DISCIPLINE AND ACADEMIC STANDARDS

1/23/08

   Maybe America is waking up to the fact that we have raised a generation of children who have been taught  that they are the center of the universe, filled with a sense of entitlement that comes to those whose self-esteem has been puffed artificially by both home and school.  Such children are not prepared to do school as we have historically understood that term.  With nanosecond attention spans stunted by young lives saturated by media, with little ability to subordinate their desires to the needs of others, with an underdeveloped appreciation of the difference between adults and children, they pose a unique set of challenges to schools that are ill-prepared to cope with them.  When the Wall Street Journal explores the problem and treats the public schools experiencing it sympathetically, something serious is going on.  

   In my role as advocate for the membership of the PCT, I have of late tried to focus our school community on our need to address the very different needs of these children, not the least of which is their lack of self-discipline.  From kindergarten through the high school grades, teachers have been asking their union to help them move administration and the Board of Education to work with us to make our schools more structured and orderly learning environments.  Listening to our members talk about the lack of discipline in our schools, hearing them talk of a generation of students many of whom don’t really know that it is necessary to talk differently to adults, especially adults in a position of authority, than to ones peers, I have become convinced that unless we help our young people get better control of themselves, attempts to have higher academic expectations and standards are ultimately doomed to failure.   When we think about it, all formal education is ultimately about self-discipline.  

   Recent events have confirmed my view.  At the recent Northeast Conference of the National Educational Association (NEA), I had the opportunity to meet with many colleagues from diverse districts from Pennsylvania to Maine .  Curious as to whether they were experiencing the same problems my Plainview colleagues were, I worked into our shop-conversations the fact that our union was trying to mobilize a school community to address new and seemingly intractable problems of student discipline.  Everyone I spoke with recognized the problem immediately.  One woman, a teacher at one of the best known, most prestigious high schools in the country, said, “Our students are horrible.  They think we are their servants.  They don’t take direction, and no one in authority has the nerve or will to read them the riot act.”    

    As evident as the ubiquity of the problem of undisciplined students is the apparent lack of focus of schools, teacher unions and communities on the need to address the issue.  I’m very proud that the PCT is trying to tackle the issue.  In recent weeks, we have met with the superintendent of school and board of education, urging them to confront this issue with us.  We’ve reached out to our parent organization, recognizing that without the cooperation of the parent community attempts to reform our approach to discipline is bound to meet with opposition.  We’ve started a dialogue, union to union, with the building administrators’ organization, hoping to work with them to brainstorm solutions to our common problem.   

   The good news for Plainview-Old Bethpage is that there appears to be broad consensus about the nature and extent of the discipline problem in our schools.  In the months ahead, we will be working to build a coalition to support efforts to create schools where students are required to develop the self-discipline central to learning.

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