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January 23, 2005 - The Calgary Herald (CN AB)

Students Deserve Teachers' Respect

By Leslie Gavel (Gavel is a Calgary mother interested in educational issues)

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Re: "Who let the dogs into our schools?" Naomi Lakritz, Opinion, Jan. 13.

Naomi Lakritz's piece touches on important issues in the most superficial way while managing to be completely muddled in its reasoning. To top it off, her perceptions of children and youth are downright obscene.

Where to begin? How about with what we can agree on.

A drug-sniffing dog in an Edmonton school truly is a draconian measure. Oh, yes, she is hopelessly old-fashioned in her view that top-down control over anyone is the way to accomplish anything.

Dogs nosing around for drugs is no different than installing metal detectors, surveillance cameras and increasing police presence in our schools. This is the case in many larger Canadian and American cities. Do we want this in Alberta schools? Is it effective in curbing problematic behaviour?

The evidence shows us that if school becomes like a jail, kids act like they're in one. It's profoundly demoralizing to be treated day in and day out like an offender-in-waiting.

Students who are causing trouble at school only comprise about 10 to 20 per cent of the total. But schools are focusing aggressive, reactive methods on the entire school population, which distorts the magnitude of the problem and our perception of youth, often resulting in greater disorder.

Research by the U.S. Department of Education shows that, four times out of five, disruptive students' behaviour can be traced to some dysfunction in the way schools are organized, the way staff members are trained or the way schools are run.

Vandalism was typically higher in schools that emphasized punitive school disciplinary methods.

But what I found most alarming is Lakritz's choice of the words "rotten brats." It calls to mind terms like lazy Indians, sneaky Orientals, huffy broads.

Words that smack of fear and concern for one's place in the hierarchy, one's piece of the pie. Words that tell us that something is afloat. Words that tell us there is a sea-change about to happen. When any group decides they're fed up with arbitrary authority and constant disrespect, you can expect some kind of backlash.

Adults who resent youth, or any particular group for that matter, often fall back on empty phrases, a lazy analysis of the problem.

In Lakritz's case, she relies on one I've heard repeatedly lately, the one about adults tiptoeing around children afraid of hurting feelings or stifling self-expression.

What does this really mean? (Years of witnessing teachers' behaviour when I volunteered in the classroom didn't reveal much tiptoeing.) Does it mean we should be able to insult kids or shame them into submission? Does it mean that adults should never look inward or to the school or society to understand why youth struggle?

Did it ever occur to Lakritz to ask how parenting has evolved since we were kids or our parents were kids? As we experiment with ways to raise them that don't involve physical and emotional violence, we are experiencing ever increasing boundaries drawn around the nuclear family.

In our culture, we are given so little practical or emotional support from extended family and neighbours in reinforcing our values. We battle rampant technology that steals our kids' hearts and minds. It's surprising that families are doing as well they are.

Lakritz's teacher-friend has to remind students she's the boss. I'm not surprised students react to this sophisticated bit of educational psychology by arguing they are equals.

Students may not have the words for it, but they know in their hearts they are entitled to respect. They know respect must be earned by their teachers, and those who have the most stake in being rule enforcers are the most likely to fail in this regard.

Youth seem to have figured out something that adults haven't even begun to catch on to: School as we've known it is an antiquated institution.

Just like denying women the right to vote, just like a head tax on the Chinese, just like corralling First Nations in residential schools.

Something's gotta give.

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