The Left’s New Social Experiment: School Discipline

Progressive social engineers are conducting another experiment — with Virginia’s African-American children as the guinea pigs.

The move to revamp school disciplinary policies in Virginia is gaining momentum. The National Women’s Law Center has published a study, “Let Her Learn: A Tool Kit to Stop School Push Out for Girls of Color,” which advances the argument that schools are unfairly suspending girls — disproportionately blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians — for violating dress codes or “talking back.” A group of “state lawmakers and community members” met Saturday in Richmond to “prevent discrimination in the classroom,” reports WVIR. And next, according to WTOP:

Change is in the works in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Education is scheduled to review a major revision to their student code of conduct on Thursday. The Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension is meant to establish framework for alternatives to short and long-term suspensions.

“We’ve taken a great deal of time to develop those guidelines, and they really do focus on less punitive responses to discipline infractions, and increased focus on the supports that students need in order to be successful in the classroom and, at the same time, frames the entire context of school discipline policies and codes of conduct with an equity lens,” said Leah Walker, the Virginia Department of Education director of equity and community engagement, at the forum.

So, the overhaul of school disciplinary policies in Virginia, which began with selective Department of Justice actions against individual school districts such as the City of Richmond and Henrico County, could well be imposed across the state. The underlying argument is (a) that the traditional approach of suspending students for disciplinary fractions is discriminatory because African-Americans are disproportionately impacted, and (b) that schools must adopt a more therapeutic, “restorative justice” approach.

This week the Board of Education is scheduled to discuss revised “Model Guidance for Positive and Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension,” a document that has been under development for 24 months. The guiding philosophy of the Model Guidance is expressed here:

[Focus] on prevention and [provide] a leveled system of responses to discipline incidents that uses instructional, restorative and age-appropriate responses before resorting to exclusionary practices while respecting the social-emotional development of children at elementary, middle, and high school.

Bacon’s bottom line: Let me be clear, the traditional disciplinary system may well be outdated and in need of reform. I’m not defending every practice, every suspension and every expulsion. But I am concerned that these new guidelines are being driven by ideology with little thought to how they will play out in practice.

I don’t want to make hard-and-fast predictions because our society is so complex with so many invisible feedback loops that nothing ever turns out quite like anyone expects. Intellectual humility should rule such discussions. But here is what I hypothesize will happen:

  • The new guidelines will accelerate a continued deterioration in the classroom as misbehaving students are emboldened and as teachers, filling the role of social counselors for troubled youth, spend less time actually teaching.
  • Students in classrooms with disruptive kids will learn less, which will be reflected in their Standards of Learning test scores.
  • The students most negatively affected will be concentrated in schools with the greatest number of disruptive youths, which will tend to be dominated by disadvantaged or disability-suffering African-Americans.
  • The pressure to deny reality will be so strong that the negative repercussions will be ignored entirely, or will be cause to double down on destructive policies on the grounds that revised guidelines weren’t strong enough.

I worry that, in the end, a program designed to reduce discrimination against African-American kids who disrupt classes will disproportionately punish African-American kids who come to school prepared to learn.

I have seen no evidence that anyone else, not even Republicans, have picked up this theme. I expect that people are afraid of being labeled as racist. As long as their own kids aren’t affected, why would politicians take the risk of sticking out their necks? Given the absolute lack of push-back, I feel certain that the new Model Guidance will be put into effect.

Virginia is embarking upon a massive social experiment in which African-American children are the guinea pigs.

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15 responses to “The Left’s New Social Experiment: School Discipline

  1. re: ” I worry that, in the end, a program designed to reduce discrimination against African-American kids who disrupt classes will disproportionately punish African-American kids who come to school prepared to learn.”

    why wouldn’t white kids also be affected?

  2. I read the brochure on the first link. Nothing bothered me. Students should not be suspended over dress code or hairstyle issues, for goodness sake. Do you think that’s a problem, Jim? I could not take time to read the entire discipline policy guideline in front of the State Board of Education, but nothing I saw while skimming sent me into the fearful orbit Jim is occupying.

    Here is what has changed. Fifty years ago parents supported and reinforced the discipline in schools, and now the default position is their little darling is being picked on. White, black, Hispanic, any category you want to name, the parents are eager to push back. You see them whining on the TeeVee news several times a week. I have nothing but pity for the teachers and administrators, but I do agree that suspension and expulsion are in effect educational death sentences, and should be reserved for cases of violence or lawbreaking. Not sure I’m with you on all this, Jim. And again, couching this in racial terms just shuts most people down and you are not helping your case with that. Yes, that’s what the advocates are doing but you don’t have to let them put you in that box (unless you want to play the game their way.)

    But I know its a common concern and can see the evidence in the hundreds of cars dropping off and picking up students at the exploding private school next door. I bet their discipline policy reads very differently, but people sign on happily.

    • So, The National Women’s Law Center, the Department of Justice, the ACLU, and the Virginia Department of Education is allowed to cast the school-discipline issue in explicit racial terms… but I am doing myself a dis-service by responding to the issues they raise?

      Bottom line, the Left can make race the basis of educational policy and everyone else is supposed to shut up… or what? Expose themselves to charges of being racist?

