Challenge for Jim Dey

I submitted a Letter to the Editor tonight in response to a NG Saturday Monday Editorial (“New approach on suspensions“). My challenge for Jim Dey and the rest of the Editorial Board is to go hang out with some of the kids that are suspended (past or present) and learn a little more about who they are, their circumstances, and the classroom environments in which they “misbehave”. I am bothered that editorials can be so “off the cuff” and written without much substantiative backing at all. And I do not understand how Mr. Dey can proclaim to be in support of the program when his article drips with “good luck with that”. Nobody said it was going to be easy. In fact, I can guarantee it will be difficult and laced with trials. As Jamar stated at the Board Meeting on April 8th, it is all about relationships. And that is another thing; Mr. Dey was not at the board meeting and did not watch the video of it. I am now curious if he even read the materials on BoardDocs? Or talked to Mr. Orlando Thomas directly?

I emailed Mr. Thomas and requested student responses to his questions. He wrote back with a small list of replies to “What do you need to succeed?”:

  • A job
  • A tutor
  • More time do to my homework in school
  • More help from my teachers
  • Another resource period to complete my homework
  • More clubs, activities and sports
  • More school dances
  • A job for my mom
  • Somewhere to go after school
  • Cable tv at home
  • Longer hours at Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club
  • More black male teachers
  • Ms. Lane-Rose (AP on active duty)
  • Someone to help me to get into college
  • A stable house, tired of moving

Wow! Some of those really tug at my heart. Obviously, “cable tv at home” kinda sticks out like a sore thumb (*grin*), but I give the kid kudos for being honest. Some of those other ones… I just have to ask, what can we do to provide those things? Perhaps TALP addresses some of those needs. I will remind you that these are responses from kids who have already been suspended at least once. I cannot help but wonder what would happen to these 15 students if they received what they said they needed. If you had the power to provide for these needs and you had the knowledge that it would counteract a suspension, would you consider that a fair trade?

No, seriously, I am asking. Even if you only chose to do, say, five from the list.

What’s stopping you?

 

EDIT: I said Saturday’s Editorial. *facepalm* I meant Monday’s Editorial.

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12 Responses to “Challenge for Jim Dey”

  1. G. David Frye Says:

    This is a pretty disheartening list. But right off the bat, don’t you think it was the wrong question? The specific issue is suspensions. The question ought to be, “what is the most important single step you could take to avoid situations where you would be suspended again?”

    Kids don’t get suspended because they come from bad home situations, or don’t have enough time to do homework, or don’t have the right color teacher. They get suspended because, while AT school, they get into fights, arrive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, commit some act of vandalism or theft, and so forth. The list is pretty straightforward and is laid out in the student handbook and discussed in person with the student body and, to be honest, students who get suspended don’t usually take the approach of saying they didn’t know they could get disciplined. It’s far, FAR more often the case that they either figure they wouldn’t get caught or, especially for fighting, felt their honor or pride required them to do it anyway.

    There are actions that can result in an in-school suspension. That’s like all-day study hall and it’s a great place to get caught up on assignments. But I doubt that a lot of homework/studying/catching-up happens; more likely there’s a lot of moaning and slumping over in chairs and speaking disrespectfully and simply failing to show.

    There are actions that require out-of-school suspensions. One of my own sons got suspended for a week once, and he deserved it. You can bet he spent the week on any available school assignments – the teachers are great about forwarding work so the kids don’t get behind, if you ask – and the rest of the time on parental lockdown. That’s what any of the parents of my sons’ friends would do. So I have to speak delicately at this point about the obvious difference in how we discipline our kids in such a situation, vs. the way many of the kids who have multiple suspensions are being handled by their parents or guardians.

