I recently discussed with a colleague one of the oddities many of us continually encounter when teaching college students, and we both agreed this is one of the maddening truths of dealing with high school graduates today: They simply do not believe us when we explain that they will fail our courses if they neglect to pay attention and do the work we have assigned.
However, the sheer incredulity that I sometimes encounter when I explain to a young adult that they have flunked is perfectly understandable to me. We are often today dealing with students who were pencil-whipped through their high school courses, offered phony-baloney “credit recovery” for those classes where they did not even bother to attend, and were generally taught nothing in K-12 other than that there is no actual consequence for steadfast ignorance. Therefore, why should they believe that their college teacher has no intention for passing them just because they are carbon-based life forms? Was this ever the case during their 13 year plod through public schooling?
K-12 education in America is typical of most entrenched government bureaucracies: There is no connection at all between pay and performance. In fact, given that school funding is typically tied to nothing other than mere daily attendance, there is truly no incentive for anyone to bother with teaching and learning. Your local public school will get their cash from local taxes, state funding, and federal grants whether students are studying Calculus or sleeping through a film on penguin reproduction. Outcomes have no real place in American public education; the point is to keep students in a seat so the funding keeps rolling in. If you’ve ever wondered why 35 years of education reform has resulted in negligible results while costing taxpayers a small fortune, this is a good place to begin your inquiry.
This peculiar quirk of how we fund K-12 education perhaps helps to explain at least some portion of the attraction to our latest American educational fad: “Restorative Justice” discipline in our public schools.
Despite any reliable research to demonstrate the efficacy of this punishment-light approach to school discipline, one that exchanges suspensions and expulsions of troublemakers with methods more akin to plain wishful thinking, Restorative Justice—“RJ” in today’s lingo—has taken hold across the nation. Aside from promising that a more nurturing and sensitive approach is somehow better than dealing forcefully with those who disrupt classes, instill fear, and injure others, this method also puts money directly into the pockets of any district that adopts it because students who are expelled or suspended do not count as being “in attendance”, which means the money that follows them in the door will not be forthcoming. Consequently, RJ can be a moneymaker disguised as compassion—although the compassion seems to extend not at all to the victims of the bullies, stalkers, and abusers who now need not fear many (if any) consequences for causing physical and emotional harm to others.
Forgiveness does, of course, have a place in the classroom because young people always make mistakes, which is the reason we place them under the care and supervision of adults, and learning from mistakes is a necessary part of emotional maturation and development.
Therefore, public schools have an obligation to model and teach the necessity of engaging in respectful behavior, obeying reasonable rules—and accepting the punishment that follows if respect is not offered and rules are not followed. The alternative is to enable the most selfish attitudes and the rudest possible behavior among our young, which is going to further harm these children and adolescents as they proceed through life and discover just how many doors are closed to them due to learning from their public schools that lashing out has no consequence attached. Educators who tacitly encourage misbehavior by failing to nip it in the bud are actively harming the young people in their care, and parents should be appalled at what is being taught—or not being taught—to their children through the Restorative Justice model of school discipline.
The same misguided “compassion” (not to mention the same yearning for the cash tied to school attendance) that informs our nation’s misbegotten embrace of Restorative Justice also animates the continued movement toward dramatically reducing—or outright banning—homework in our nation’s public schools. Setting aside for a moment the boon these practices provide for classroom teachers who will no longer need to deal with stacks of assignments to grade, policies that reduce or eliminate homework also keep many students coming to school because the stress of the academic workload is dramatically lessened. Everyone may enjoy the opportunity to relax more and study less, but the negative impacts are rarely discussed.
Although some argue that any policy that keeps students in school is most definitely a good one, it must be pointed out that actual learning requires mastering the skills necessary to study andwork independently. Moreover, the complex and time-intensive assignments that are necessary in middle and high school to enable students to learn the higher level academic skills they will need later in life—particularly if college is part of their life plan—simply cannot be squished into the confines of the regular school day. Homework is a critical adjunct to classroom instruction, and the failure to learn how study and work independently perhaps helps to explain why 30% of college freshman across our nation do not return for their sophomore years—they are simply unable to sustain the study habits necessary for classroom success.
Would assigning and grading homework in K-12 have helped the millions of students who will abandon higher education this year? Would abandoning Restorative Justice discipline policies improve our schools and help our students? I would argue that the answer is yes to both questions, but I am certain the Education professors will continue to publish academic papers suggesting otherwise. Why is this the case? Darned if I know, but at least their learned studies provide plenty of cover for school districts who care more about the cash tied to attendance than providing safe and academically sound classrooms for our nation’s children.