swearing at a teacher or storming out of class. San Francisco and Los Angeles are also among those districts.

The state already bans suspension for willful defiance from kindergarten through third grade, and Oakland’s decision extends it through high school. The new policy, which goes into full effect July 1, 2016, also bans expulsions and the practice of involuntary transfers — moving students from one school to another — for willful defiance infractions.

Now, this would probably be a bad idea anywhere. But it’s a spectacularly bad idea in Oakland, where classrooms sometimes take on the appearance of war zones. As Paul Sperry noted in March in the New York Post:

Violence is still a problem in Oakland schools after officials there substituted … restorative counseling for suspensions on … orders from Obama educrats.

“There have been serious threats against teachers,” Oakland High School science teacher Nancy Caruso told the Christian Science Monitor, and yet the students weren’t expelled. She notes a student who set another student’s hair on fire received a “restorative” talk in lieu of suspension.

Yet the administration is holding up Oakland’s new discipline program as a national model. Little wonder: Teacher training for the program, led by Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, includes sessions titled, “Race and Restorative Justice” and “African-Centered Restorative Justice Approaches.”

Yes, that’s right. There are federal fingerprints all over this. Oakland began this shift under pressure from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which concluded in 2012 that, because African-American kids made up 32 percent of the school district’s enrollment but constituted 63 percent of suspensions, there was an implicit racial bias permeating disciplinary policies. As a result, the onus is now on teachers and administrators to rationalize misconduct. From today’s Chronicle piece:

Student Dan’enicole Williams, a McClymonds High School sophomore, said the ban will force educators and administrators to focus on why students are behaving a certain way rather than just suspending them.

“They never take time out, if someone is sleeping in class, to ask what’s wrong,” she said. “They may be acting that way because they didn’t eat the night before.”

Which might be a more compelling argument if classroom narcolepsy was the primary problem here. Either way, a policy that focuses on understanding the “root causes” (the mother of all liberal dodges) behind bad behavior rather than arresting that behavior is sure to be a recipe for even more unwieldy classrooms. Oakland schools were already hemorrhaging students before they got into the cosmic justice business. That trend will likely only speed up. How could any parent, in good conscience, justify throwing their children into this lion’s den?

By the way, it’s worth noting that Oakland does have an alternative model for successful education: the one employed by Dr. Ben Chavis in his American Indian Model Schools charter system (I highly recommend Chavis’ book, Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City, for those who haven’t read it). As my friend and colleague Ben Boychuk noted in City Journal in 2013:

By every measure, the American Indian Model Schools (AIMS), a charter school system based in Oakland, California, puts that embattled city’s traditional public schools to shame. One of AIMS’s three campuses, the American Indian Public Charter School (AIPCS), ranked fifth last year among the state’s middle schools in the Academic Performance Index, California’s instrument for assessing its public schools. The American Indian Public Charter School II, which serves 650 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, ranked first in the district and fourth in the state. U.S. News and World Report placed the system’s third campus, the American Indian Public High School, 38th on its list of the best high schools in America. In the state’s English language arts tests, 87 percent of AIMS students score as “proficient” or “advanced,” compared with 47 percent district-wide. In math, the breakdown is 88 percent for AIMS versus 46 percent for the district; in history and social science, it’s 98 percent versus 31 percent. Oh, and AIMS accomplishes all that while spending roughly half the amount of money per pupil that the district does.

The salient point here: Chavis’ approach to discipline is 180 degrees from the one being embraced in Oakland Unified. From a 2008 profile by George Will:

Telling young people what they must do is what Chavis does. With close-cropped hair and a short beard flecked with gray, he looks somewhat like Lenin but is less democratic. A Lumbee Indian from North Carolina, he ran track, earned a PhD from the University of Arizona, got rich in real estate (“I wanted to buy back America and lease it to the whites”) and decided to fix the world, beginning with AIPCS.

A visitor to an AIPCS classroom notices that the children do not notice visitors. Students are taught to sit properly — no slumping — and keep their eyes on the teacher. No makeup, no jewelry, no electronic devices. AIPCS’s 200 pupils take just 20 minutes for lunch and are with the same teacher in the same classroom all day. Rotating would consume at least 10 minutes, seven times a day. Seventy minutes a day in AIPCS’s extra-long 196-day school year would be a lot of lost instruction. The school does not close for Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day or César Chávez Day.

Every student takes four pre-AP (Advanced Placement) classes. There are three hours of homework a night, three weeks of summer math instruction. Seventh-graders take the SAT. College is assumed.

