Are discipline problems in schools getting worse? If so, are they due to school discipline policies, increasing poverty, or something more subtle? We need to think about this issue and understand the different perspectives.
Derek Thomas, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, wrote a book called: Ending Zero Tolerance. He makes the case that harsh discipline strategies hurt all students, not just those who are pulled out for behavioral problems. He also points to the progress in moving away from overly harsh discipline because of federal policies that the court system helps to enforce. Yet, the change of policies in the new federal administration, he argues, threatens that progress.
It is important to understand the differences in approach and the consequences they engender.
Jennifer Berkshire interviewed Professor Thomas, and his perspective gives voice to those that argue that how schools and communities see discipline policies is not only a racial issue, it is a community problem of long standing. Even well intentioned communities that promote school integration may assume that schools need to maintain order for ‘good kids’ because ‘bad kids (mostly black??) are disruptive. Such assumptions may well trigger a culture of ‘us and them’ that creates problems.
The school choice movement exploits these tendencies to label children through their zero tolerance policies implemented in many charter and private schools. Children who have trouble conforming to any set of arbitrary rules are simply dismissed. It is a process that instills not only fear but also results in a punitive environment that sends children back to public schools rather than helping children learn the social skills they need to acquire. Dismissal rates are not publically reported, but public schools feel the impact. They too need to devise better strategies to help students manage their disruptive behavior.
Read the interview here.