    I haven’t seen Jim Dey’s column. But I want to make it clear that I think it’s grossly unfair to the administrations of our schools to naively assume that there’s something unfair or unjust about the suspension process because it seems to be affecting more minority students. They’re getting suspended because they break obvious, well-documented, consistently enforced rules that were little different when I went to school. WHY more minority kids are doing so is a tough question to answer, but I suspect it’s less because their moms don’t have a job and more because they haven’t learned (or accepted) that they are expected to hold themselves to certain standards of conduct.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    @G. David,

    1. First, read Jim Dey’s Saturday Editorial
    2. Talk to Orlando Thomas
    3. Go look at the Social Justice Committee webpage and read a couple of the meeting minutes (especially the first one, including the Ideology Circle).
    4. As time allows, watch the April 8th BOE meeting video and skip to to about the last third to watch the discussion on TALP. (Here are my Cliff Notes)

    You say that kids get suspended because they break the rules and you don’t really have an answer for WHY they break the rules. Please propose a viable, practical, feasible solution to help kids stop breaking rules, a solution that you firmly believe will in fact work in Unit 4. Obviously, this is an issue we struggle with today.

    • G. David Frye Says:

      Charles, I can’t. I don’t have a solution. It’s hugely depressing to me that there are so many kids now who don’t want to be in school, don’t want to ever be told what to do by an adult, don’t see the wrongness in hurting people or property, and/or don’t think the rules apply to them.

      I know those problems are deeply embedded in certain strata or cultures of our society. I recognize as well as the next person that the situations we see in our schools only mirror the issues we have as a community and nation where too large a percentage of minority young adults graduate only from the juvenile detention system and move on to adult prisons when the list of their crimes reaches a certain length – and worse yet, they see it as inevitable.

      Knowing all that, I’m having a hard time feeling guilty about it.

      All I can demand is that the schools be a safe haven. I want that for my kids. I want that for all the kids that actually want to be there. The only way to make it work is if there are clear rules and clear consequences. I think the district has done a good job of laying out the expectations and process, in policy #710.14R, which you can find here on page 40. Although that document isn’t easy to read, or maybe because of it, the school explicitly informs the whole student population each year what acts can result in detention, suspension, or expulsion. It’s not a secret.

      In your response you took the passive-aggressive approach of putting the burden of solving this back on me: in essence saying, “fix it or stop complaining.” I think I have the right and the responsibility to stand up for my kids’ safety and for the use of rules and consequences to promote a safe school environment, just as the community/state/country has laws to create a safe society. And like the larger society, the schools use a graduated approach to consequence that only works when the perpetrators feel actual remorse for what they’ve done.

      I’ve done small things to help. I worked in the mentoring program a couple of years. I’m not very good at it. I have done math tutoring and hope to do more of it. I actually show up to all-school events like orientation, and I interact with my kids’ teachers to make sure they know I’m interested in what’s going on and will help at home where I can. I find that I have gravitated to areas like band and sports boosters where the students participating are “self-selecting” – want to be there and are working hard to stay there. Those kids, overall, are better-behaved and doing better academically, and it’s a joy to be able to work with them and to do things in the background that make their programs better.

      But you’re demanding solutions. One impractical solution is a charter school approach where the families essentially sign a contract agreeing to certain expectations of behavior and academic performance. In places where those have worked, primarily large cities, I think they succeed because they’re also self-selecting: attended by the sometimes-small fraction of minority families that are invested in their kids’ progress and want to get them out of the black hole I’ve described. I’m not sure we have a large enough population to support a self-contained school using that model.

      Another approach is the one Central took in targeting populations where school attendance has been an issue. Not only did they lay out the problem, they suggested ways to improve the situation and provided connections to other resources for families who were willing to commit to improvement. I hope it helps. Poor attendance is a sign of, and perhaps even a precursor to, other behavior problems that develop in school. Taking a family approach to solving it reinforces the idea that home support is key to kids doing better in school.

      What I can’t support is the idea that we have to make exceptions to the suspension/expulsion rules, or invent in-school alternatives, just because someone has a difficult home life. If a kid has brought drugs to school, I want him (or her) out of the school. Now. If he brought them to sell, I don’t want him back. Period. I’m glad the district agrees.

