Monday, March 29, 2010

Don't give kids an alibi for failure!

Race and religion is a hot topic in our community. Look at the number of posts that appear on any story that touches on race on the Daily Times. If you want to be the center of attention, there is no better way than to put yourself in the forefront of a racial or religious dispute. Race makes for a great alibi as well, whether you are white or black. If a student gets into a tussle with another student, its easy to go home and say to your parents, the school is biased against me because they favor white students, or Somali students, or black students, as the case may be. And the fact that we have racism in our community, just like others, makes the alibi all the stronger.

Listen. The single greatest cause of suspensions in the public schools, or private schools for that matter, is that the parents of the student in question are unwilling or unable to control their own child and get them to follow the rules at school. In some cases, the parents are coming to school and asking for assistance. They say, we support our teachers. We want our child to behave, but something's wrong. Help us work with you. In fact, in the vast majority of cases involving discipline, we get parental support and parental cooperation. With the parent's support, principals, assistant principals, and teachers can usually come up with a strict compliance plan so the student can succeed. The vast majority of students who are disciplined are disciplined once or twice. Only a small percentage of students are disciplined repeatedly, and usually the story is that we can't get parental support, or rarely, the parents too are having one heck of a time with a troubled child.

The key to discipline is parental support. We have an outstanding staff. They don't sit around all day trying to figure out how to pick on kids because of their race. They are professionals with human frailties just like you and me. We have lots of challenges in our community. Poverty, some intolerance, a rising number of kids who come to school not ready to learn. Our professional staff, by and large, is working really hard to overcome these issues.

One of the worst things that people can do to children is to propagate the lie that their failure to behave is caused by racism. If you want to destroy your public schools, the most effective weapon is to create an environment where children have an alibi to fail. "Its not your fault that you can't follow the rules; its your teachers." We have a few people in our community, but they are a dangerous few, who want to create an environment that convinces kids that the rules are unfairly made and unfairly enforced. Some of them are arguing that white kids can't get a fair shake because the schools don't discipline minority students. That of course is demonstrably false. Some of them are arguing that minority students can't get a fair shake because schools are too tough on minority students. That too is false. When people propagate alibis for students, white or black, for their misbehavior or failure in school, they are enabling failure and destroying their public schools.

If advocates want to make things better for kids, they need to roll up their sleeves and do something positive. They can start by supporting teachers and creating an environment in the community that says, we expect every kid to come to school ready to learn and ready to behave. The best strategy for improving opportunities for kids is to find some kids who need help and give them a hand. If a young person is having trouble in school, the key to turning that kid around is an adult mentor, or a supportive parent who will work with teachers to support a regimen of hard work and a vision of success. No kid ever succeeded with an alibi.

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