by James A. Bacon

Most people watching the Academy Awards ceremony were shocked to see movie star Will Smith stride unbidden onto the stage and slap master of ceremonies Chris Rock across the face. Smith later apologized for his action, and then resigned from the Academy. Condemnation was widespread. But the disapproval was not unanimous.

Fletcher Norwood teaches high-school honors classes at a Title I school in Virginia, and he recalls how social media lit up the cell phones of the kids in his classroom the day after the awards ceremony.

“Of course, Smith slapped him. Rock dissed his wife. That’s how you’d react to a situation like that,” says Norwood, summarizing the prevailing viewpoint. To his students, there was nothing remarkable about the incident. “If you’re going to say something like that, you should expect to get hit.”

After a decade of teaching lower-income kids in Title I schools, Norwood was not surprised by his students’ attitude. Most come from broken families in low-income neighborhoods mired in a culture of poverty and violence. Attitudes and expectations are radically different from those of the middle- and professional-class educators, politicians, journalists, and activists who have been driving educational policy in Virginia. The political class is, in a word, clueless about what’s happening in schools. The theories of bureaucrats in Richmond and district offices are unmoored from reality. Adult authority at his school is disintegrating, disorder is rampant, and the quality of education, which was never great to begin with, is tragic.

Fletcher Norwood is not the teacher’s real name. He asks to stay anonymous, not for fear of losing his job — his high school is so short-staffed that his superiors can’t replace him — but because they do have the power to make his life miserable in a thousand small ways. He’s already burned out and disgusted with the system. He doesn’t need any more aggravation.

Fights at Norwood’s school are a frequent occurrence — there’s at least a rumble every other day. Just as Smith’s slap across Rock’s face was televised for the world to see, students regard fights in the hallway or out by the bus stop as a form of entertainment. Crowds gather, root for one or another of the antagonists, and film the fisticuffs with their cell phones for posting on social media. No one tries to break up a fight, says Norwood. Students view it as a spectator sport.

“It’s the most entertainment they’ll get for the day,” he says. “Think about it. If you’re not interested in the education you’re getting, what’s the most interesting thing you can do at school?”

Teachers rarely intervene either, he says. Breaking up a fight is a no-win proposition. First, there’s the risk of getting assaulted. Second, there’s the risk of getting captured on cell phones, with edited clips posted to TikTok. If a kid gets hurt in the fracas, says Norwood, the teacher is toast. If the teacher comes across as looking like a bully, he’s toast. Administrators tell teachers to break up fights, but no one has the necessary training. Besides, teachers believe that if controversy arises, administrators won’t back up them up. “There is zero incentive to get into the middle of a fight,” he says.

Adults exercise little authority at Norwood’s school. Students routinely use profanity in class, and it’s not unusual for them to say, “Fuck you” to his face. Telling them to speak politely is a hopeless task. Profanity is so ingrained in their speech patterns that depriving them of swear words would render them almost mute. More to the point, there are no repercussions for being disrespectful.

Teachers can’t lay their hands on kids. Students can’t be suspended unless they commit a major offense such as bringing a gun to school or selling drugs on the grounds. The idea of sending students to the principal’s office is laughable — there’s no sanction to bring against them if they refuse to go. Administrators distinguish between “major” offenses and “minor” offenses. When teachers write up the minor offenses, they go into a file never to be seen again — unless the kid commits a major offense, in which case the paperwork might be dusted off in support of a rare disciplinary action.

Many fights erupt over conflicts originating in social media. At Norwood’s school, students bring their cell phones into class and refer to them continuously. Many wear ear plugs and listen to music during class. Discipline has collapsed to the point that taking away the cell phones would precipitate a riot, he says. There is no point in writing up students. Nearly the entire student body would have to be disciplined. Under pressure to report fewer disciplinary actions, administrators aren’t about to do that, Norwood says. Knowing the students will suffer no consequences, teachers don’t even bother trying.

While the district has dispensed with traditional disciplinary measures that supposedly created a “school to prison pipeline” — suspending students, arresting kids for criminal acts — it has failed to implement an effective substitute. In theory, teachers are supposed to embrace a therapeutic approach: explaining to malefactors how their negative actions hurt others, working to develop their emotional maturity, helping them deal with past traumas, coaching them how to work out their differences in reconciliation sessions, and getting parents involved. It’s all a joke, says Norwood. Teachers never got the training on how to be social counselors. And training wouldn’t do any good anyway — not at his school.

Counseling and therapy might work in schools where students are raised to have some respect for adult authority. Such respect doesn’t exist at his school. Many kids express defiance toward adults, typically with outpourings of profanity. They have no respect at all for the rights of others, feeling free, for instance, to barge into his classroom and interrupt, for example, to ask a fellow student if he has a cell-phone charger. Taking up a problem with the parents, as called for in the new disciplinary protocol, is a joke. If they care at all, parents are likely to take the side of their kids.

The kinder, gentler approach to discipline has broken down.

In his so-called honors class, says Norwood, he estimates that maybe half the kids put forth any effort to learn anything. He reaches a few with whom he manages to establish a personal connection. The rest are marking time, knowing they will be socially promoted if they show the slightest sign of having learned anything, thus demonstrating “progress.”