      Having written all that, I’ve paused now to go read Dey’s article. I think he sums up my concern best with this comment: “The suspended students’ perceptions of their needs and what they view as important outline the depth of this serious problem. For starters, it’s a self-serving view that rejects responsibility for their misbehavior.”

      So, Charles, next time ask the right question.

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    Update: I totally goofed with the date of the Editorial – it is obviously from Monday, not Saturday.

  4. Karen Says:

    Are the schools supposed to raise children these days? I had a longer comment to post, but, I am unclear on my ‘free speech’ rights these days. I think Mr. Frye makes some great points. As well, people (in general) already do a lot for other people’s kids. The ‘do more’ cuts both ways.

  5. Karen Says:

    Were these students also able to identify internal locus-of-control things they could do to improve their behavior/situations? If they were in something like cognitive-behavioral therapy they might be encouraged to work on the things in their life they can control and also on their perception of the negatives. The ‘negatives’ aren’t the focus, they are more ‘be that as it may’ secondaries that are just part of the picture and worked around (compensate for, plan around, etc.).

    ‘If you had the power to provide for these needs and you had the knowledge that it would counteract a suspension, would you consider that a fair trade?

    No, seriously, I am asking. Even if you only chose to do, say, five from the list.

    What’s stopping you?’

    I don’t think ‘knowledge that it would counteract a suspension’ can be assumed. Let’s not be throwing more money at things that are merely assumed (to be effective).

  6. charlesdschultz Says:

    @Karen, quick response to address one very minor question you inferred – your free speech rights are wide open. Let me have it! 🙂

    More later.

  7. pattsi Says:

    Having just spent 5 days listening and exchanging ideas with fellow urban planners at the national American Planning Association conference, I have a sense of frustration brought on by this tread. The main frustration is the dialogue in that it is tending toward shutting down challenging thoughts rather than opening up an exchange that might lead to ways to explore alternative ideas about suspensions. For instance, the wording of the question putting the onus on the individual without much consideration to the societal pressures that have explicitly evolved over the last 35 years, such as less and less discretionary time and energy to be totally engaged in our communities and families. Maybe the question ought to be “how can civil society re-instate/recreate means to lower the lack of interest in being educated.” Maybe we ought to look at who is the targeted population now for K-12 education? Maybe we ought to ask ourselves is the removal of vocational, shop, art classes in the best interest of the students, along with minimizing the amount of physical activity offered? Indeed, some students have lower thresholds of being bored than others, so we ought to keep this in mind and figure out ways to re-energize the students.

  8. G. David Frye Says:

    Central and Centennial have shop/vocational/art/music/theater classes and related extracurricular groups, not to mention non-stop athletic programs. Can you pin the labels only where they’re appropriate? Can we stick to Unit 4? Wait, didn’t you want to eliminate sports?

    Your question for society is similarly vague and not practical for a teenage habitual offender to answer. We read stories all the time about people who pulled themselves out of the muck they were either born into or brought upon themselves. The common theme, it seems to me, is recognition on the part of the families or individuals that they had to make the change themselves – change a behavior, change friends, change neighborhoods.

    It doesn’t work to sit around and wail about how society has mistreated you. You have to build some expectations for yourself and live up to them. It doesn’t work to sit around and kvetch about how society has mistreated other people. You have to seek out the ones that keep trying in spite of their personal hardships. These are the lessons of my life.

    Find me two kids in that list who really want to do that – who can see that their repeated suspensions are a) their own fault and b) the result of some self-destructive behavior they need to change. I’d do anything I could for them, as individuals, to help them move to the next level.

    The societal pressures have always been there. I was in 8 or 9 school systems, rural and urban, between K and 12. People living difficult lives have always been there. Teenage angst, self-absorption, and a mistaken sense of entitlement have always been there. I don’t think we’re going to change any of those things. I would love to see a “societal shift” away from the glorification of self-destructive, abusive, and gangster lifestyles. But these individual students first need the desire to change. We can’t feed them that any more than we can force them to learn algebra.

