Ideas on education, the English language, and the teaching profession.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A bug of mischief going around

In one of the earlier episodes of the Simpsons (ironically, a show with one of the most realistic depictions of public school), Bart, a ten-year old fourth grader, and his parents attend a parent conference with Bart's teacher, Ms. Krabappel. She shows the parents how Bart's behavior and approach to the class affects the students around him by providing a 3-d model of the class's academic performance in relation with the spatial proximity to Bart's desk. The model shows a vortex around the hole that indicates Bart's seat in the classroom, demonstrating his corruptive influence in school work. As Ms. Krabappel goes further in examining Bart's performance and behavior, both the father and son tune her out and scratch their heads at any type of reform. Those who watch the show know that Bart's behavior never really changes throughout the series, and his teachers just accept it.

Unfortunately, this fictional situation on the animated sitcom plays out in reality constantly. The bad student that terrorizes classrooms does indeed exist and teachers will quit their jobs because of them. Even after so many student behavior studies and innovative disciplinary protocols, the best solution that schools have come up with is simply isolating these students in in-house suspension or at alternative schools, otherwise known as "junior" penitentiaries. Even with these options available, schools continue to have issues with the problem students who compromise instruction immeasurably because too many of them exist, and the junior penitentiaries can only hold so many. Thus, public school districts and the governments that fund them have to reconsider this growing problem that has received mere duct tape style solutions for the short term, or public school and its actual purpose to educate will fail completely and actually harms a child's intellectual development (assuming most people haven't made this conclusion already).

The best analogy, which probably allows the best approach, compares student misbehavior with a plague. Plagues usually arise in unsanitary conditions with unhealthy inhabitants, they infect the masses, they receive treatment too late, and they come in different strains of the illness that each require a different type of treatment, and those stricken with the plague hardly ever get cured but eventually die from their illness. Students’ misbehavior occurs along the same lines. Bad students usually arise in overcrowded and poorly run schools with undereducated students. Teachers and administrators shrug off the problem which has not developed into anything serious (otherwise, illegal) yet. A student stricken with the childish misbehavior will undermine the classroom and spread it to other weak-minded children lacking role-models and maturity. Finally, the misbehavior takes on a myriad of different forms and necessitates complex disciplinary system to treat each form. However, the bad students usually stay bad anyway and will see themselves out of school with minds sentenced to death. The lurid picture haunts the minds of teachers who see infected young minds everyday while the district provides an academic cesspool and various forms of mental bloodletting for treatment.

Fortunately, society has progressed and reason has provided a solution to plagues. If a community simply removes the conditions for plagues to fester, then those plagues will be minimized. Perhaps, if the school community removes conditions for misbehavior, that misbehavior will be minimized. Relieving the classroom size, school size, and even district size could resolve many behavior issues and classroom control. Schools should also reconsider the use of time and the heavy restrictions of freedom, mental and physical, placed on students. The prison-like restrictions lead many of them into depressions that make them susceptible to misbehavior. Once these conditions have been set, schools can complete the preventative measure of misbehavior by instilling healthy habits into their students like independent reading and daily exercise that build immunity against vitiating strains of misbehavior.

Now that the community has taken measure to prevent plagues, they can address much fewer illnesses that still take place and succeed. Schools would enter the same situation that allows them to beneficially affect the misbehaving student and improve him for once, instead of quarantining him like a leper and letting him die while dragging down students around him like they used to. Imagine the possibilities for young minds in such a world made clean and free. The dark ages of ignorance wiped out with plague could accordingly reemerge in a scholastic renaissance breaking the shackles of nature and revealing the dazzling potential of humanity.

To make these kinds of changes probably require more spending power for districts, but not really that much. The remedies to bad behavior have taken their toll in the short term solutions that could be better used on long term ones. Districts spend millions of dollars on hiring an army of security guards, a vast array of resource teachers for struggling kids, security cameras, thousands of outdated computers accompanied with useless educational software, and vast amounts of bureaucracy maintaining such an inefficient deleterious institution. Rather, districts could build more schools, reorganize themselves into more independent units, and reform grueling daily schedules that keep kids from ever breathing freely. Otherwise, schools will continue to reverse their intention of instructing children and making them responsible citizens and instead make illiterate degenerates destroying society after they finish destroying the classroom. Bart Simpson will not be the exception but the norm.

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