Your Restriction is Their Freedom

This is a bottomlessly depressing story, which resonates with several other stories we’ve linked to over the past few months. This one about students who made death threats against a teacher being temporarily re-admitted to the school, for example, and this one from only three days ago, which reports that the Welsh teachers’ union is calling for new legislation after a student who actually did shoot a teacher, albeit with a ‘toy’ gun, was also readmitted. In the Welsh case, as the Guardian reported, ‘Headteacher Dr Michael Norton permanently excluded the pupil after the incident and was quickly backed up by his board of governors. But the boy’s parents appealed to an independent panel, which overturned the school’s decision and forced it to take him back.’ Hands up, prospective teachers who would like to go teach in that school! Or any school subject to that kind of second-guessing.

It was not one of Jesse Jackson’s finer moments, when he attempted to do the same thing – force the re-admission of students who had been suspended from school for fighting – in the autumn of 1999. Many people were bewildered at his sympathy for the fighters and lack of sympathy for students and teachers who would like to learn and teach in a violence-free zone. It was a simple fist fight, he said blithely. And the nonsense is not even confined to the Anglophone world: I saw a story on a French tv channel in November about teachers on strike in a provincial French town over exactly such an incident: student violence, expulsion, reinstatement. ‘These boys will now be heroes to the other students,’ a male teacher said passionately to the camera, ‘what sort of atmosphere is that going to create in our classrooms?’

But I doubt the French can match the level of muddle-headedness the Kaplowitz story reveals. I hope they still hang on to enough Gallic cynicism and irony and je ne sais quoi to insulate them from the bizarre priorities Kaplowitz encountered during his training.

But the training program skimped on actual teaching and classroom-management techniques, instead overwhelming us with sensitivity training.

Alas, his story makes horribly clear that sensitivity was the last thing he needed. Stony indifference is probably the only quality that might have got him through his first year of ‘teaching’ unscathed.

Exiling my four worst students had produced a vast improvement in the conduct of the remainder of my class. But Ms. Savoy was adamant, insisting that the school district required me to teach all my children, all the time, in the “least restrictive” environment.

Oh yes. Least restrictive to whom? one wonders. Least restrictive to the students who want to wander around, assault other students, and make noise, which of course translates to very restrictive indeed to the students (the majority) who want to learn something. This is a large subject, and one we’ll be returning to on Butterflies and Wheels.

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