By Bob Harris
Recent articles make it seem like schools in Queens and the rest of the city are rampant with violence and crime. While there are problems in some educational institutions, most schools have few if any problems. The media highlight disruptive students and make it seem that everywhere there are terrible problems, while thousands in a particular school are learning up to capacity.
The papers attribute the cause to the actions of half a dozen students. Rarely do these same papers include the many positive happenings in our schools.
Yes, a number of disruptive students in a classroom can prevent others from learning. And decades ago when teaching students who were a few years behind in reading, I learned that some of them would rather be called “bad” than “dumb.”
Over the years I learned about the many positive things going on in our schools. Every New York City school has honors programs and works with various area colleges and universities, enabling students to take college-level courses and receive college credits while still in high school.
Specialized programs in the sciences, arts, literature, social studies and math permit students to advance at whatever academic rate they can. The negative headlines do not even mention these positive academic, vocational and technical programs taking place daily in our local schools, such as Thomas Edison Vocational, Hillcrest and Flushing high schools.
In regard to disruptive pupils, principals are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they report every incident and suspend the troublemakers they will get a bad reputation, but the same is true if they ignore the problem. They do not have enough materials, classrooms, teachers or aides to solve the problem.
Some students do not belong in large classrooms. Due to economic, physical or social deficiencies, some students cannot sit still for 40 minutes and require extra help. Some parents never sat and read or watched an educational TV show with their children; instead, they let their kids listen to or watch hours of violence and loud noise, which are more exciting than learning in a quiet classroom.
And others come from homes where parents are alcohol or drug abusers, and some do not even have homes or are constantly switching residences. But even with these problems, many students are able to learn in school.
The new uniform curriculum may provide stability for children who frequently move and solve many of these problems. But even these new standards cannot work if students are allowed to miss too many days of school. They will lose out on what is being taught in the uniform curriculum because each minute in each day is scripted. It is now permitted to use phonics to help children learn to read.
I have reservations about the idea that in problem schools students must be seated in groups of four, facing each other. Children are supposed to teach each other, but it is unclear how they can teach each other if they do not know the basic facts.
One teacher told me of spending weeks breaking up and reforming the groups of four so they would not talk to each other, especially the ones whose backs were to the teacher. The students are now mad at the teacher because they are not next to their friends. If a teacher wants to talk to the class, children in each group have to twist their heads to face the teacher.
Another teacher complained that in the past the teacher was able to provide the necessary facts so the students could pass the Regents exam, but now it is hard to teach the basic information the teacher knows will be on the Regents. I can see frustration setting in. Will Regents scores now be even lower than in the past?
So again, the leaders of the system admit there is a discipline problem. About 40 years ago they set up special “600 schools” for disruptive students, but there were complaints that the schools were too segregated, so they were disbanded. Can they solve the other problems children face?
Good news of the week
It looks like increased police patrols and tactics have kept crime down. I hope crime will continue to decline. I wonder if cell phones have made it easier to report crimes and catch criminals.
Bad news of the week
A case of mad cow disease in the Northwest has sent shivers down the meat industry’s spine. They deserve the fear generated by using downers, or ill cows that cannot walk. Instead of destroying the sick animals, they had been slaughtering them for human consumption, thus squeezing a few extra dollars from the cow.
It has been lobbyists who prevented the destruction of downer cows in the past. Too much politics will now cost the meat industry millions. I am glad the Agriculture Department has decided to stop allowing downers into the food chain. Where will they put the bodies?