by Christopher Paslay
The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools’ primary focus should be on character building and traditional core values.
The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools (CNS) is a youth-led coalition dedicated to ending school violence and improving school climate. According to their Facebook page:
The Campaign is building a nonviolent student movement across neighborhoods, schools and organizations, engaging hundreds of youth in exploring the roots of violence in their own lives and developing a personal commitment to nonviolence.
Prison-like school environments, a lack of resources, high staff turn-over rates, and suppression of youth leadership are examples of conditions that enhance feelings of anger, frustration, and helplessness that young people may already be struggling with. These conditions help to create school environments which are a breeding ground for physical and emotional violence directed at other students and staff members.
CNS’s goal of ending violence in schools is admirable and its members should be acknowledged for their involvement. However, CNS’s mode of operation is predictable and disappointing, and its members still are not thinking outside the box: they, like most progressive grassroots movements, preach that students are victims of a broken system, and that change doesn’t begin with character building or proper conduct, but with the airing of the same tired grievances.
Comparing schools to prisons is irresponsible, as is the notion that our city’s public education system is a “pipeline to prison.” This so called “pipeline” exists not in the school where a system of educational and behavioral supports is in place to help children grow and succeed (teachers, therapists, counselors, coaches, nurses, mentors . . . all providing free books, equipment, individualized education plans, food, medical resources, etc.), but rather, in the surrounding neighborhoods feeding into the schools.
In other words, the schools themselves aren’t violent; the students coming in from broken and dysfunctional homes and communities environments are.
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning” gave us a small glimpse of just how dysfunctional students coming into the system can be:
- There were over 4,500 violent incidents reported during the 2009-10 school year. According to the Inquirer investigation, “on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff member were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.
- In the last five years, there were more than 30,000 violent incidents reported—from assaults to robberies to rapes.
- In the 2009-10 school year, 690 teachers were assaulted. In the last five years, 4,000 were.
- In the 2007-08 school year, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools. Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police. Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.” She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police.”
- From 2006 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the Philadelphia School District.
These statistics reveal two things: one—a violent and unruly minority of students are violating the rights of the majority of Philadelphia’s hard working public school children and robbing them of their educations; and two—not enough is being done to protect the rights of these children.
Instead of CNS siding with the majority of their peers who are tired of being short-changed in school—instead of calling for the violent and unruly minority to shape up or ship out—CNS calls for discipline policies that prevent the proper removal and alternative placement of the incorrigible few.
In particular, CNS opposes the use of more punitive forms of punishment, like suspensions and expulsions:
We demand a smart school discipline policy that uses restorative practices and/ or other preventative discipline measures that focus on addressing root causes of issues rather than merely doling out punishment.
Positive behavior supports, restorative practices, and peer mediation are all well and good, but groups like CNS never adequately explain what should be done with the scores of students who are still behavior problems after these interventions are provided (and after they’ve taken valuable resources away from the students who want to learn). Tragically, these students are too often kept in the classroom where they continue to rob their peers of an education.
CNS has yet to speak out against this horrible injustice, just as they’ve yet to adequately hold their peers accountable for their own behavior. If CNS truly wants to campaign for nonviolent schools, they should start by demanding that all the hooligans, bullies and thugs stop destroying the system, and fight to promote character and traditional core values among their own peers and classmates.