Problem Kids, Problem Schools

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The Article

I have a young friend who is big but gentle. Unfortunately, he shares his 45 minute school bus ride with a particular boy who isn’t as gentle, though luckily he also isn’t as big. He was discussing with his father one day what to do when this boy picked on him. Finally his dad sighed and said, “Son, I think your only choice is to take a swing at him.”

The son appeared shocked. “But at school we’re told never to hit!” The father replied, “Sometimes you have to. And the school will likely suspend you. But then he’ll stop bothering you.”

Was the dad right? I don’t know, but I do know two other dads—and even one teacher—who have recommended the same thing recently! In the schoolyard, desperate measures are increasingly called for.

In this case, the troublemaker had already been suspended multiple times for fighting, to no avail. But no student had ever fought back, and this dad figured that decking him might just teach them a lesson. The philosophy seems straight out of the last century, because today we’re not allowed to think that way.

Then we wonder why our schools are out of control.

With the school’s hands tied, real discipline just doesn’t exist. When we were children, if we were suspended, parents supported the schools. It didn’t matter what you did, it was assumed the school was right.

Today teachers have to document everything they’ve done leading up to a suspension because parents are sure to challenge it. Parents don’t want the responsibility of having to look after their child during that suspension. So they don’t support the teachers.

And all the tools that a school once had to deal with problem kids—corporal punishment, expulsion, cooperation with parents, extra work, singling out the child in the classroom, failing them—have also been eroded as children’s rights have been expanded. The self-esteem philosophy dominating education states that the reason students fail is because they don’t feel good about themselves. So instead of being harsh we’re going to help them feel good! Judges and legislators have removed the ability of schools to punish students or even to hold them accountable for their grades. It’s gone overboard.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that many classrooms, especially in rough neighbourhoods, are comprised primarily with these problem kids. They’re pretty much unteachable, as the steady stream of teachers and substitutes demonstrates. But what options does the school have?

I once volunteered in a kindergarten classroom where my job was to have the children, six at a time, complete a reading worksheet. When I summoned little Charley (not his real name), he didn’t even acknowledge me. I called him again. No response. So I headed towards him to pick him up. Charley was small for his age, and he would have fit very nicely under one arm. But the teaching assistant stopped me. “We can’t physically force him, so we just let him play. That way he doesn’t disrupt everybody else.” The child was learning at the age of four that if he just put up a fuss, they couldn’t make him do anything.

I asked a young neighbour a few years later whatever happened to Charley. Apparently he only grew worse. In grade 3 he still couldn’t read, but he threw tantrums if you tried to convince him to work. I felt sorry for his fellow classmates who actually wanted to learn.

No wonder children lose hope in school. If you’re surrounded by misbehaving kids that teachers can’t control, how would you feel?

Personally, I think we need a better alternate school system for those children who make life intolerable for others. Of course, in some areas these alternate schools may end up with a higher enrollment than the regular school! But what we’re doing right now isn’t working.

The school system today has no effective way of dealing with problem kids, because discipline has been eroded, authority has been erased, and children’s rights to disrupt everybody else trumps children’s rights to a good education. Something isn’t right. Maybe it’s time for the government to learn something.

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