Knee-jerk: Hoping St Paul’s school discipline boil produces pause, pondering

NOTE: Quick knee-jerk post follows, as it hits so close to my Twin Cities home. I promise a more thorough and measured bit of thinking on (lack of) discipline policies, their spread, their costs, etc., at a later date. Been working on something for a while, but finding it to be a subject with more tricky moving parts than freakin’ General Grievous. Take this for now, comments welcome.

Y’know, reading this today (the Star Tribune’s coverage of St Paul, MN, teachers threatening to strike after another incident of student violence gone far, far out of hand, injuring yet another teacher) sure evoked a complicated mix of emotions, questions, and thoughts.

Though I’m obviously sad for the incident’s victims (indeed, I’m sad for all the staff and students caught in St Paul’s over-simplified, misguided, and down-spiraling experiment in maintaining order in its schools), I might actually feel more hopeful than sad. Here’s why.

Over the past couple years, I’ve worked with many U.S. schools that are struggling mightily with disciplinary codes and ideals similar to St Paul’s. Though these schools’ leaders and their staffs gamely chalk up their difficulty with the new codes/ideals to their inexperience managing them (their implementations of the new disciplinary codes/ideals are in earlier stages than St Paul’s), and though they continue to explore new and more effective solutions (often with no added professional capacity or learning), it’s tough to picture how the situations in their schools will right themselves. In many, many conversations with such schools’ professionals — and even students and parents — I picked up an overwhelming sentiment of, ‘This direction won’t stop or turn around until something really bad happens. I just hope it’s not here.’

And there (oddly, I know) is where the hopeful feeling comes in. Now that the simmer has risen to full boil in St Paul (note the escalation that can be tracked in major news coverage alone: the above link from the City Pages was from May 2015; September of this year, then, ramped up and up toward the ‘final straw’ incident at the beginning of this post) and the St Paul Federation of Teachers has proposed the drastic measure of a strike to disrupt the trajectory, maybe the education enterprise finally has the precedent it needs to stop and consider this learning-environment-compromising — and in worst cases dangerous — over-correction.


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