  9. pattsi Says:

    I have never argued to eliminate sports. Activity for everyone is too important even to consider such. I have argued that it might be useful to explore the possibility of using park district land for Unit 4 sports fields integrated with a design plan to keep Central centrally located than moving to the perimeter because it takes much less ingenuity to do so. Why anyone would argue for less activity when obesity is exploding before our eye. Along with the huge lost opportunity to obtain the Y facility as part of an expansion of Central at the present location.

    As to the onus on teenagers to shore themselves up, we will just have to agree to disagree on this topic. The most recently published brain development research on the teenage brain alone shows that this age cohort needs a lot of adult saffolding. There are just too many variables that are in play during the teen years to say it is up to this suspended student to do what is necessary. And there is little analysis as to what generates a suspension. Has this increased of the years? If yes, why? Have the criteria changed–I have head mentioned that this is one major aspect? Are the numbers increased because teachers feel overloaded so the path of least resistance is get these kids out of my classroom? I could go one. I do not know the answers, but I do know that there is need for much more analysis.

  10. charlesdschultz Says:

    @G. David

    “It’s hugely depressing to me that there are so many kids now who don’t want to be in school, don’t want to ever be told what to do by an adult, don’t see the wrongness in hurting people or property, and/or don’t think the rules apply to them.”

    I can easily see the British Parliament of 1773 saying something very similar of the early colonies. “It is so sad that those British colonists don’t want to follow our rules and laws….”

    I think it is a false premise to assume kids don’t want to be in school, that kids don’t want to be told what to do by an adult, or that they don’t see the wrongness of hurting people or property, or think the rules don’t apply to them. Rather, at a very basic (and overly simplified) level, we have a huge disconnect between a system and the people the system is supposed to serve. As Pattsi implies, what exactly is in the best interests of the students? Removing the “troublemakers” so that all the goody two-shoes can study hard?

    Let’s play a pretend game. This is an extension and fictionalization of “Zero Tolerance”. Let us pretend that we have 10 rules – if you break any of those 10 rules, you are ejected from our utopian society. Maybe one rule is “Never speak unless spoken to.” Maybe another rule is “Never hurt anyone.” Another rule is “Never tell a lie.” Consider, how many people would remain in that “utopian” environment? What kind of people would they be? Robots? Kool-aid drinking mindless automatons? And what happens to all those unfortunate souls on the outside? Hmm… seems like there were several movies on this topic. Oh wait, what was Apartheid?

    I apologize if that is a little over-the-top. It is not my intent to halt discussion. Rather, we have a disagreement on what we believe to be best and true. Let us explore that disagreement.

    To put the onus of a solution back on my own shoulders (and to get out from under the label of “passive aggressive”), here is what I think we need to do. First, we need to form meaningful relationships. We cannot assume that a low-income child of colored skin has certain attitudes towards authority. Nor can we assume that any behavior always means corrupted and flawed character. We must get to know the whole person. This is terribly inefficient and expensive. But this is my solution. There is something called the Pareto Principle; roughly 80% of the children in our schools are going to be hunky-dory no matter what it looks like. The other 20% are going to need a little something extra. I do not propose that we ignore one group while addressing the needs of the few. Rather, as a practical starting point, what about addressing the needs of the outlying 10%, or even 5%, without significantly altering the experience of the rest?
    Second, we need to get the 80% involved and thinking how they can also help the 20%. My bet is that a good number of the 80% would find it very satisfying, maybe even fulfilling, to help out in such a way. What does that help look like? There I confess I have no idea. I would have to chew on that a bit more. I will remind us that the 20% are valuable and have a lot to offer; perhaps they can help the 80% as well. I do not want to convey that they 20% are dead weight – quite the opposite actually.


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