The Disintegration of School Discipline and the Lonely Life of Julia

by Christopher Paslay

Just as men are replaced by bureaucrats in “The Life of Julia,” so are parents being replaced by schools in today’s public education system.

The Philadelphia School District isn’t the only school system who is revising their discipline code and easing up on school suspensions.  The state of New York recently announced it is doing much of the same.  The reasoning behind reshaping discipline in public schools, which is a movement that is gaining national momentum, is the belief that suspending students is ineffective and causing children to miss too much school.

The major purpose behind suspensions, however, isn’t to keep a child from learning or getting an education.  As any seasoned teacher or school administrator will tell you, school suspensions are primarily issued as a means of home remediation–they are given when the school’s limited resources can no longer adequately remedy a problem behavior and the full might of parental power and influence is needed to rectify a problem.  In other words, suspensions are a red flag to a child’s parents that they had better start circling the wagons at home in order to instill in the child–as only parents can–that school, and respecting the student code of conduct, is super, duper, important.

In all my years in school I never once was suspended.  Ever.  Not for chronic truancy, or tardiness, or uniform violations, or for talking back to (or cursing at) a teacher.  This is saying something, being that I went to 12 years of Catholic school.  If I would have ever gotten suspended, it would have been curtains for me.  Lights out.  My parents would have dropped the hammer, and I didn’t take this reality lightly.  But I mostly respected the rules because I loved my parents and they loved me, and because doing well in school and following the rules was the right thing to do; back in the day, when traditional families with common core values were still the norm, there was something known as morality.

Today things are very different.  In many cases, especially in urban districts, suspensions no longer result in effective parental remediation.  A child is sent home for a week to think about changing his behavior, and to force his or her parents to use family resources to address the situation head-on, but not much happens.  Single parents (over 70 percent of African American children are born out-of-wedlock) are too overwhelmed to become reliable agents of change.  Many parents, who became pregnant in their teens, are too inexperienced to even know what to do.

So often times, school suspensions don’t result in much of anything at all.  Kids who misbehave continue to miss school and fall further behind.  The government’s answer to this problem, as noted above, is to cut-down on suspensions.  The only problem is, schools don’t have one-tenth the amount of resources to properly rectify the kind of behavior problems exhibited by students in the 21st century.  In the end, cutting-down on school suspensions ends-up compromising the educations of the hardworking majority of kids whose rights are violated daily by a minority of violent and unruly students forced to coexist with them in the classroom.

But out-of-touch civil rights groups and government bureaucrats don’t seem to care.  In fact, the current White House believes so firmly in the nanny state that Education Secretary Arne Duncan truly accepts the notion that schools can take the place of parents.  What used to be achieved at the hands of an out-of-school suspension must now be somehow achieved in-school by teachers and other school administrators.

Such thinking is not only absurd and unrealistic, but is truly un-American.  Our country’s Founding Fathers envisioned a place where people were free to pursue their own destiny through individual achievement and personal responsibility.  When Thomas Jefferson invented the idea of a public school system, the purpose was “to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.”  Jefferson started public schools so all children, not just those who could afford to pay, could have the opportunity to receive an education.  He offered the opportunity.  Those who do not wish to take advantage of this opportunity, however, shouldn’t be free to rob others of their right to learn.

Again, today’s Big Government policy makers see things a bit differently.  An example of this is President Barack Obama’s “The Life of Julia,”  his administration’s plan to allow Americans to live off the government from the cradle to the grave.

According to The Wall Street Journal:

Barack Obama has a new composite girlfriend, and her name is Julia. Her story is told in an interactive feature titled “The Life of Julia” on the Obama campaign website. Julia, who has no face, is depicted at various ages from 3 through 67, enjoying the benefits of various Obama-backed welfare-state programs. . . .

In a column amusingly titled “Who the Hell Is ‘Julia’ and Why Am I Paying for Her Whole Life?” David Harsanyi raises an obvious objection to the story: “What we are left with is a celebration of . . . how a woman can live her entire life by leaning on government intervention, dependency and other people’s money rather than her own initiative or hard work. . . .”

