I’m wondering just when parents, especially poor minorities, will refuse to tolerate day-to-day school conditions that most parents wouldn’t dream of tolerating. Lisa Snell, director of the Education and Child Welfare Program at the Los Angles-based Reason Foundation, has a recent article about school violence titled “No Way Out,” in the October 2004 edition of Reason On Line (www.reason.com).
As Snell reports, Ashley Fernandez, a 12-year-old, attends Morgan Village Middle School, in Camden, N.J., a predominantly black and Hispanic school that has been designated as failing under state and federal standards for more than three years. Rotten education is not Ashley’s only problem. When her gym teacher, exasperated by his unruly class, put all the girls in the boys’ locker room, Ashley was assaulted. Two boys dragged her into the shower, held her down and fondled her for 10 minutes.
The school principal refused to even acknowledge the assault and denied her mother’s request for a transfer to another school. Since the assault, Ashley has received numerous threats, and boys frequently grope her and run away. Put yourself in the place of Ashley’s mother. The school won’t protect her daughter from threats and assault. The school won’t permit a transfer. What would you do? Ashley’s mother began to keep her home. The response from officials: She received a court summons for allowing truancy.
Then there’s Carmen Santana’s grandson, Abraham, who attended Camden High School. After two boys hit him in the face, broke his nose and chipped his teeth, Abraham was afraid to go to school. Guess what. His grandmother was charged with allowing truancy when she kept him home while she tried to get permission for him to finish his senior-year studies at home. Lisa Snell reports that “more than 100 parents have removed their children from Camden schools because of safety concerns. The school district’s response: a truancy crackdown.”
Nationwide, there were approximately 1,466,000 violent incidents that occurred in public schools in the 1999-2000 school year. Violent incidents, according to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, include rape, sexual battery other than rape, physical attack or fight with or without a weapon, threat of physical attack with or without a weapon, and robbery with or without a weapon. Most school violence occurs in inner-city schools. During the 1999-2000 school year, 7 percent of all public schools accounted for 50 percent of the total violent incidents, and 2 percent of public schools accounted for 50 percent of the serious violent incidents.
Students aren’t the only victims of school violence. Between 1996 and 2000, teachers were the victims of approximately 1,603,000 non-fatal crimes at school. There were 1,004,000 thefts from teachers and 599,000 incidents of rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault.
I’m sorry if I’m out of touch with modern times, but this kind of student behavior is completely intolerable. Moreover, there are no signs on the horizon that things are going to get any better. Psychobabblers try to lay the violence at the feet of poverty, single parenthood and discrimination. That’s nonsense. Years ago, when I attended predominantly black schools (1942-1954), there were single-parent households, gross poverty and societal discrimination. During those times, today’s school violence would have been unimaginable. Even to curse a teacher was unthinkable.
Today’s school violence occurs because it’s tolerated. I’m betting that a punishment like caning or six months’ incarceration at hard labor would bring it to a screeching halt. You say, “Williams, that’s cruel and unreasonable!” I say it’s cruel and unreasonable to permit school thugs to make schools unsafe and education impossible for everyone else. Short of measures to immediately end school violence, parents at the minimum should be able to transfer their children out of unsafe failing public schools. Or, do you believe, as the education establishment does, that parents and children should be held hostage until they come up with a solution?
Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University and serves on the Board of Trustees of Reason Foundation.