Paternalism is the restriction of freedom for the good of the person restricted. AIPCS acts in loco parentis because Chavis, who is cool toward parental involvement, wants an enveloping school culture that combats the culture of poverty and the streets.

He and other practitioners of the new paternalism — once upon a time, schooling was understood as democracy’s permissible, indeed obligatory, paternalism — are proving that cultural pessimists are mistaken: We know how to close the achievement gap that often separates minorities from whites before kindergarten and widens through high school. A growing cohort of people possess the pedagogic skills to make “no excuses” schools flourish.

Yes, they do. It’s just a shame that none of them are welcomed to the table in Oakland Unified.

There are 35 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I must pass this on to a friend who is high up in his school district.

    • #1
  2. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    I have a friend who was for many years a middle school teacher in the Altoona, PA school district. The last straw for her was an incident in which a recalcitrant student disobeyed her and mouthed off to her in a profanity-laced tirade. She told him to shut up. She was the one who was threatened with discipline.

    She put in her retirement papers the next day.

    • #2
  3. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    I have spoken of this issue as it was exemplified in Seattle Schools in other threads. The major difference is that Seattle did not make a statement as to its intent to deal with disproportionality (black students being disproportionately disciplined based on their portion of the school body). They merely told principals what the expectations were, and principals took whatever action was necessary to reduce the number of suspensions of black students. Quite needless to say, the effects of this policy were and are a complete breakdown in the discipline in many schools.

    As a special educator, it was even worse for me, since a student could not be sent home for a behavior that fell within the range of his/her “disabliing condition”. Since my students were classified as behaviorally/emotionally disabled, they pretty much got a free pass on every behavior they committed.

    With more than forty years of experience in that type of classroom I was able to maintain discipline. However, when I retired two years ago and since they have been unable to keep a teacher in my old classroom for more than two weeks before they resigned. I like to think of it as poetic justice.

    • #3
  4. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    The inability of some to conceive of inevitable consequences is mind-boggling.

    As the Man with the Axe points out, the inevitable consequence of allowing students to mouth off at teachers – while punishing teachers for reprimanding students – will be an exodus of the best teachers from these schools.

    Of course the immediate liberal response is that those teachers need to be paid more. But even the greediest or neediest of teachers will only be able to handle being yelled at by their students for a few years before deciding the extra money isn’t worth it.

    • #4
  5. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    “They never take time out, if someone is sleeping in class, to ask what’s wrong,” she said. “They may be acting that way because they didn’t eat the night before.”

    Would the teacher allowed to continue this line of questioning?

    Teacher: “And why didn’t you eat the night before?”

    Student: “Because we don’t have enough money”

    Teacher: “And why don’t you have enough money?”

    Student: “Because my mom has to stay at home and look after me and my little brother”

    Teacher: “And what about your dad?”

    Student: “Hate speech! You’re fired!”

    • #5
  6. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Why don’t they just put in a law that says a minority student can not be disciplined and be done with it?  That way the only students disciplined will be non minorities which of course would be acceptable.

    • #6
  7. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    What’s this I hear about the inmates running the asylum?

    • #7
  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    The annoying thing is that the basic idea behind restorative justice – that the wrongdoer ought to compensate the victim to make him whole – is fairly reasonable. Plenty of ordinary childhood discipline used to – and ought to – be like that. Break your neighbor’s window? Work off the debt. Etc.

    The catch is that, in order to be able to repent through victim-compensation rather than brute punishment, the wrongdoer has to be law-abiding enough to be trusted to make good on the damages he owes the victim, and habitual delinquents are more judgment-proof than children who are generally well-behaved.

    • #8
  9. Red Feline Inactive
    Red Feline
    @RedFeline

    Is there something in the water of the west coast of North America! Vancouver is called Lala Land in Canada. Sounds as if this could be applied to the whole west coast!

    • #9
  10. user_277976 Member
    user_277976
    @TerryMott

    Fake John Galt:Why don’t they just put in a law that says a minority student can not be disciplined and be done with it? That way the only students disciplined will be non minorities which of course would be acceptable.

    Then only non-minorities will get the benefits of discipline, leading to more “inequality” in society, leading to more opportunities for demagogic power-grabbing by the leftists.

    I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

    • #10
  11. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Ever get the feeling that these are the kind of people who, when they see the oil indicator come on, they replace the indicator instead of the oil?

    • #11
  12. Dick from Brooklyn Thatcher
    Dick from Brooklyn
    @DickfromBrooklyn

    Troy Senik, Ed.: You may have seen me say it here before: California is the world’s largest open-air asylum. I always thought that, but it became clearer to me after I decamped from my native Golden State to Tennessee last year.