It’s bad enough that so many students are learning so little academically, Norwood says. But in the absence of meaningful adult supervision, they’re not learning emotional control either. That will not serve them well in the adult world. For many, verbal and physical confrontation is the go-to mode, and that will get them in trouble with others… who have learned no emotional control. He personally knows of three young men who have been killed outside the school in the past couple of years.

Norwood is profoundly pessimistic that anything will change. Administrators in the central office are disconnected from reality. He doesn’t see them ever acknowledging that their theories have created a human catastrophe. “Mea culpa are words they don’t know,” he says. Their top concern is covering their asses and protecting their careers. “They’ll never admit they were wrong.”

Nothing will change. And countless lives will be ruined.

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19 responses to “The Dude Had It Coming!”

  1. David Wojick Avatar
    David Wojick

    I cannot speak to the school issue but as my wife says “Smith should have used his fist.”

  2. Don Crawford Avatar
    Don Crawford


  3. DJRippert Avatar

    The “school to prison pipeline” is just another liberal mantra like “defund the police” and “CRT is only taught in law school”. The do-gooders on the left, sipping their white wine and eating quiche, discuss things like the “school to prison pipeline” on their verandas. Tw facts are ignored by the left:

    1. The disruptions described in this article prevent those children who want to get an eduction from getting one.

    2. Less affluent families have no school choice in Virginia and must send their children to the utterly failed public schools described by “Fletcher Norwood”.

    When the children who wanted to learn but can’t end up failing after high school the Libtwits whose policies caused the failure will chalk up the failure to “White privilege”.

    A perfect circle of liberal incompetence.

    1. VaNavVet Avatar

      Sounds just like an “elite” talking who knows everything but does nothing.

      1. James Kiser Avatar
        James Kiser

        And your solutions that you propose.?

        1. VaNavVet Avatar

          Based upon my 20 years in public high schools, a new principal or superintendent can straighten things out. Concerned citizens have a part to play by interacting in a positive manner with the schools, districts, and school boards to aid in defining and bringing about change. On a personal level they can mentor students and volunteer in the schools and on the PTSA boards. Many districts do have citizen advisory groups.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    What the teacher describes is not new. This was going on before March 2020 hit. The dam seems to have cracked wide open now.

    1. VaNavVet Avatar

      Not new but also not true across the board. Very easy to condemn all schools based upon the actions of a few.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Easy to talk like that until it happens to your children or grandchildren. Just a matter of time.

        1. VaNavVet Avatar

          Usually just takes a new principal or superintendent to straighten things out. There is always private school or a relocation if needed for those that can afford it.

          1. Lefty665 Avatar

            In your dreams. You clearly have not experienced Virginia’s more troubled systems. In marginal systems your “solutions” can work, but those are the easy cases.

            In more profoundly dysfunctional systems if fixing them was as simple as “just” changing principals or superintendents the problems would have been solved long and merry ago.

          2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            My experience is a new principal and superintendent in today’s climate makes it worse. Private school. Exactly where my 13 year old can be found. Relocate? In Virginia the best schools for dime can be found in the far southwest corner. I don’t see a train of families heading that way.

          3. VaNavVet Avatar

            Guess that it depends on the person hired as principal or superintendent. Schools in Hampton Roads have a good reputation.

  5. VaNavVet Avatar

    Perhaps it is about time for JAB to at least offer some solutions and to get involved in bringing about positive change. Actions do speak louder than words.

    1. VaNavVet, you and your ideological confreres are my inspiration for writing stories like this. You’re so deeply in denial about what’s happening in some of our schools — and I hear from you so consistently on this blog — that I feel compelled to document the problems beyond any denial. Only when we acknowledge a problem can we hope to solve it.

      1. VaNavVet Avatar

        I would agree about “some” of our schools but lets not paint with a totally broad brush. Also time to explore solutions don’t you think.

    2. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      I have written before that in the long run, the worst thing we can do is write off these young people and hide in our nice neighborhoods and private schools. I suspect I know who the teacher in question is (and have heard similar concerns from that person) and thus the school division involved. NOT a central city system.

      I know what the solution is not. The solution is not to feed them with resentment against “the oppressors” and a message that the deck is hopelessly stacked against them, the education system is rigged, so why try? That is what is infuriating to me about Kendi’s message, in that he has received a great education, holds high academic prestige, and sells a message of despair, victimhood, resentment and revenge. Ka-ching. Ka-ching. Compare what he is selling to what Judge soon to be Justice Jackson says when asked about this country.

      Blessed be the parents or other adults who keep a child moving forward in the middle of the $&#t-storm described by this frustrated (and dedicated) educator.

  6. Lefty665 Avatar

    It is not just “some of” our schools, but entire systems, with systems like Richmond as a prime example. It will take a revolution to change those systems.

    Until we figure out how to teach all kids to read we are perpetuating a society that prepares a significant portion of its kids for careers as low level drug dealers and assorted other marginal criminal endeavors. That perpetuates the cycle of poor, chaotic, often single parent homes headed by poorly educated young women, where kids have little educational or socialization support and enter school way behind the 8 ball. Many never recover from that and perpetuate the cycle. Changing superintendents or principals in those circumstances is just peeing into the wind.

    Woke racism actively prevents actually addressing the issues. It is worse than useless.

  7. Ruckweiler Avatar

    Close ALL the public schools, fire ALL the teachers and administrators, and give parents an education-only voucher to allow them to find the best private or parochial school possible. The public system is irremediable.

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