Thug Theory: Will It Work?

Word is that the writer, Katherine Kersten, is one of those less-than-credible conservatives who can’t be trusted to provide accurate information. Knowing nothing more about the source than this creates a problem, as it taints what comes. So take this with a grain of sand. The acceptance of “racial equity” in school discipline isn’t the solution to the school to prison pipeline, but contributes to its perpetuation.

In the Obama years, America’s public education system embarked on a vast social experiment that threatened to turn schools into educational free-fire zones. The campaign—carried out in the name of “racial equity”—sought to reduce dramatically the suspension rate of black students, who get referred for discipline at much higher rates than other students. From the top down, the U.S. Department of Education drove the effort; from the bottom up, local educational bureaucrats have supported and implemented it.

“Racial equity” has become the all-purpose justification for dubious educational policies. Equity proponents view “disparate impact”—when the same policies yield different outcomes among demographic groups—as conclusive proof of discrimination. On the education front, “equity” does not seek equal treatment for all students. Instead, it demands statistical equivalence in discipline referrals and suspensions for students of every racial group, regardless of those students’ actual conduct.

Many social experiments make enormous sense if one believes deeply in unicorns and rainbows. This, unfortunately, makes for a heart-warming approach, with only one downside: it will fail because it’s predicated on a pleasant lie. We want to believe the lie. The lie comports with our sweetest desires. But it’s still a lie, and reality doesn’t shift to match the lies in which we truly believe. Reality sucks that way.

Equity advocates’ central premise is that teachers, not students, are to blame for the racial-equity discipline gap. They claim that teachers’ biases, cultural ignorance, or insensitivity are the gap’s primary causes. The key to eliminating disparities, they maintain, is to change not students’ but adults’ behavior. Equity supporters justify their agenda on grounds that the racial-equity discipline gap severely hampers black students’ chances of success in life. Kids who get suspended generally fail to graduate on time and are more likely to get caught up in the juvenile-justice system, they say.

If one stares intently at education, then this might make greater sense, as if teachers are the only influence in students’ lives, the only factor that matters. Since we believe in equality, then the only explanation for the discipline gap is teachers. Racist nasty teachers, who treat black students differently, worse, than others.

This isn’t to say some teachers, maybe even most teachers, don’t exhibit a bias against black students. What it does say is that the problem isn’t just teachers, and so the solution based on the lie will fail.

Whether or not you see this, the experience in St. Paul, where an early adopter put it to work, shows the laboratory results.

Valeria Silva, who became superintendent of the St. Paul Public Schools in December 2009, was an early and impassioned proponent of racial-equity ideology. In 2011, she made the equity agenda a centerpiece of her Strong Schools, Strong Communities initiative. The district’s website lauded the program as “the most revolutionary change in achievement, alignment, and sustainability within SPPS in the last 40 years.”

Does it hurt to try if you believe it will work? Well, yes and no. Kids don’t get a second chance at being kids if the grownups, with the best of intentions, prove wrong. But then, how can you tell if the theory is nonsense, aside from rational rather than wishful thinking, without giving it a whirl?

Silva attacked the racial-equity discipline gap at its alleged root: “white privilege.” Teachers unfairly punish minority students for “largely subjective” behaviors, such as “defiance, disrespect and disruption,” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2012. To overcome their biases, teachers must learn “a true appreciation” of their students’ cultural “differences” and how these can “impact interactions in the classroom,” she said.

Brings a tear to your eye, right? How’d that work out?

We have a segment of kids who consider themselves untouchable,” said one veteran teacher as the 2015–16 school year began. At the city’s high schools, teachers stood by helplessly as rowdy packs of kids—who came to school for free breakfast, lunch, and WiFi—rampaged through the hallways. “Classroom invasions” by students settling private quarrels or taking revenge for drug deals gone bad became routine. “Students who tire of lectures simply stand up and leave,” reported City Pages. “They hammer into rooms where they don’t belong, inflicting mischief and malice on their peers.” The first few months of the school year witnessed riots or brawls at Como Park, Central, Humboldt, and Harding High Schools—including six fights in three days at Como Park. Police had to use chemical irritants to disperse battling students.

Apparently, Lord of the Flies isn’t on the required reading list. One can believe deeply in the goodness of others, but warm words and happy faces won’t make kids behave. And loss of control not only affects the students engaging in disinhibited behavior, but makes it impossible for others to learn as well. Not only has it given vent to the worst behaviors of the students they sought to help, but it undermined education for everyone.

This isn’t to suggest that the “school to prison pipeline” isn’t real or a problem in serious need of address. It is, however, to contend that solutions grounded in social justice fantasy not only won’t solve the problem, but can exacerbate it. The abject refusal to look for real causes, even if they involve the unpleasant and complex reality that young people are raised in poverty, homes without sound parental guidance, without a belief in the value of education and the expectation that, with effort and restraint, a young person can achieve a successful future, means there will be no viable solution.

