One of the more troubling headlines in education is that black students are suspended three times as often as their white peers (“Why Are Black Students Punished So Often? Minneapolis Confronts a National Quandary,” The New York Times, Mar. 19). The reflexive explanation is that teachers are racially biased.
There are some teachers who fall into that category. But I think there is a far better explanation. I maintain that the variations mostly arise from differences in student behavior. If prejudice is indeed the reason, then why are white students disciplined at higher rates than Asian students? Are schools also anti-white as well?
The lack of respect for teachers among students of all races today is appalling. When I was in public schools on Long Island, N.Y. decades ago, teachers acted in loco parentis. If any student continued to misbehave after a warning, the teacher took the miscreant by the arm and marched the offender out of the classroom. Maintaining order was essential to teaching. No one question their authority.
I attribute the change largely to the student-rights revolution of the 1960s. Supported by philanthropic behemoths, students began to challenge even minor discipline rules. Stung by lawsuits, schools began to walk on eggs. The landmark case in this regard was Goss v. Lopez. In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court gave “every schoolchild the power to contest in court any decision made by his teacher.” Only Justice Lewis Powell understood the consequences when he warned that students who fail to learn the necessity of rules will be handicapped throughout life.
We’re now reaping what the high court’s decision sowed. The sad part is that black students who want to learn – and they are in the overwhelming majority – are denied their right to do so by the behavior of the few. I think it’s time to focus on that injustice.
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