Civil rights sans civility
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Ten days ago, the nation observed the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, brought to fruition by President Lyndon Johnson eight months after his inauguration, with the help of Vice President Hubert
Remnants of racism
Since then, considerable progress has been made in assuring equal treatment of all people in the United States. Much remains to be done as we reflect on the blatantly disproportionate percentage of blacks in the nation’s prisons, and the racist attitudes toward President
Revolution’s Rough Road
But revolution, be it radical or gradual, never occurs smoothly, and the bumps in the road are felt in various aspects of daily life, including the educating of children. In such areas, it seems at times as though the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction. That is the inevitable conclusion from stories teachers tell of incidents which occur all too frequently in our public schools.
An elementary art teacher in Boynton Beach, Florida, near West Palm Beach, has a basket of such tales. The woman, about the size of her larger pupils in grades kindergarten through third grade, retired from full-time teaching two years ago and now works as a substitute. She left full-time, she said, for greater freedom to escape the kinds of abuse from pupils she was forced to accept to keep her job.
Abused teacher resigns
The straw that broke the camel’s back for this gentle, petite woman came after a third-grade black girl screamed at her over some minor disciplinary issue and threatened to kill her. She reported the incident to the principal’s office, and was told to drop the matter because the girl hadn’t physically harmed her.
Such permissiveness has made teaching difficult for black, as well as white, teachers. The art teacher, whom we’ll call Teresa, said a black teacher caught a third-grade black pupil cheating on an exam and reported her to the principal’s office. The principal called the mother, who threatened to charge the school with racial discrimination. Administrators did nothing further, even after discovering that this mother had made similar threats at two other schools and gotten away with it.
A black high school student assaulted his black athletic coach, Teresa said. She asked the coach why he didn’t do anything about it, and he said he was afraid he’d lose his job if he did.
Racism and overprotection
Incidents of this kind may not be frequent, but they show how some persons will use the climate of outrage against racial discrimination in their favor, tying the hands of authorities who fear being targeted with that accusation. Of course, in the case of black student against black teacher, the issue would seem to be overprotection of children from adults.
In any case, society does its children no favors by instilling in them the idea that they won’t be held liable for untoward behavior. Decades ago, there may have been excesses in the other direction, but at least teachers were able to do their job, and order prevailed. I quake at the thought of what would have happened to that youth who attacked the coach if he’d been a student at either of two high schools in Iowa that I attended. At one, the coach also taught physical education classes in both the junior and senior high schools. He had been an Army drill instructor and had a rule against talking in the locker room. A boy turned to whisper something to another, and the coach strolled up to him, grabbed him by the top of his shirt, and slammed him against the locker. The rest of us gawked in fear, and never uttered a peep the entire year.
The school of hard knocks
At the other school, chaos reigned under the leadership of a kindly, gentle principal. A surly man replaced him and oversaw a large study room with a no-talking rule, which a cocky student flouted at one occasion. The tall, lean principal, who had been a boxer in the Air Force, ordered the youth to keep quiet. He retorted, “You can’t make me.” Staring at the husky boy from his perch behind a desk on a stage at the front of the room, the principal demanded that he come forth, saying, “Give me your best punch.” The boy uncorked a haymaker, and the principal ducked, then came up with a right-handed blow to the impudent youth’s face. Two teeth flew onto the stage and the boy catapulted onto his back, bawling as blood spurted from his mouth and nose.
“Get up and leave, and don’t come back for 10 days,” the principal barked. The all-white school never had another disciplinary problem that year or succeeding years under his guidance.
A college education professor whom students dubbed Dangerous Dan because of his docile disposition told a story about how a high school teacher dealt with two unruly students. The youths at a small, rural school walked up to the teacher, intending to attack him for ordering them to desist from their disruptive behavior. When they reached the teacher, he stretched his arms in a semicircle, placed a hand on the side of each boy’s head, and slammed them together. The two students reeled and dizzily skulked back to their desks. The professor’s students were left wondering if Dangerous Dan might have been that teacher.
One might argue that such incidents exemplify excess use of force. On the other hand, school teachers and administrators under attack need to defend themselves. And their methods certainly proved effective. Should we return to those days? No, but school children, and their parents, must be shown that school authorities will not tolerate unruly behavior and rules against cheating. Of course, real discrimination of whatever kind is never to be brooked.
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