Discipline is necessary for learning

There was a time when teachers acted in loco parentis – without regard to the race of their students.  But teachers today can’t run a disciplined classroom because they are afraid of being accused of bias (“De Blasio and Carranza should heed the wisdom of ‘Dear White Teacher,’ “ New York Post, Sep. 4).

That’s why it’s heartening to read about a black 8th grade teacher in Portland, Oregon who wrote an essay addressed to her white colleagues urging them to seize control of their classrooms once again.  If that means giving time-outs to students of color, so be it.

When I was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, busing brought in hundreds of students from the inner city.  When some of them became disruptive, white teachers were reluctant to discipline them out of fear they would be called racist.  As a result, classroom decorum slowly disappeared, making it harder and harder to proceed with instruction.

Discipline has to be fair, but it cannot be denied because it is indispensable to learning.  It’s time to make “Dear White Teacher” required reading for all schools.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “Discipline is necessary for learning”

  1. Unfortunately, many teachers — white, black, brown — seem to believe that, because low-SES/inner-city students are so disadvantaged in their home/family lives, it is unfair (or even racist) for teachers to require that these students be relatively well-behaved in school. Over the years, I have heard this view expressed by several inner-city teachers, some of whom advocate for this view and some of whom criticize their fellow teachers for having this view.

    Completely agree that teachers/administrators/school boards should require all students to observe reasonable behavior standards and should be allowed/encouraged to impose traditional discipline (i.e., detention, not talking here about corporal punishment) to enforce these reasonable behavior standards.

    But, more fundamentally, school systems and local govts should implement reforms focused on the reasons why low-SES/inner-city students engage in minor but endemic misbehavior. The low-SES/inner-city students engage in much more minor misbehavior than the high-SES/suburban students. There is something about the home life/family life of the low-SES/inner-city students that — on average — predisposes them to minor misbehavior (or sometimes major misbehavior). And, that something/somethings are different in the low-SES/inner-city family than in the high-SES/suburban family.

    My opinion is that low-SES/inner-city parents — on average — do a worse job from birth through kindergarten of preparing their children for academic success than high-SES/suburban parents. Differences in the quantity/quality of adult-child verbal interaction between low-SES and high-SES parents have been shown in research to cause the low-SES children to start kindergarten with smaller vocabulary, weaker cognitive skills, and less neural development. Pretty sure that differences between low-SES and high-SES parents re medical care, nutrition and environmental poisons contribute to these at-kindergarten disadvantages for the low-SES students. If you start kindergarten “below grade level” re vocabulary, cognitive skills and neural development, academic work will be more difficult and school generally will be frustrating. If your classroom instruction is at grade level, you will fall further behind and get more frustrated each year. By upper-elementary grades, you will be routinely resorting to minor misbehavior to relieve the frustration and gain peer approval. If there are many students like you in the class, the misbehavior will become endemic, peer pressure will be anti-academic-achievement, and classrooms will be total chaos. Seems like that’s what’s happening in most of the low-SES/inner-city neighborhood schools.

    Improving student behavior in these low-SES/inner-city schools is necessary to improve academic outcomes. But, doing so will be extremely difficult — virtually impossible — if so many of the low-SES/inner-city students hit kindergarten far below grade level and if we continue to refuse to track those students into classes where the below-grade-level students can be taught at their level.


  2. Labor Lawyer: You are quite right in your analysis. But if a public school teacher dared say the same thing, the teacher would be accused of being a racist. I saw this as far back as the early 1990s when busing changed the enrollment of the high school where I taught for my entire career. It was nearly impossible to enforce rules about decorum, since that invariably meant disciplining disproportionately black students. The problem begins in the home, where parents need to impress on their children the importance of education and of following rules. But I see little hope for major change.


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