No matter how much endearing fantasies warm the cockles of one’s social justice feelz, they don’t change how children behave or react. Kidz just won’t prove fantasies true, no matter how much you wish they would. And when a theory based on fantasy fails a kid, he doesn’t get a second try at a sound education that will keep him out of the pipeline.

25 comments on “Thug Theory: Will It Work?

  1. Lee Keller King

    The wrong thing, even if done with the best of intentions, is still the wrong thing.

    Our primary education system has been at the forefront for “educational reform” (read, education experimentation”) for decades. Our children, or at least the children of the poor, have harvested that whirlwind.

    “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” James J. Harvey, A Nation at Risk, report of National Commission on Excellence in Education.


      1. Erich Martell

        Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” still feels relevant somehow. I can’t imagine H.R. 899 gaining much traction, but it does make me grin.

        1. SHG Post author

          Why you felt the need to bring HR 899 (the bill to eliminate the DoE) into this isn’t clear, but it’s got nothing to do with this post and no comments about it will be allowed. As for Harrison Bergeron, it’s been used to death. Of course it’s relevant, but it grows trite when it’s constantly raised.

    1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

      It’s the Prussian model of education, actually. Anyway, Charles Cooke says so, and he’s got a fancy Oxford education and a nice beard.

      There’s decent evidence that literacy rates, at least in the Northeast, were higher in the early 19th century than they are today. Education by the State, to the State and for the State may not be the unqualified good we Europeans like to pretend it is.

      And then there’s PIAAC, and the PISA studies, and how poorly we perform year after year. Scott, you must join me and Betsy DeVos. It’s time to #BringBackTheSchoolhouse.

  2. B. McLeod

    Further extraordinary efforts will be required. Universities will need to keep admission criteria low to ensure there is no disparate impact on these students. Law schools, likewise, will have to adjust admission criteria and bar passage expectations, and ABA will have to accept (which it appears to already) that bar passage standards can’t be tightened without sacrificing “diversity.” Employers, too, are going to need to lighten up, and keep their focus on what is really important, versus all that evil, profit-making stuff.

    1. SHG Post author

      If they can’t read when they leave high school, it’s not as if they’ll suddenly be able to read when they enter college. Or law school. Or sit for the bar.

      1. B. McLeod

        Well, OK, so they might need someone to read for them, and/or help answer the questions, or later, do their jobs for them. Those may be necessary “accommodations.” Because we can’t let them fall victim to “the pipeline.” We just can’t!

  3. John Barleycorn

    Who coined the metaphor “school to prison pipeline” anyway? I think it’s about time I wrote them a letter!

    Its been around for least a decade…

    Pipeline? WTF!? What’s up with that?

    It’s more like a fucking trap than a pipeline.

    When those little fuckers balls drop, why don’t they just lube up a slip and slide on a sixty degree slope with six foot berms on either side and print out “ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY” emblazed down the middle of it every six feet or so in two foot dayglow orange prison jump suit font letters and put a bucket of shit at the back end of a jail cell at the end.

    Any student who can somehow manage not end up in the bucket of shit at the back of the jail cell at the end of the slip and slide gets a fucking scholarship to Harvard (unless they use a pocket knife then they get a scholarship to MIT) and all the rest of them little fuckers get an ankle monitoring bracelet to save some time and a coupon for 500 bucks off their first semester of community college if they can avoid a probation violation before they graduate.

    Isn’t it about time school board members* across the country felt more comfortable about maturing into their chosen role as wanna be kiddy wardens anyway?

    And those slippery NEA members would probably give up 10% of their pension match to see it go down.

    * I bet it was a school board member or an NEA member who coined that damn metaphor too. Fifty bucks to the charity of your or any of your readers choice if you are they can prove that wrong.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Well for some reason or another money still seems to motivate people. Just ask any NEA member or a lawyer if you break out in hives around those NEA folks. And even though it may be hard for someone on as tight a budget as you to comprehend, there are more than a few charities out there that are on an even tighter budget than you are. Even after that new president of ours splashed around three or four hundred bucks across the nation in charitable contributions last year.

        But if you wanna be that way, that’s fine with me daddy-o!

        If you would rather not follow in the noble footsteps of our fearless leader with a charitable contribution of epic proportions, in lieu of the cash I will offer up as a substitute a unicorn made by the orphans of imprisoned parents that has a orange and purple paisley pelt and a black mane or a squirrel pelt.

          1. John Barleycorn

            She single? It’s hard to find a lovely person with a decent pension these days that isn’t a retired cop.

            You should give her a call. She might be interested in a tax deduction and if not maybe she likes unicorns or is into squirrel pelts?

      1. Anthony

        The vid of Rogers speaking @ congress & securing a yuuge PBS grant is pretty epic.
        Being kind screws me 50% of the time, he’s obv a mutant.

  4. Wilbur

    We just need to find more teachers like Glenn Ford, tough enough to kick Vic Morrow’s punk ass.

    It’s a jungle out there.

  5. Liam McDonald

    I believe you meant ” it makes sense if one believes deeply that unicorns shit rainbows.” As rainbows do indeed exist.

  6. Pingback: When The Rent Comes Due in de Blasio’s New York | Simple Justice

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