From zero tolerance to peace circles

By Larry Sand
April 3, 2018

The latest progressive education fad is doing serious damage to kids and teachers.

Fads aren’t always harmful things. Hula hoops, goldfish swallowing and pet rocks have really not had a detrimental effect on the nation. But when the education establishment pushes its collective whims on millions of school kids and their teachers, the results can be quite ugly.

After the Columbine murders, most school districts, with teacher union support, adopted “zero-tolerance” policies in schools. This blanket overreaction led to outrageous consequences like a 7-year-old Maryland boy being suspended in 2013 for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun and saying, “Bang, bang.” Even loonier, just last year, a middle school student in Ohio received a ten-day suspension for “liking” a picture of a gun on Instagram.

While the zero-tolerance policy is still with us to some extent, a brand new fad has become much more in vogue: restorative justice (RJ). This touchy-feely new-age bilge is much more dangerous than zero tolerance, as it affects far more students and their teachers, and has taken root throughout much of the country. It emphasizes “making the victim and offender whole” and involves “an open discussion of feelings.”

Much of the Kumbaya direction can be laid at the feet of President Obama and his Department of Education, which issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” on school discipline in 2014. The missive asserted that there was a racial component to school suspensions because blacks were far more likely to be suspended than other ethnic groups. The suggestion here, of course, is that white teachers and administrators tend to be racist. But the racial bean counters never get around to explaining why the racial disparity exists even in schools where black principals and staff predominate.

Not surprisingly the uber-progressive state and national teachers unions have jumped on the RJ bandwagon. The National Education Association offers an online how-to guide on “peace circles.” In the Golden State, the California Teachers Association has held “regional convenings” in a few locations to tout the joys of RJ.

However, many boots-on-the-ground teachers are very unhappy with the top-down directives coming from their union and school district. At McLane High in Fresno, CA, there has been an anti-RJ uprising. Seventy of the school’s 85 teachers have signed a petition demanding a stricter discipline policy, as well as more say in how students are punished for their actions. The teachers complain that there are constant disruptions, numerous fights and verbal assaults on teachers. Seems that in Fresno and many other school districts, not only was RJ foisted on teachers, they received absolutely no in-depth training in the technique. In San Diego, schools changed their discipline policies four years ago, but have just now gotten around to training its staff members.

As a result of the RJ trend, our public schools have become more violent. A report was released last month which shows that 25 percent of all teachers surveyed were the victims of physical abuse or assault, while “20 percent reported threats of physical violence and 37 percent described verbal insults, disrespectful language or inappropriate sexual advances.” Clearly the new anti-suspension rules are responsible, at least in part, for this horrific turn of events.

And it is certainly no better for students. As reported by Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, “In Los Angeles, the portion of students who said they felt safe in their school dropped from 72 percent to 60 percent. In Virginia Beach, the percent of teachers who said their school was disorderly and unsafe doubled. And in New York City, student-reported violence rose in half of 90-plus-percent-minority schools (and decreased in only 14 percent).”

An Oklahoma City educator was told “referrals would not require suspension unless there was blood.” A teacher in Buffalo lamented that he sees fights every day and the kids boast, “We can’t get suspended – don’t care what you say.”

Also, according to the new paradigm, even if a student commits a crime, it is frequently not reported as such. When New Jersey teacher Michelle Andrews leaned over to talk to a disruptive 6th grader, the student struck her in the face, causing Andrews’ neck to snap backwards. The incident caused permanent nerve damage and the student was suspended for a week for “disrespect toward a teacher,” (not for assault), and was returned to her class in short order. Andrews was understandably not happy that the student received a slap on the wrist for the attack and complained to her principal, who told her to “put on her big girl panties and deal with it.”

With many students and teachers being damaged by the top down progressive dictum from the education establishment, Walter Williams asks, “…how does the Obama restorative justice policy differ from a Ku Klux Klan policy that would seek to sabotage black education by making it impossible for schools to rid themselves of students who make education impossible for everyone else?”

We commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death tomorrow. King’s dream that his children will one day live in a nation “where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” has been shoved aside by education leaders who want to make decisions based solely on race. Surely Dr. King is turning over in his grave.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.