At 31, the story tells us, “Julia decides to have a child. Throughout her pregnancy, she benefits from maternal checkups, prenatal care, and free screenings under health care reform.” In due course she bears a son named Zachary, the only other character in the tale.

Harsanyi is right. Obama is setting forward a vision contrary to the American tradition of self-sufficiency–a welfare state that runs from cradle to grave. And it’s a dishonest vision, because it presents all of these benefits as “free,” never acknowledging that they are paid for through coercive taxation.

The most shocking bit of the Obama story is that Julia apparently never marries. She simply “decides” to have a baby, and Obama uses other people’s money to help her take care of it. Julia doesn’t appear to be poor; at various points the story refers to her glamorous career as a Web designer, and it makes no mention of her benefiting from poverty programs like Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

In 1999 Lionel Tiger coined the word “bureaugamy” to refer to the relationship between officially impoverished mothers of illegitimate children and the government. “The Life of Julia” is an insidious attack on the institution of the family, an endorsement of bureaugamy even for middle-class women.

Just as men are replaced by bureaucrats in “The Life of Julia,” so are parents being replaced by schools in today’s public education system.

Obama Demands Race-Based School Discipline

In plain English, if different races have different incidences of disciplinary action, those of a favored race who act worse will be punished less, or those of a disfavored race who act better will be punished more, or both.

President Barack Obama recently signed an executive order hiring race-sensitive bureaucrats to hold meetings and mandate racial discipline quotas.

The order charges his new racial justice team, in part, with “promoting a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.”  In plain English, that means that if different races have different incidences of disciplinary action, those of a favored race who act worse will be punished less, or those of a disfavored race who act better will be punished more, or both.

It’s true that a higher percentage of black students than white students receive school discipline such as suspensions or expulsion.  A recent, representative study of nearly half the country’s school districts found that 17.3 percent of black students were suspended in 2009-10, whereas 4.7 percent of whites and 7.3 percent of Latinos were.  Only 2.1 percent of Asians were suspended that year.  The black graduation rate is 64 percent.  For whites, it’s 82 percent, and for Asians, it’s 92 percent.

Given these and similar statistics on practically every measure of academic success and self-discipline, the president wants to require schools to punish equal proportions of white and black students, regardless of how individual students behave.  That will mean overlooking infractions by black students or punishing more white students for pettier infractions.

Punishing students differently based on skin color — that’s not racist? . . .

This is an excerpt from an article published today on American Thinker called “Obama Demands Race-Based School Discipline” by Joy Pullmann.  Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News and a research fellow in education at The Heartland Institute.  To read the entire article, please click here.

Tough Love

by Christopher Paslay

The following memoir was cut from the final version of The Village Proposal: Education as a Shared Responsibility.  The book, which is part memoir, part education commentary, will be published by Rowman & Littlefield this September.     

I’ve met teachers over the years who don’t believe in an overabundance of structure.  They feel too much emphasis on rules and discipline makes things ridged and stifles learning and creativity.  Personally, I disagree.  It’s been my experience that students crave discipline, especially the ones that have chaos in their lives.  If you put up a fence in the backyard, a kid doesn’t have to think about the boundaries anymore, he can run free within the limits.  Without a fence, a kid might forget himself and get hurt.  Wander off and get lost, fall down a well, get hit by a car.

Growing up, I knew all about fences.  I went to 12 years of Catholic school.  In sixth grade, during the 1983-84 school year, I had a nun for a teacher named Sister Dominica.  She was about 70 years old at the time, which meant she had cultivated her teaching and disciplinary techniques in the 1940’s and 50’s, a time when Catholic school nuns were known for outrageous behavior, like closing a door on a student’s head or slapping him smartly across the face.  I had a run-in with Sister Dominica during the first quarter of the school year.  Apparently, she considered me to be what she called an R.C.I.—a person who was rude, crude and ignorant.  She even had me recite this back to her.  She’d say, Mr. Paslay, what are you?  And I’d have to say, Rude, crude and ignorant, Sister Dominica.  In reality, I was just an 11-year-old boy who was a bit silly and hyperactive. 