    I’m a native New Yorker who has lived for more than 4 decades in this east coast asylum. I was once intrigued with the idea of packing it in and moving to Nashville, but I’m more bearish about it now because several of the most muddle-headed liberals that I know are moving there. They are headed for the 12 south neighborhood near your alma matter which is starting to look more like my neighborhood in Brooklyn (skinny jeans and all that) and will undoubtably start voting that way.  It is only a matter of time before Tennessee falls. To where will you retreat then? Send word. I’ll meet you there.

    • #12
  13. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    The empowerment of unruly Black teenagers is a good thing.  The next decade will show us all how good it is.

    • #13
  14. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    I’d leave a comment, but I still can’t get over the fact that Troy is 32 . . . (the “only” is silent)

    • #14
  15. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Schools are not all around social service centers for under privileged kids. It is categorically unfair to place these kind of social service expectations on teachers. They are there to teach their particular subject matter not get their students lives in order. At this rate it would probably be more efficient to make all of these schools in to boarding schools so that you can actually have some sort of control over all of these externalities that they are seeking to correct for.

    • #15
  16. user_348375 Inactive
    user_348375
    @TrinityWaters

    Red Feline:Is there something in the water of the west coast of North America! Vancouver is called Lala Land in Canada. Sounds as if this could be applied to the whole west coast!

    I survive, somehow, living 45 miles south of PDX.

    Your identification of the west coast as one contiguous asylum snagged in my gray matter, so I came back to comment.  I have lived in Oregon all my life except for about nine years in the Army.  I have also traveled, primarily for business, worldwide for many years.  My observation, although I’m sure it’s  a bit colloquial despite my exposure to quite a bit of variety, is that the coasts of Washington, Oregon and northern California, extending inland for about 50 miles, are physically exquisite places to live.

    Maybe living amidst this splendor causes the inhabitants to feel that their identity is also somehow more valuable, that they must be more worthy.  I’m not entirely sure how to explain this idea.  The inherent  narcissism dwelling within some of us is magnified by the environment, resulting in more Progressives, in fact a critical mass.

    Does this make sense to anybody?

    • #16
  17. Troy Senik, Ed. Contributor
    Troy Senik, Ed.
    @TroySenik

    Dick from Brooklyn:

    Troy Senik, Ed.: You may have seen me say it here before: California is the world’s largest open-air asylum. I always thought that, but it became clearer to me after I decamped from my native Golden State to Tennessee last year.

    I’m a native New Yorker who has lived for more than 4 decades in this east coast asylum. I was once intrigued with the idea of packing it in and moving to Nashville, but I’m more bearish about it now because several of the most muddle-headed liberals that I know are moving there. They are headed for the 12 south neighborhood near your alma matter which is starting to look more like my neighborhood in Brooklyn (skinny jeans and all that) and will undoubtably start voting that way. It is only a matter of time before Tennessee falls. To where will you retreat then? Send word. I’ll meet you there.

    Long answer: I wouldn’t worry too much about the Nashville hipsters. Sure, there are growing pockets, but I don’t see any signs that they’ll reach critical mass. It’s still the (deeply religious, anti-political correctness) South. If anything, the Right is on an upswing as the old Democratic loyalties die off. When I worked in the Legislature a dozen years ago, Democrats dominated both houses and sent bills to a Democratic governor. Now it’s exactly the opposite.

    Short answer: When it all goes to hell, I’ll probably join Max up in New Hampshire.

    • #17
  18. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SolarEclipse

    I agree that the no-suspension thing is likely to cause a lot of problems and be unsustainable.  But to be fair, research does suggest that by-and-large, kids who get suspended don’t seem to improve their behavior moving forward (though naturally, the cause and effect here is unclear).  Suspension as a successful discipline strategy depends on A)kids having a sense of shame about being disciplined, or B)parents who will follow up with an effective consequence at home.  If neither of those factors are present, kids will come back to school and just do the same thing.  But if those factors were present, they probably wouldn’t have been suspended in the first place.  So in most cases, suspension is more a measure to preserve the stability and sanity of the school than a way to help correct troubled youth.

    So then, what would help these troubled youth, who are going to grow up and be part of our society whether they stay in school or not?  Maybe AIPCS offers a better model, but I would be very curious to know the backgrounds of the kids who attend.   Clearly it offers a solution for some, but it may not be the magic bullet for kids starting out with major behavior issues.

