Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Education

One fight, loud enough to wake up a community

Feel free to choose whatever words you wish when describing the video of two girls fighting at Gibbs High last week.

It was shocking. Or misrepresentative. Disturbing. Or overblown. And it would not be a reach to say there is a measure of truth in every one of those characterizations.

I prefer to think of it as a glimpse, albeit skewed and extreme, into the challenges of 21st century education.

For this was four minutes of classroom anarchy. Not just the two girls who threw wild punches and pulled each other's hair, but the students who loudly encouraged them.

For more than a minute, a female teacher stood between the girls while students laughed, hollered, cursed, made phone calls, videotaped and circled around.

There was no sign of respect for authority. No evidence that the students feared punishment. No indication anyone considered helping a teacher in peril.

All of which raises an interesting point:

How would you like it if your job status — your entire career — depended on those students performing well on standardized tests?

This is less a condemnation of teenagers than it is an indictment of politicians. From former Gov. Jeb Bush to current Education Secretary Arne Duncan, it is insinuated that whenever students fall short it is due to the incompetence of teachers.

Those four minutes of video should put that theory to rest.

It is true we need to be diligent in holding teachers accountable. Only a fool would suggest otherwise. But it is also true that socioeconomic forces have as much to do with student achievement as educators. Only the fools in Tallahassee would suggest otherwise.

So do not focus on the specific behavior of the students in the video. After all, it is simply one classroom in one school on one afternoon. Instead, consider the implications.

All of those kids, not just the two fighting, were not the least bit worried about getting in trouble. They weren't afraid of the teacher telling the principal, or even their parents.

It's as if they realize they can walk a long way before crossing the line of seriously bad behavior.

And if that's true, why in the world would that be the case?

I have to believe it is partly due to schools being reluctant to use suspensions as a deterrent. Because if you suspend a student, their grades suffer and they are at greater risk of failing tests and dropping out. And, thanks to legislators, those type of statistics reflect poorly on teacher job evaluations and school funding.

How about the implications for the teacher? Her job is to de-escalate these incidents. And she has to do that without raising her voice, without touching the combatants and with the safety of the other students in mind.

In this case, the teacher had to accomplish all of this alone because the response to her call for help went unheeded for at least four minutes. That turned out to be an eternity once the other students began instigating the fight.

I'm not bringing this up to point a finger at Gibbs administrators. Or even Gibbs students or parents.

I'm saying this because there are much larger issues involved, and much greater factors at stake than a simple argument between kids.

To dismiss it as an anomaly is to ignore the underlying problems that cause an entire room of teenagers to forget what it means to be a student.

Comments
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