The Bottom Line Classrooms Gone Woke & WildOriginally published at Real Clear Education
Student misbehavior, disrespect, and violence have become standard features of traditional public schools. Instead of imposing firm consequences, woke ideology – under the guise of “restorative justice” – produces dangerous classrooms.
According to a study by the American Psychological Association, “One-third of surveyed teachers reported they experienced at least one incident of verbal and/or threatening violence from students during COVID (e.g., verbal threats, cyber bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment).” A staggering 14% of teachers and 22% of school staff cited physical violence from students during COVID. Considering schools were closed during much of this period, the percentage of adults affected is astounding.
The teachers’ unions blame the violence for a growing teacher exodus and a shrinking pool of college students entering the education profession. Not surprisingly, the teachers’ unions take no responsibility for their influence, including demanding police be removed from schools.
Without question, the prolonged school closures were detrimental to student learning, development, and well-being. Yet the teachers’ unions fought to keep schools shuttered until additional funding was received and their unreasonable and often irrelevant demands were met – including a moratorium on charter schools, defunding of police, and Medicare for all.
Even before students returned to in-person classrooms, critical race theory had become a top priority in teacher training and was quickly integrated into student lessons and activities. Labeling one group of students as oppressors and another as oppressed, based solely on race, does not foster mutual respect or personal responsibility among students.
When schools resumed in-person learning, teachers and students were forced to wear masks, thus concealing facial expressions, including smiles – a foundational element of positive human connectivity. Additionally, enforced social distancing barred students from normal interactions with their classmates. Gone were hugs, and even high-fives, from the school day.
That students suffered from extended in-person school closures, social isolation, delayed development, and learning loss cannot be denied. Instead of taking responsibility for keeping kids locked out of schools – in many cases spanning three academic years – teachers’ unions and the Left used the pandemic emergency to propel their agendas. Despite the fact that pre-COVID funding topped $800 billion and COVID relief funding poured in another $200 billion, they claim that public schools are underfunded. And they insist that schools are also understaffed, though employee numbers continue to grow – even as the number of students attending K-12 public schools shrunk by three million.
We shouldn’t forget what teachers’ unions championed in the summer of 2020 – police defunding and removing officers from school campuses in the name of racial justice. Students were told that law enforcement was not worthy of respect. And Black Lives Matter and other revolutionary groups sent a message that violence was justifiable if the cause is deemed right. In addition, school administrators welcomed radicals into school assemblies and hired them for staff positions, granting them a platform to breed a culture of anti-authoritarian activism.
These actions worsened the discipline crisis that already existed in our public schools. According to Heather Mac Donald, dating back to the Obama administration, the Education and Justice Departments had “threatened schools with litigation and the loss of federal funding if they did not bring down black and Hispanic disciplinary rates to the same level as whites and Asians.”
In short, the policy shifted from accountability for individual actions to equalizing the number of disciplinary infractions among races, regardless of behavior. As a result, teachers are helpless when minority students act out in class. Teachers know it, and the students know it. Minority students who engage in misbehavior, disrespect, or violence are thus emboldened.
This policy aligns with the restorative-justice approach, which seeks to ensure that disciplinary infractions and suspensions do not “disproportionately punish students of color.” It’s a disastrous approach, as the results show. Mac Donald explains:
Excusing insubordination and aggression in the name of equity is not a civil rights accomplishment….The alleged beneficiary of a racial double standard in conduct – the student who is exempted from strict discipline – is also a victim, since he will be handicapped in life by his failure to learn self-restraint and respect for authority.Heather Mac Donald, “Race, Discipline, and Education” from the book: How to Educate an American
So, while the teachers’ unions worry that teachers are leaving the profession based on student violence, they have done little to mitigate it and have been largely responsible for the policies that foster a lack of respect for authority. They need to be held accountable for the state of today’s public school classrooms, which can only be described as woke and wild.
K-12 public schools are no longer safe for children, teens, or adults. It’s time for the adults in charge to require all students to treat others with dignity and respect. Our K-12 public learning institutions must get back into the business of educating students in foundational academics and helping them develop genuine citizenship and character.