    • #18
  19. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Solar Eclipse: But to be fair, research does suggest that by-and-large, kids who get suspended don’t seem to improve their behavior moving forward (though naturally, the cause and effect here is unclear).

    I agree with this – a lot of these kids probably have issues stemming from their home/non-school lives that are so deep-seated that no punishment the school could mete out would have much of an effect.

    However, I do think there is the issue of maintaining order in the classroom. Perhaps suspension is not the correct approach, but it should absolutely be possible for a teacher to remove an unruly or disrespectful student from the classroom – even it means just getting sent to another room in the school. Otherwise, once the other (less rambunctious) students see that they can run roughshod over their teacher with little consequence, the class could turn into chaos.

    • #19
  20. Palaeologus Inactive
    Palaeologus
    @Palaeologus

    FWIW, my wife who would be oh-so-charitably described as an “educrat” on this forum, repeatedly nodded her head, tapped the screen, and said things like, “that’s exactly right” while reading this post and the comments.

    “Good for him” was her response to what Chavis is doing in Oakland. Oh, and I should probably note that she laughed at your lede, Troy.

    • #20
  21. Dick from Brooklyn Thatcher
    Dick from Brooklyn
    @DickfromBrooklyn

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Short answer: When it all goes to hell, I’ll probably join Max up in New Hampshire.

    I hope you are right, but if you aren’t I’ll see you in Nashua.

    • #21
  22. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    I think this has been going on for some time, and not just here in California.  I recall reading of a case where a teacher sued her school for maintaining a hostile work environment, where the hostility was a student who kept telling her what he wanted to do to her and she could not get the student removed from her class.  It kept getting dismissed and refiled, thats the last I heard of it.  And then there is Trayvon Martin, who escaped punishment for possessing stolen property at school because he was a member of a legally privileged race.

    But the name is new.  Restorative Justice!  What nonsense.  Whatever happened to Social Justice?

    Gotta go, get back to practicing  . . . Justice Justice?

    • #22
  23. user_277976 Member
    user_277976
    @TerryMott

    Solar Eclipse:I agree that the no-suspension thing is likely to cause a lot of problems and be unsustainable. But to be fair, research does suggest that by-and-large, kids who get suspended don’t seem to improve their behavior moving forward (though naturally, the cause and effect here is unclear).

    Personally, I think the liberal (heh) application of Coach Shrefler’s paddle (fashioned out of a planed-down baseball bat) to the nether regions of the miscreants wouldn’t go far amiss.  I remember 220 lb. linebackers with tears streaming after a session of the coach’s “restorative justice”.  He could really bring out their sensitive side.

    • #23
  24. Matty Van Inactive
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    You’ve really depressed me, Troy. I read a story like this and can only wonder why on earth stories like this aren’t trumpeted in the press.

    Checked the wiki write up, since someone was wondering about demographics, and got some interesting info. The main school is just SW of Lake Merrit, a high Asian area. But when Chavez took over it was bottom of the heap. many Indians (thus the name?), 12-15% of the kids were homeless. Some had been evicted from other schools for carrying knives (probably can’t evict them any more with the new rules!). Now, though, it’s a mostly Asian as the “East Asian” style curriculum is “amenable” to those in the neighborhood. So, what should the Oakland School Board do? Establish the same kinds of schools throughout Oakland. Bet lots of non-Asian parents would find such schools amenable, too. It’s obvious.

    Well, I guess it’s not obvious to the Oakland School Board. One reason may be this line, gleaned from the wiki article:

    “Administration of the schools includes philosophic opposition to U.S. liberal ideologies and support for free-market capitalism.”

    There was also a legal issue that resulted in the school board trying to close down the schools in 2012. Thankfully they didn’t succeed. I’m curious as to the nature of the issue. Wiki only says,

    “Chavis and his wife, Marsha Amador, were found to have made improper payments in the amount of $1 million according to the results of an investigation released in 2012.”

    Huh? These things are usually embezzlment. Were Chavez and his wife illegally giving money to the school?

    Anyway, the liberal solution to public schools that cost half as much and get twice the performance would seem to be: close it down. And the liberal solution to schools that cost twice as much and get half the performance would be, as Mendel notes, raise teacher salaries.

    • #24
  25. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Troy Senik, Ed.: AIPCS’s 200 pupils take just 20 minutes for lunch and are with the same teacher in the same classroom all day. Rotating would consume at least 10 minutes, seven times a day.

    I have for decades opposed the switch from a single teacher for all subjects to a system where students go from classroom to classroom at too early an . It’s not just the lost time.  It’s also the fact that some students can get get lost in the cracks when no single teacher has such intense responsibility for the student.

