Discipline

On Friday, I travelled with a group of other concerned Baltimore County folks to Washington to meet with members of the Dept. of Education to discuss school discipline. Current Board of Education member Ann Miller started the conversation and facilitated the group members’ contributions. A student from Sparrows Point Middle School, a school in which I taught, shared stories of being bullied and harassed at a level I had never seen. A member of the Baltimore County Police Department, who had worked with School Resource Officers, shared the frustrations SROs experienced. Several teachers described the conditions they faced on a daily basis of students swearing at teachers with impunity. One group member shared her story about her son who was threatened at knife point. When she asked to have the offending student removed from her son’s classes and bus, she was told the other student had a right to an education.

I focused my part on the timeline and impact of Federal intervention in public education. The story of Federal Intervention can be expressed in the phrase, unintended consequences. I was Co-Chairman of the Maryland State Teachers Association, now MSEA, Committee on the effects the No Child Left Behind Act will have on Maryland Schools. In short, the unintended consequence of NCLBA was to make data more important that students. It shifted the relationship dynamics in education. I have included the best example of an unintended consequence at the end of this post for those who want an example. I will also post my comments in full text.

The following day was the rally in Washington. School discipline is not just about shootings, it is also about the daily issues of bullying, assaults on students and teachers, overwhelmed school guidance counselors and teachers and data driven evaluations. Education is a personal experience and a result of relationships, not data collection.

 

A story of unintended consequences: In the nineteenth century, horses were the main source of power in transportation. As America became industrialized and urbanized, horses went from farm to city. By the turn of the century,  “New York had a population of 100,000 horses producing around 2.5m pounds of manure a day.” (Johnson). New York was not alone in dealing with this issue. London not only had terrible air pollution and dirty water, it had mounds of manure. It was so bad, the papers called it  the ‘Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894’.

Earlier in the century, farmers used the manure as fertilizer but the exponential growth of cities, and horse manure, produced an overwhelming amount of droppings. One newspaper included the following description of the streets, “literally carpeted with a warm, brown matting . . . smelling to heaven.” (Kolbert)

In 1898, representatives from cities worldwide met in New York at the world’s first international urban planning conference. They would have seen vacant lots with piles as high as buildings. For rats, excrement is like candy. The expression about flies and sugar should really be about flies and fecal material. The issue was not just a problem of aesthetics, but a very real health problem. The representatives were unable to come up with a solution. They left with only dire predictions for the future.

By the end of World War One, the problem of horse droppings was solved! The combustion engine meant no more droppings. Cars and trucks seemingly produced only minimal effects. Not only that, cars were faster and could provide an enclosed environment. The U.S. government funded highway building that linked cities and communities in a manner that railroads couldn’t. The combustion engine has provided many benefits.The authors of the Super Freakanomics book, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, use this story as an example of thinking outside of the conventional for a solution.

There is the expression that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Our reliance on combustion engines has led to the unintended consequences of global environmental issues, international instability and the possibility of the end of the world as we know it.

While the NCLBA illuminated educational inequities and increased national attention on schools, it also changed school climate. Teachers became more invested in the standardized tests students take than the students themselves. Using data to evaluate schools and teachers has created the dynamic of making a number more important than a child. Reducing the number of suspensions has the effect of making school discipline more problematic.

References:

Johnson, Ben, The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894; History UK, 25 March, 2018.

Kolbert, Elizabeth, Hosed, Is There a Quick Fix for the Climate?; The New Yorker, November 16, 2009.

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