Sunday, January 28, 2007

Weird Stuff in the Public Schools

A couple of things in the news recently make me wonder what is wrong with people. Oddly enough, they both occurred in the public schools.

The first has to do with a “growing crisis of violence” in public schools. Now, violence in schools must be squashed as soon as some trend appears. However, this story had to do with kids using cell phones to foster fights and other violent situations on school grounds. Here’s an example: Two guys get into an argument, and friends of one or both get on their cell phones and call for reinforcements, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a small (or not-so-small) riot on your hands. Should school officials be concerned? Obviously.

But the solution is not hard to figure out: Forbid the use of cell phones on campus. There is no inherent right of students to be able to use cell phones at school, and if they cause problems, ban them. Since school system officials have not only the right, but also the duty to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning, they can set the ground rules for school property, including dress codes, parking permits and cell phone use. Anyone caught with a phone on school property, or using it inappropriately, forfeits the phone.

A story in today’s local paper dealt with the increased frequency of computer/text messaging shorthand in class work. Kids have developed a series of abbreviations to speed writing messages and ease the task for lazy communicators. If you have ever spent much time reading these messages, you’ll notice the almost total lack of capital letters, and surprisingly little punctuation. These habits have found their way into class work, and the teacher in the Florida school that was the subject of the news story lamented her plight in trying to cope with this new and negative trend.

Once again, we have a molehill that has been allowed to become a mountain. Class discussion must demand proper spelling, punctuation and correct composition, and if students fail to write right, they fail the class.

When I was in school neither of these “problems” would have had a long life. They would have been taken care of shortly after they appeared. Whether the current education system can handle this in the present permissive and litigious society we now have is another question.

But this is really a simple matter: Are either of these situations acceptable? If the answer is “no,”—and it is “no”—then just fix them. Education is a privilege, not a right, and the fact that kids are required to attend school until they are 16 (or whatever age it happens to be in your state) does not change that. Kids will go to school under the terms set forth by the state education department and the school system, or they will be expelled or placed in an alternative environment.

It just isn’t a difficult proposition. All we have to do is to set high standards and insist on them being met.

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