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A Teacher In The Trenches

Pamela Gill

1997


Published in:
  • Technocracy Digest, 4th quarter 1997, No. 326

There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, May 26, 1997, by Jonathan Marshall, entitled Beyond the Bruises; The Cost of School Violence, who reported that a study finds higher dropout rates and pay for teachers.

Marshall reported that ``In a 1994 Gallup survey, Americans listed school violence as their No. 1 educational concern. And so they should, suggests a new study of the hidden economic costs of disorder in our nation's high schools.

By disrupting learning and discouraging some students even from attending class, violence increases dropout rates, and sharply decreases the likelihood of students going on to college, reports Jeff Grogger, an economist at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

In addition, hazardous working conditions prompt teachers to demand higher pay, increasing the burden on taxpayers or draining funds from other educational purposes.

The most recent surveys suggest school violence is a widespread and growing problem across America.....

A climate of fear and intimidation can hardly support learning. If students are distracted from their studies, or stay home to avoid becoming victims, it stands to reason they will do more poorly in school......

Grogger used careful statistical tools to distinguish the effects of school violence from other school or social problems that may hinder student success. For example, he didn't want to blame school violence for high dropout rates if neighborhood poverty was really to blame for both......

He also found that teachers commanded battle-pay premiums as the price of working at disorderly schools. Teacher salaries were 7 percent higher at schools with serious violence problems, compared to salaries at the least violent schools, again accounting for other factors.

Grogger's bottom line: Curbing school violence could have a much more profound effect on student performance than reducing class sizes or hiring teachers with graduate credentials.''


School violence is a subject of concern, especially for people who have to be inside those schools. As a high school teacher, I personally feel like becoming violent, off and on, in response to the stressful conditions. So far, I've staved off the urge to get "physical" with an insolent or threatening student. Violence is very foreign to me, as I was raised in a pretty benign environment. Still, working in a high school, I've become inured to a certain level of violence, and so have the students and faculty around me....sometimes more and sometimes less than I have. I have met, and heard stories of, teachers who left a particular school, or who left teaching altogether because of an incident, an atmosphere, an injury. I know three male teachers, well into their 60s, who were all hurt risking their physical safety to prevent a group of students from further assaulting each other. As a rule, students get in fights with each other; it is hard for a responsible adult not to get involved even if it is injudicious to do so.

Rather than itemize the variety of things I've witnessed, let one example suffice. Two windows in my classroom were shot out while I was teaching my first period class. I called security, and the students crawled around on the floor looking for evidence. Besides being an outrage, it was interesting to watch both students' and teachers' responses to this unsolved attack. The next day, I inquired of a student, whose mother also works at our school, what her mother had said about the episode. The student said she hadn't mentioned it to her mother. Was she afraid to frighten her mother? Did she truly feel it wasn't newsworthy? Don't they speak? I insisted a school counselor come to the class to help process the experience. It was many days later, and the counselor was almost an hour late. The kids had little to say.

Several teachers, to whom I personally related the incident, swore I had never told them when I raised the topic at a teachers' meeting (if I hadn't brought it up, it wouldn't have been common knowledge.) Did those couple of teachers forget the information because it wasn't really processed in the first place? Was I in a total muddle and hadn't told them? Do we hear lots of `stories' inside a school which we don't have the emotional energy and the literal time to remember? I know, myself, I hear bits and pieces of stories and then I am rushing on to the next difficult task and the information is something of a swill. This facilitates the denial which is part and parcel of working in a sometimes violent environment.

Jeff Grogger's research indicates that these schools where violence is a problem must pay their teachers higher salaries to keep them there. Probably this is true; however, my experience is that teachers in more affluent school districts face less violence and are paid better. I suspect this varies, but the point that struck me while reading his article is that he is definitely thinking in "price system" solutions. In fact, he is assuming we should try to keep teacher's pay down to save money for some other purpose. My response is also a "price system" response, "I am already underpaid! How can he suggest wanting to pay less!?" This could put us into the thick of a pointless argument -- one about how there is not enough to go around, and whether I should get more by proving myself somehow more worthy, or more endangered, or more highly qualified. Let's not waste our energy!

At the end of the article, Grogger specifically weighs how money could be best allocated. He suggests we use it to curb school violence rather "than reducing class size or hiring teachers with graduate credentials." (Let us never forget, though, that animal studies show a very direct connection between crowding and violence).

Why can't we do ALL these things? What is more important than education? In this profit-driven society, plenty of things are more important than education, except for the education of a few, well-to- do well-connected students. What a shame!

Still, I want to give Mr. Grogger credit for pointing a finger, drawing a red circle around "violence in our schools." It is there. Look at it. Schools struggle to keep down the numbers of suspensions for violent infractions, because it looks bad (You might get reconstituted!). Besides, we reassure ourselves, suspending students doesn't solve the problem. No, it doesn't. But being in a fog and arguing over resources doesn't solve the problem, either.

Finally, Grogger has spent much time and energy trying to separate the causes of school failure. Jonathan Marshall writes that Grogger, "used careful statistical tools to distinguish the effects of school violence from other school or social problems that may hinder student success." Is it violence? Poverty? "Other social problems?" I suspect you can't tease too many of those causes apart, as they are so interrelated. And even if we could neatly subdivide and analyze each cause, we are still left with the gross situation: Many students are failing to get a decent education. Jails are waiting. Dead-end jobs are waiting. Welfare isn't waiting quite as much as it was last year. Violence plays its part, and will so, increasingly.

The organization of our society itself is at fault. We need to dissipate the fog and get on with the work of reorganizing our society. Technocracy offers its social design as a starting place.


 
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