Thursday, November 30, 2006

who's to blame?

Over the past few days there has been a story in the local news about a grade school student, a girl in the seventh grade I think, who was nearly choked by her teacher in response to the student's misbehavior. On the surface it is a reprehensible action by the teacher. There can really be no justification for his actions. But having said that, I can understand how he came to that point and why he nearly throttled that student.

I would be willing to bet that the girl in question is an habitual disruptive force in school. I would be willing to bet that she has been a continual source of rude, obnoxious, and loud behavior from day one. I would also be willing to bet that her parents, or most likely single parent, are uninvolved in her education. And I would be willing to bet that she is not the only one in her class to exhibit such behavior, but is probably the ringleader of a group of similar students.

In that kind of school environment, the teacher becomes less a teacher and more of a referee, more of a cop, more of a disciplinarian than a teacher. Very little learning can go on in that kind of classroom. The teacher, over time, becomes frustrated with his role and walks a thin line between a controlled environment and mayhem. And the more the students are allowed to get away with, the more they push the boundaries of behavior. Respect for others and self respect are nowhere to be found.

Confronted with that kind of scene day after day has to be exceptionally wearing on a teacher. That more of them don't snap as this teacher did, is miraculous. Yet in this story the girl is coming off as mildly naughty, not the brat she most likely really is. The teacher is the villain, the student just a poor miunderstood child. I want to know what her record of behavior is over the past months of the school year before I will be ready to condemn the teacher and feel sorry for the girl.

That students at all grade levels today are more disrespectful of each other and their teachers seems to be the accepted norm. The news is filled with scary stories of rampaging teenagers wielding firearms and other weapons, intent on causing harm to anyone who might have looked at them the wrong way. The escalating violence we see is a logical result of the uncontrolled behavior that starts in grade schools. That our children are bombarded with violent images on television and in video games has to have some influence on their actions. And the lack of parental control in many instances is a glaring red flag indicating the likelyhood of trouble down the road.

My wife has been a high school English teacher for more than thirty years, and I know she is having an increasingly diffucult time dealing with today's students. In the past she would never come home and complain about her students the way she does every day now. And she is not just complaining about disruptive behavior in class, but an overall rudeness and disrespect she feels is too common today. So many of her students feel they are entitled to better grades than they get for their work. They complain more and more that their teachers don't "give" them the grades they want without realiziing that teachers don't "give" grades, students must earn them. They seem more and more to react with a barely controlled fury underlying their complaints. It has been only recently that I worry about her going to school and being physically and violently confronted by some out of control idiot who wanted an A but only earned a C. Her retirement from teaching can't come soon enough.

What does this decline in civility and respect bode for our future society? I don't have that answer. There have been several stories just recently about teachers who have been physically attacked by students, so I will not be surprised when, on the news one day, we hear about a teacher who has successfully choked a student. I fear we are too close to that happening. And the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the students.

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