Oftentimes we believe something — understand what it means in theory — but don’t really know for certain, since we don’t have any actual evidence for it. For example, I understand that disruptive students severely harm the educations of their fellow students. If there is but one in the class who will not be quiet, who is rude and disruptive and a showoff and won’t sit down and won’t do his work, then that prevents his fellow classmates from doing well. I understood this in theory. But then, about a decade ago, I had a class that proved it.
I once taught a 7th grade English class that has a student who is exactly this way (loud, rude, etc.). I had been reading Aesop’s fables to teach my students the very basics of storytelling. I read them one, then ask them 1) What happened? 2) Who is the protagonist? 3) Who is the antagonist? 4) What is the setting? 5) What could you learn from this fable? They do the work in class. I have done this several times already. Let me give 1) the statistics for the two days this student was in class, then give 2) the statistics for two days he was suspended.
1) Day 1:
Average grade = 24
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all, out of 24 students) = 14
Average grade without counting zeros = 58
Average grade = 34
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all) = 11
Average grade without counting zeros = 62
2) Day 3:
Average grade = 64
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all) = 6
Average grade without counting zeros = 87
Average grade = 81
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all) = 2
Average grade without counting zeros = 89
That’s right, the average grades doubled with the absence of this student. More, this absent student has a friend in my class. Here are his grades, from day 1 to day 4: 42, 10, 100, 90. He went from a 10 one day to a 100 the next day. Am I really to think that he suddenly “got it” within a day? That’s not an impossiblity. However, his highly disruptive friend was not there — and his grades leapt up. And guess what happened when his friend returned. That’s right, the grades plummeted again.
What does this mean? Should me just get rid of some students, count them as a lost cause? Perhaps not — I’m not quite so pessimistic as that. However, this does indicate that one major problem with our schools is the very presence of such students. How to fix it? How does one fix bad parenting? Or poor societal influences?
What we can do is reintroduce actual discipline to our classes (I have discovered that the only students detentions work on are those who don’t get them — those who do, their own parents don’t want them around, and those parents are happy to get rid of them an hour earlier). And we need to have strong discipline from early on. That means having strict, strong principals in our schools, but it also means we need to do things like teach manners, ethics, posture — things we have abandoned long ago. These will lay the foundation of good behavior later. Will this mean there will be no bad eggs? Of course not. But there will be many, many fewer — and those we do still have, we can remove from the classrooms more easily and put them in classrooms together, away from the rest of the students, so the rest of the students have a chance to become educated.