Roy Exum: The Discipline Dilemma

Sunday, February 28, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There is a hard-fisted bill now rapidly moving through the Tennessee Legislature that is aimed at the lack of discipline that is increasing in our state’s public schools. While desperately needed, particularly in our overly challenged metro areas, let’s be very candid from the beginning. This cancer has reached the legislature because our liberal public school leaders haven’t the courage nor the backbone to handle it. Yes, it is yet another symptom of our broken education system and, if you’ll follow the dots, the new age pandering that has besieged our nation is a tremendous factor why an unforgivable 60 percent of our children cannot read on grade level.

Follow more dots and you’ll find the whopping majority of our high school seniors do not know what the Table of Common Elements is, much less have memorized it. Most of our seniors have never been tasked with memorizing a poem for that matter. Yet today’s headline reads, “Tennessee could get up to $2.6 billion (with a ‘b’) more for K-12 education with third federal stimulus package for COVID.”

Before you tell me the projected cost of how much in actual dollars and cents it takes to teach a child how to diagram a simple sentence, pass an eighth-grade spelling test, or how much it costs for an entire classroom to master multiplication tables without the use of their school-furnished computer pads, throwing millions after millions doesn’t buy anything with a shelf-life that will endure as much as a walk to any employment office.

Have you any idea how many Chattanooga employers, desperate for non-druggie new hires, will tell you a Hamilton County Department of Education diploma means zilch. I would hardly be surprised if a group of parents were to bring suit on the Department of Education for failing to educate their children. I am serious. Put any school principal on the witness stands to answer: “Why, if it was obvious my child was deficient in third grade reading, was he promoted year after year with no chance of success. There was no way he could ever recover, yet you were complacent in his ultimate failure. Why!”

We have countless high school graduates in Hamilton County who cannot pass the Basic Knowledge test to join the Marines. My dear friend Johnny tells me he was in the drive-thru line last week and ordered a fried chicken salad. Asked if he wanted anything else, he tells the faceless microphone to throw in a couple of extra packs of dressing. At first there is no response and then comes a more timid voice: “Em … how many is a ‘couple’?” (He swears it's true.)

Back to discipline. Marta Aldrich, writing for the website Chalkbeat-Tennessee several days ago, reports the disciplinary bill is highly popular with legislators, but last week notes the bill is “raising concerns that it might disproportionately affect students of color or students with disabilities.”

She writes, “’The Teacher’s Discipline Act’ would create a uniform referral process allowing teachers to petition for removal of a student who repeatedly or substantially interferes with classroom learning. The proposal is backed by the Professional Educators of Tennessee, which says out-of-control behavior by some students is driving teachers out of the profession. (It’s true: one source of mine predicts a record number of Hamilton County teachers will quit in June … we’ll see.)

“However, several student advocacy groups believe the legislation could unfairly affect some historically under-served students,” she adds. “Decades of research shows that schools disproportionately discipline students who are black or who have special needs. Advocates worry that those students would be far more likely than their classmates to be disciplined, removed from the classroom, suspended, and even expelled under the legislation.”

Let me tell you … there is no doubt that black students will be disproportionately affected. It is a given. Ask any teacher in any school in Hamilton County and they will tell you that many children of poverty, living in a single parent household where most breadwinners work two jobs, obviously are condemned to live unsupervised lives. Therein is the inherited curse – generational poverty. The number of “latch-key kids” has never been greater. Is it any wonder why black kids are a disproportionate number of kids who ‘act out’ in class? Please …

Elsewhere on Chattanoogan.com you will see an article that appeared on Friday: “Mayoral Candidates Respond To Equity Questionnaire Ahead Of Election.” Oh heavens. It is the biggest bunch of balderdash you have ever read in your life. It is provided by the Chattanooga 2.0 initiative, which I helped ballyhoo in the beginning but has since faded like a cheap transistor radio.

In my opinion, “equity,” and “inequality” have become cheap ‘excuse words’ for the failures in our education system and you want me to prove it? Learn the real reasons why over half of our public children are deficient and you’ll throw rocks at the claim “the HCDE is the fastest-growing improvement district in Tennessee” because it ain’t true. It is all part of the propaganda of being “Superintendent of the Year” before jumping to a larger lily pad. C’mon, man!

Yes … you’re right. I am angry and I am very concerned that almost 70 percent of our county’s graduates who enroll at Chattanooga State – diplomas in hand – must take remedial courses. We are cheating these kids with a curse that will last a lifetime. And, from all I can see and learn from my distraught teacher friends, little has been done to correct that.

Not long ago, I embraced the news that a large government grant was given to our public schools. I told a high school friend the good news and he scoffed. “The actual schools will never see a dime. That money will go to the Central Office and they will keep every penny,” he accurately predicted. “The best answer to this mess will not occur until education addresses the root of the problem instead of perpetually feeding it ever so often.”

I am a strong advocate of 12-month schools. We are already subsidizing year-round food programs and breeding social experiments galore, but I am told by the heroes, those whose ability to teach is being consistently marred by poor discipline, that we are only doing what we have always done, and it is pure folly.

Under the pending legislative bill, the Chalkbeat article reads, “The proposal, which is cosponsored by Rep. Scott Cepicky and fellow Republican Senator Joey Hensley, includes a six-step referral process:

“The teacher must document actions taken to address a disruptive student’s behavior, speak with the student’s parent or guardian, and bring in a school counselor or other helping professional to offer assistance, among other steps …

It further reads, “When all steps are exhausted, the school principal would take action based on the district’s discipline policies or student code of conduct. That could include placement in another classroom, in-school suspension, referral to an alternative education program, or denying the teacher’s petition and finding support to help the teacher.”

I think the legislature will find such time-wasting steps are already in place in many county districts and that a closer look at such minutia accomplishes absolutely zero to solve anything. You can’t abandon the problem, reopen reform schools and juvenile jails if we must, this rather than casting aside some miscreant with a bold guarantee from each that our society will soon hear from them again.

No, the logical answer is dawn-until-dark education and supervised recreation: athletics, or a similar passion, teammates, classmates, and wonderful mentor relationships, sportsmanship. Include Bible class, civics class, hygiene class, citizenship class, responsibility class … all with a healthy blend of ethics, self-worth, Band-Aids, toothpaste, soap, and gentle hands to guide.

If you want to clean up discipline in the schools the only answer is to give these forgotten kids the same thing that made you who you are… we can’t replicate a parent but maybe a ‘foster’ dad or a ‘foster’ mom … because I believe that’s the only way toward change, and may God forgive me for adding, “Someone who cares about me.”

I am convinced this is the best way for this mess to work.

“Do you care about me?”

royexum@aol.com


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