Editorial: Can’t accept some students will be ‘lost’

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The defensive reaction by some to Associated Press writer John O’Connor’s story Monday about how blacks are disciplined disproportionately in Illinois schools was predictable. And unfortunate.

To sum it up: It starts in their homes! It’s their parents! Black kids misbehave more than whites! It’s not racism!

While the story did explore the possibility that racial bias and cultural differences between white teachers and black students (85 percent of Illinois teachers are white and 9 percent are black) plays a role in the disparity, it was about way more than that.

The story even pointed out that black teachers in an Atlanta-area school also recommended discipline for blacks in larger proportion than white teachers.

The article's most important point was how suspending and expelling minority students from school sends them on to the streets where they are more likely to get involved in criminal activity.

“You say some kids are educable and some are not,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. “We’ve given up on a large part of our children.”

There is no doubt that the decline of the traditional black family unit contributes to the high rates of school dropouts, drug dealing and criminal activity by blacks. Black leaders from Jackson to Bill Cosby to President Barack Obama recognize this and continue to raise awareness of it. That discussion must continue because it’s not a problem that can be solved by passing any law nor will it be solved in this generation.

The rise of single- or no-parent households, however, doesn’t excuse the education system of its job to do its part to prepare children, no matter what their family structure, to live productive adult lives.

Teachers are no substitute for two loving parents, but our educational system and society in general should not just throw up its hands and say, “We’ve lost these children. Oh, well.”

No news story, academic study or work of nonfiction illustrated this problem better than Season 4 of “The Wire,” HBO’s critically acclaimed drama series about the decline of Baltimore.

The fourth season, written in part by a former Baltimore cop-turned-public school teacher, showed in heartbreaking detail the lives of four Baltimore children and how poverty, crime, violence and drugs swallowed up three of them and how the fourth was saved. It also talked about how the politics of the education bureaucracy got in the way of programs that diverted children with behavioral issues away from students without them, which improved the performance of both groups of children.

O’Connor’s story noted that a few children with disciplinary problems do get diverted to such programs, but too many still end up on the streets. Clearly, the availability of similar, successful programs needs to be expanded rather than simply letting these children get educated on the streets.

If the writers of a fictional TV drama are astute enough to illustrate an effective way to deal with misbehavior and entrenched poverty, surely those in charge of the education system can better address the problem.

Other potential ways to address the problem could include an Illinois Education Association proposal to create a statewide mentoring program that matches up new teachers with veterans. Legislators have suggested more detailed study of the reasons behind the disproportionate number of suspensions and a task force to study how to stem them.

We don’t have all the answers. No one does. But a knee-jerk focus on one aspect of the problem won’t solve it.

State Journal-Register