I taught in the Buffalo School systems, both Catholic and public for over 30 years from the late 1960s to 2002. During that time society has gone through some serious changes – some would call it liberating, others a disintegration of authority together with a collapse of what had been typical family structure. Integrating the school system became a focus, but bussing was a double-edged sword.
Integration may have been the goal, but schools lost their neighborhood identity and students felt unconnected to schools they were sent to. Further, schools were expected to move from a place of education to embrace what had been parental roles of disciplining children and becoming a general social safety net. All these things led to a breakdown in classroom behavior, what we used to call self-control.
Suspension rates are very much in the news. Racism is being targeted or at least considered as a factor in the disparity of the white/black ratio in the suspension rate. I would be the first to say that this country has a long profound history of racism that clouds and persists to the present day. My experience in the schools, however, was that anyone who was suspended was due to his behavior. I applaud the efforts to engage in positive methods of behavior modification as opposed to simple suspension to address the suspension rate but that is going to take people and money.
If a student is disrupting the education process she cannot remain in the classroom – that is violating the rights of the rest of the class to an education. If you oppose suspension for other than violent behavior then we better concentrate on figuring out what works. I support community action in our schools. I hope the activists are spending as much time in the school classrooms as they can.