    The change has to happen at some age, but some schools have introduced it at too early a grade level.  I have served on school curriculum committees and planning committees, and my comments on this subject have met with no glimmer of understanding by anyone – administrators, teachers, or parents, conservative or “liberal.”   Actually, I suspect some educators did understand what I was talking about, but pretended not to.

    One thing that made it difficult to discuss (and easy to ignore) is that you have to nuance the issue.  It’s not an either/or thing. It’s situation dependent. There is no magic look-up table on which to find the right age to make such a transition.

    So I am surprised to find a classroom teacher system even into what appears to be the high school level.  I would like to know more about the teachers who can make that work.

    • #25
  26. John Hanson Thatcher
    John Hanson
    @JohnHanson

    Switching to multiple teachers for subject based education needs to occur when the nature of the material presented is such that a teacher with only general education ability becomes incompetent to teach the material, for example, Learning a foreign  language would be difficult if the teacher does not speak the language involved, or Chemistry from some one who has never had more than HS Chemistry, Calculus from someone with only Algebra I background etc.

    Even in this setting, however, it is possible to bring in a teacher to handle one subject, while the class stays in the same room.  Likely a good idea below say sixth grade, and there maybe only one or two classes in a separate room, growing so by ninth grade students are ready for subject based teaching, except for special education students, who may still need a single teacher.

    • #26
  27. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    The issue of changing teachers/classrooms in elementary schools has been resolved to some extent by specialists who come into the classroom to teach specific areas and provide the homeroom teacher with preparation time.  In general, elementary school curriculum is far less subject specific than secondary schools and does not require the specificity of knowledge that secondary school classes do. The leading skills needed are an ability to teach math and reading, the two most essential skills a child needs when moving from elementary to secondary schools.

    As far as special education classes go, I can  only speak to the type I taught, EBD. The students were placed in my class after an extensive amount of data was accumulated and a number of interventions attempted unsuccessfully. My main focus was on correcting the behavioral deficits and getting the students back into the mainstream as quickly as possible where teacher more expert in specific areas of curriculum could work with them. In correcting behavioral problems of the type I dealt with consistency was the all important factor. Having one person to whom the children answered reduced manipulations to a minimum.

    Unfortunately, the majority of students enrolled in my class came to middle school with major academic deficits, reading levels and math levels 3 to 4 years behind their grade expectations. This made placement in mainstream classes very difficult. The loss of shop and music classes was a real problem for me.

    • #27
  28. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    I definitely like the idea of a single teacher for all subjects as long as it makes sense academically, but I wonder if the ideal requires a talented teacher. Are there enough good teachers left anymore?

    The education schools are cranking out social justice warriors, with, so far as I can tell, very little mastery of subject matter content. The worst schools tend to have numerous teachers that barely passed their state qualifying exams, often speak non-standard English, and whose writing skills leave much to be desired. If that’s the sort of teacher our kids are getting, it might not be a bad idea to limit the time any one child has to spend with that teacher.

    Another thought: In the single-teacher format you might get a teacher who doesn’t really like math, for example, and gives it short shrift, even at the 6th or 7th grade level. This is much less likely to happen when you have a teacher who teaches math all day. Also, the preparation for 5 or more subjects can make a teacher, a new one especially, crazy with overwork.

    • #28
  29. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Man With the Axe:I definitely like the idea of a single teacher for all subjects as long as it makes sense academically, but I wonder if the ideal requires a talented teacher. Are there enough good teachers left anymore?

    Someone like me or Tom Meyer could handle most subjects. I mean, we’ve tutored most subjects individually already. Heck, I think we have several Ricochetians who could handle most subjects.

    In some school systems (some South American schools, according to my Spanish teachers, and also, briefly, for the upper grades at my elementary school), they tag-team teaching. You don’t have one teacher for all subjects, but a pair, selected so that at least one of the pair is strong in any subject. I had a long-run tutoring gig set up the same way, and it worked great! Two teachers are few enough to make it hard for problem students to wiggle through the cracks.

    • #29
  30. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Valiuth:Schools are not all around social service centers for under privileged kids. It is categorically unfair to place these kind of social service expectations on teachers. They are there to teach their particular subject matter not get their students lives in order. At this rate it would probably be more efficient to make all of these schools in to boarding schools so that you can actually have some sort of control over all of these externalities that they are seeking to correct for.

    Not a bad idea…. as an option. Don’t say it too loud, though, because they might just make it compulsory.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.