Friday, August 01, 2014

Don't call it discipline when you know it is abuse

Teaching is hard, and despite the plethora of quaint mugs and bumper sticker out there that might indicate a contrary sentiment, it is truly a thankless job. Even when teachers make mistakes, I have a difficult time criticizing. Many have to spend their own money to make sure their students have needed supplies at the same time politicians and school boards, who have no understanding of how learning works, continually thwart the best practices of even our most dedicated educators. Add to this a society and culture which gives lip service respect for teachers by saying how important they are, but doing all they can to discourage people from entering the profession and encouraging an adversarial relationship between them and those in their charge. And in the world of and standardized testing, the word of a felon is often taken over that of a lowly civil servant whenever conflict arises.

But recently I read this article about a teacher who forced a young child to sit on the floor for four weeks as punishment for writing on her desk, and was livid. The crime -- and make no mistake, this is a crime -- is bad enough. The teacher compounded the problem by lying to the parents about what really happened, and put so much fear and humiliation into the child that the child would not tell her parents. Then the school district merely "reprimanded" the teacher.

That's right. They just told her "Now. Now. That's not right. Don't do that again."

The teacher has lost nothing and does not suffer for her abusive actions. She was not suspended. She was not removed or even moved to another school (though now the family has to navigate the problem of having children at two different schools). She did not lose pay. The article, circulating on a number of websites, does not even name the teacher. So this person has not had to suffer a day of shame for what she did to small person. We don't even see an apology from the teacher or school district.

I have no proof, but I believe a teacher who does this has anger and control issues which should be dealt with before she is allowed to enter a classroom again. She may be an otherwise wonderful instructor. But a school district that merely reprimands an barbarous person, not only enables the abuse, but sends the message that some children are not human enough to warrant reasonable discipline.

If a parent did the same thing to his or her seven year old, most teachers of that seven year old would call child protective services and the family would be investigated. The parent would likely go to jail. This teacher gets a finger wag. For mentally abusing a child. It was not a momentary lapse of judgement where someone lost her temper, but an injurious act, one that the school district is complicit in, not only because of the soft consequences, but for allowing it to happen in the first place. Remember that this went on for four weeks. It is highly unlikely that only the teacher and the class were privy to the site of a deskless student.

Other than the crazy injustice revealed in this story, we need to consider that teachers and school districts like this who give fodder to those no-nothing politicians and school boards (as well as entertainment media) to cut funding, create ludicrous requirements and regulations, and demonize the mostly good people in education. Such incidents are held up as examples, and not seen as the anomalies they are.

People love to bandy the phrase "children are our future" about without really thinking about what that means. So I'm asking what the future is for a first grader treated with such indignity. What is the future for her classmates? What is the future for education when the people in charge don't call such behavior what it really is?

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