I hung around with two other boys who were silly and hyperactive as well.  In class we talked too much and weren’t as respectful as we should have been.  When Sister Dominica told us to jump, we hesitated—and ripped the occasional fart—before we asked how high.  Of course, this didn’t sit well with this old school nun who in her heyday ate elementary school children for dinner. 

So in the beginning of November, when report cards were issued during parent teacher conferences, Sister Dominica met with my mother in her classroom and tore me a new asshole; thankfully I wasn’t there to see it.  Sister Dominica carefully articulated my disrespectful behavior—the fact that I would fart in class and not even say excuse me.  She went into detail about my silliness and tom-foolery, my propensity to distract other students and not always follow directions.  She said this and a half-dozen other things that horrified my mother.  She also noted that I’d received two C’s on my report card—in spelling and grammar, ironically enough.  In 10 minutes Sister Dominica got two months frustration off her big-bosomed chest.     

After the conference was over, my mother left the classroom and to her embarrassment walked out into the hallway where she was greeted by the stares of all the other mothers who’d overheard the entire episode while waiting their turn.   

My mother was fuming. 

I was playing football with some friends on the front lawn of our house when she pulled up in the car after the conference. 

“You’re in big trouble, buster,” she said to me, got out of the car and slammed the door.  My friends snickered over the word buster, but when she gave them a scolding look they took the football and left.  My mom was so angry that she had trouble getting the key in the front door. 

“Get inside,” she said.  “When dad gets home, you’re going to get a beating.”  I asked why, and then she recapped the whole incident—how Sister Dominica said I was misbehaving and screwing around in class, not following directions, acting like a real jackass. 

“And the worst part,” my mother said, “was that you embarrassed me!  All the other mothers were waiting in the hall and overhead everything!”

When my father got home there was a gigantic blowout.  My parents lectured me for a half an hour about respecting the teacher and following the rules, and informed me that I wasn’t allowed out the following weekend. 

“And no television, either,” they said.

As it turned out, this wasn’t enough to get through my thick head.  The next morning, when I was getting ready for school, I started arguing in the kitchen with my mom about school work and about the things we talked about the afternoon before.  This meant only one thing: it was time for a spanking.

My father stormed downstairs, anger in his eyes, wrinkles forming on his forehead.  “Go upstairs.  You’re getting a beating.”

“But dad—”

 “Go upstairs now!” 

I knew the drill.  I went up to my bedroom, removed my pants and underwear, and lay down on my stomach on my bed.  Several minutes later my father came into the room, belt in hand, and proceeded to whip my backside, hard, three times.  He left three welts that would fade within the hour, but it hurt like hell and I cried at the top of my lungs.  Spankings were agonizing and put the fear of God into me, which is why my father only used them as a last resort in very serious situations.        

Afterwards, it was time to go to school.  My father dropped me off like he always did. 

“Chris,” he said to me before I got out of the car, reaching over and putting his hand on my shoulder, “I hope you know that me and mom love you.  We only do this because we care, and want to see you become a good person.  Do you understand this?”

“Yes,” I said to him, and sniffled. 

My father hugged me and I went inside to school.  I went through the normal morning routine in Sister Dominica’s class, diagramming sentences, defining vocabulary words, still shaken from the spanking.  At one point I started quietly crying again, ducking down behind the boy in front of me so no one would notice.  Sister Dominica came over several times to give me some Kleenex, revealing a rare soft spot in her heart, and this simple act changed our relationship profoundly.  She was impressed I was taking my medicine like a man, and looking back it’s clear she was struggling with something close to guilt.  Had she overreacted with my mother? she wondered.  Maybe

But now I was awakeAware.  My head had been officially removed from my ass.  I eventually became Sister Dominica’s favorite student.  She was able to help me channel my energy into my class work, and I finished the sixth grade with straight A’s.  My behavior grade went from a U (unsatisfactory) to an O (outstanding). 

Did I believe in fences?  Boundaries?  Rules?  Most definitely.  As long as they were reasonable and anchored in love.