      As for suspending students for their hair style, I would agree with you. As I wrote, “Let me be clear, the traditional disciplinary system may well be outdated and in need of reform. I’m not defending every practice, every suspension and every expulsion. “

  3. Steve, You write good stuff, but just maybe you write better than you read 😉

    Either you didn’t read Jim’s disclaimer about not defending every practice, or you are expanding his complaints beyond what he explicitly says. I think it might be called a variant of the straw man argument. You also may be trying to prove too much with your educational death sentence comment. I believe you should go on to remark about how many others are given an educational death sentence if the disruptors are not given an educational death sentence. The comparison might be instructive.

    • Crazy- the “disclaimer” does not “undo” the context of the narrative guy.

      You can’t start off calling the people who are in charge of trying to deal with the problem as “leftists” then below that say.. “you’re not opposed”… it does not fit.

  4. I think calling the Virginia Department of Education “leftists” is beyond the pale myself.

    And they are not casting in “racial” terms – they are responding to data that shows disparate impacts.

    If we’re looking at data that shows that the very same discipline system applied equally to all students results in very different sanctions depending on race – or other demographics – is it irresponsible to look at what is going on and try to get it back to a more color-blind basis?

    I just find it appalling that we end up calling VDOE “leftists” and then say that discipline issues only affect black kids.

    What in the world are we actually saying – and what is the intended audience because this kind of talk is not going to win over anyone truly interested in remedies that folks of all races would go along with.

  5. There are as many social problems in poor white majority communities as in poor black majority communities. Out of wedlock marriages, chronic unemployment, rampant divorce, addiction to powerful and often deadly drugs, domestic violence, a culture of criminality, etc.

    Jim’s thesis is that too many African American children have dysfunctional home lives. This results is a disrespect for authority. These children are disruptive. This naturally causes problems in the classroom for those students who want to learn.

    Why wouldn’t this same thesis hold true in poor white communities as well?

    Does it?

    I also find it fascinating that this whole matter is essentially one group of liberals (the various accusers) calling another group of liberals (the school system employees) racists.

    Finally, Steve’s point has great merit. The more public schools become undisciplined the more people will seek private school alternatives. Having experience with children in both public and private schools I observed that the private schools have nearly no tolerance for misbehavior and will expel students for any manner of reasons. How long will it be until we have a two tier educational system where the least economically advantaged children attend public school while everybody else attends some form of private school?

    • Why wouldn’t this same thesis hold true in poor white communities as well?

      That’s a good question and one that I will look into as I have the opportunity. Given the spreading social breakdown in working-class white America, I would expect to see more disruptive behavior from white students.

      However, I would predict that the new disciplinary policies will have less impact on white students because the explicit purpose of the policies is to reduce racial disparities, therefore they will be applied most forcefully where African-American kids are being disciplined in large numbers. My prediction — and it’s only a prediction, to be confirmed by observation — is that the policies will have less impact in, say, Buchanan County where African-Americans constitute about 0.1% of the population and the perceived need to reduce “disparities” is non-existent.

  6. The last paragraph is where it’s at. It is very true if you stick your neck out and question these restorative justice theories you very well may be labeled the dreaded career-ending R word. And it is also true those who may well pay the ultimate price are those who live in areas where those “disproportionately” persons live. So that calculus means any old white man keep his elected mouth shut when these concepts are proposed. Besides their grandkids most likely won’t be in these schools.
    I also believed giving kids standards caused most to rise up to meet those standards. But then again I had a dad who spanked me and a mom who was quick to smack me in the mouth when I very well deserved it, so what do I know?

    • “I worry that, in the end, a program designed to reduce discrimination against African-American kids who disrupt classes will disproportionately punish African-American kids who come to school prepared to learn.”

      okay – then explain WHY if someone is disrupting a class that the blacks are disproportionally affected?

      where did you get that idea from? How are blacks “disproportionately” affected?

    • re: ” It is very true if you stick your neck out and question these restorative justice theories you very well may be labeled the dreaded career-ending R word.”

      Not true.

      If your response is on point and color-blind – and you truly focus on the policy itself, there is no way that happens.

      You have to cause it to happen yourself in your own words that chooses to focus on race.

      ANY policy that results is disproportionate impacts relative to demographics is a legitimate basis for re-examining make sure there is no bias.

      It can be about gender or age or other things. If we have a policy that results in more older folks being adversely affected or women or homosexuals or other things – but if in your own response you CHOOSE to focus on the demographic group rather than the policy…….

      It’s not just racism..it’s about any policy that has disproportionate impacts to any demographic.

      here are the words: ”
      does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations.”

      any policy that has the effect of disproportionate impacts on ANY of the above – does justify taking another look at that policy.

  7. re: ” Why wouldn’t this same thesis hold true in poor white communities as well?

    That’s a good question and one that I will look into as I have the opportunity. GGiven the spreading social breakdown in working-class white America, I would expect to see more disruptive behavior from white students.”

    No..I’m asking why white students right now are not also affected by “disruptive black students”?

    why is it that only black students are affected?

    • “Why is it that only black students are affected?

      I never said that, never insinuated that. I said that black students are disproportionately affected. And the reason is that the schools with the most disciplinary problems have predominantly African-American student bodies.

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