capital high school

Let me take a moment to address all the fans of authority backing the teacher, school, and Ben Fields, the Spring Valley High School SRO cop who has been fired after being taped assaulting a student during disciplinary action. I’m seeing a lot of “yeah, but” routines on social media. And they’re all incorrect for bad reasons.

High school students are young adults who are treated like children by many teachers, staff, administrators, police, parents, and neighbors. They are not children. As a teacher, I’m of the pedagogical position to be in opposition to enforced disciplinary authority in schools.

How to handle a student who has broken a rule, maybe even a law, though is not being violent or even raising a fuss?

I always insist a classroom is our shared space in which we collaborate on projects. I recognize that we come from different communities and that our social differences need not be put aside in the classroom. When something goes wrong and that wrong involves a student, I permit a break from school work. There’s no reason for me to invoke authority and to turn our collaborative effort into a mask I, as teacher-boss, wear when things are going well.

First, I do not police classrooms.

Second, when a student has an issue, I address it from my point of view. I don’t knee jerk authority to harangue a student nor do I pretend like I’m not a teacher and they’re not a student. If we can’t solve the problem, I move on, if possible. Nobody wants a problem in the classroom, and all problems do not need to be addressed “at this moment”. The “at this moment” insistence is a crude way to reinforce authority and hierarchy. Students need time to think. Adolescents are more willing to take risks than their teachers are. This isn’t a social thing; this is a brain chemistry thing. Understanding how members of our community process the same information in the same situations differently, and permitting difference is one very significant means to illustrating to everybody that they matter and their differences matter and that differences can be present. I don’t use “natural” nor do I use “permissible“ nor “acceptable” because these words and their synonyms invoke authority in hierarchy. I’m not playing a word game. I must train myself as a teacher to be vigilant of oppressive state apparatuses in my classroom behavior. As a member of a community, I need to be working just as I insist students work.

Third, if a student insists on being an obstacle to class progress, resists allowing us to move on, then I break the class down. “Well, ok, then, let’s take a break from work. Work on (whatever is assigned or being worked on) with your neighbors or on your own for ten minutes. Let’s try not to be too noisy.” If necessary, I’ll offer a quick note regarding anxiety. Something like, “Hey, we all need a break sometime. Nothing is so important that we can’t take a few minutes to be good to each other and ourselves. We’ll get back to work when we are ready.“ You’ll be surprised, but students will not take advantage of this sort of thing, that is, as long as you help build a high-interest classroom where students feel invested in cultivating a space in which work can be accomplished. They have to be invested. And that’s often up to the teacher. Nobody wants to invest in a room where a fucking creep is always standing or sitting in the front.

Fourth, teachers have certain powers we can’t ignore. Why involve the state apparatuses, when we can often do something simple as letting a student have a pass to the hall/bathroom. “If you need to step outside, come get a pass and go for a walk. Come back when you’re ready.” A trip to the bathroom to wash your face and have space to think for a second can calm a potentially bad situation. We have to permit outbursts. We have to permit dissent. We have to permit disobedience. Our social order is corrupt, our neighborhoods often anxiety-ridden and unsafe places, homes can be dangerous, adolescence is precarious and cruel, but a classroom can be a place where differences permitted students can speak up and act out without punishment. Individuals need outlets to express themselves. We risk a lot when we build community. We need to remind ourselves that our peace is a collaborative project that demands care for each other.

Violence is terrible in schools but we shouldn’t be involved in using violence to organize students. The police presence in schools is a form of violence. And we need to be honest about that. You can talk about school violence all you want. If you’re not willing to address the state, the police, and administration of students when addressing student violence, then you’re talking about violence in a useless manner.