Tom Finneran: The Death of Common Sense in American Education

Friday, October 11, 2013


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Welcome to the modern world, where common sense lies in its coffin, quite dead and soon to be completely buried by the continuing rise of fuzzy feel-good foolishness.

Once upon a time, in America and much of Europe, people were not embarrassed to say “NO” to silly ideas. Now such silly ideas are unpackaged regularly, received uncritically, and advanced by accusations of “racism”, “sexism”, “ageism” and other preposterous “isms” wielded like clubs against anyone with an ounce of common sense.

Out of control

Where to begin? How about too many American schools where the inmates are running the asylum? Can any rational adult explain to me how actual learning could even begin to occur in classrooms where the language is foul, clothes are explicitly vulgar, and teachers are physically intimidated? Where sullen students are catered to and eager students are frightened? Where are the adults in all this? Why would anyone tolerate such circumstances for more than a minute?

What ever happened to expulsion? What ever happened to the eminently reasonable standard that your right to a public education carried with it the responsibility to respect that very same right for your fellow students? It seems that the adults have been cowed. A craven timidity, often political, consigns our schools to the lowest common denominator of behavior, intimidating too many teachers and ruining the education of too many students.

Anarchy or tough love?

Follow the food chain of tolerance and appeasement—a teacher identifies, repeatedly, the two or three idiots who are disrupting her class. That such disruption actually harms another twenty or more children seems to be given very short shrift by the principal to whom the teacher complains. The principal, not wanting to rock the boat, skew his school’s bureaucratic statistics, or be reprimanded by his superiors, pushes back at the teacher suggesting that the teacher’s methods are not engaging enough to charm the idiots. The teacher, now both intimidated and frustrated, slowly surrenders the classroom to the anarchy of the two or three thugs, who like all thugs everywhere exploit passivity. The end result–twenty or more children have failed to gain the full measure of their lessons while fully absorbing a completely negative lesson of adult indifference.

Is it any wonder that many families bankrupt themselves into physical and financial exhaustion in pursuit of private schools? No parent in their right mind would surrender their children’s futures to the chaos of classrooms where language, dress, and behavior are spinning out of control.

Of course what is needed is for mature and serious adults—certainly political leaders as well as educators—to stand with and for the many students against the swaggering few who repeatedly defy the rules. Almost every experienced teacher I’ve ever met has told me that they can identify the disruptive idiots within two weeks of the start of school. Why not then recognize the substantial danger to the good kids of losing yet another critical year of instruction. Act decisively. A little tough love, early on, might go a long way.

Cracking down

The teacher, the principal, the superintendent, the political leadership, and most importantly, the town’s lawyers should present a very firm and united front to little Johnny the idiot and his parents. Either Johnny shapes up and behaves or Johnny is out on the street for good. No alternative campus, no alternative program, and no surrender to the demands of his parents to “understand” Johnny’s issues. Neither Johnny nor his parents have the right to ruin the education of his classmates. And a town’s taxpayers are not obliged to fund every trendy idea ever concocted for “reaching out” to our youth. If Johnny is rendered unemployable by virtue of his unacceptable behavior, let him look in the mirror at the cause of his misery. It’s called tough love.

No sane society empowers disruptive children the way we do. We are on a course that is unsustainable. Children, by definition, lack the experience, education, maturity, and judgement of adults. That so many adults have surrendered their responsibility does not make it right. And in their ostensibly noble goal of “saving” every child, they have harmed every child. The good kids receive a lesser education and the bad kids are never corrected.

Dress codes and single-sex schools as responses to our educational nightmare might be very good ideas. I am certainly in favor of them. But such ideas succeed only on the margin. There is no substitute for confronting constant classroom disruption at its source and negating it quickly. Adults who are afraid to say “no” beget more and more failure in the classroom, in the workplace, and in life. Behold the death of America’s great gift to the world, a free and public education. Behold the death of common sense. We are failing our kids and our country.


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