Monday, October 5, 2009

A Lighted Tunnel

The head of the Chicago teacher's union wants the city to create a new school for chronically disruptive students. As she says, "Teachers can't teach and students can't learn in a constantly disruptive classroom.” Hard to argue with that. However, my initial reaction is completely divided.

On the one hand, from my time in the classroom, I can think of a few kids whose constant misbehavior dragged down the entire class. It was the instigators who would send the whole class off the rails. There were the kids who were throwing books out the window, overturning chairs during group work time, and punching other kids in class. Clearly, the classroom culture would have benefitted from their absence. Their presence made it nearly impossible for those who wanted to do the right thing to actually have that opportunity.

On the other hand, I'm very leery about a program that could essentially consign those kids to the outskirts of the education system with no hope of returning to the fold and bettering their own lives. Removal from a regular classroom may be warranted. Placement in a pre-prison system is not.

The only way that I see this kind of program working is if the kids who are removed from their regular classrooms are given a fundamentally different educational experience. We can't just put all the bad kids together in one room and give them the same experience we would if they were in their old rooms. That obviously wouldn't work. It would probably make things worse. But if we instituted a system of intensive remediation, character building, possibly therapy, and a host of other supports we might actually get somewhere. To her credit, this seems to be what the Chicago union has in mind.

This kind of program can work. But it can only work if there's a light at the end of the tunnel for these kids. Simply banishing them isn't the answer.

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