Friday, September 02, 2016

School Bullying--Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is shocked, shocked that bullying goes unreported in city schools. After all, the city needs to know of absolutely every incident that occurs anywhere. That way, it can take appropriate action. We now know there were fewer persistently dangerous schools this year, and that's very suspicious. We need to investigate right away and find out where the danger is.

You know, like Jamaica High School. They followed the rules. Why? Because they took Chancellor Klein's sincere advice sincerely. The Powers That Be determined that all incidents needed to be reported. So the dedicated principal dutifully reported every incident that occurred. He filled in all the paperwork. He filled in each box ever so carefully. He used block letters so that no one could mistake an i for an e. He carbon copied it and filed each copy in the proper file.And he made sure that the yellow copy went in this file and the pink copy went in that, so there was no possibility for misunderstanding.

And where did that get them? Well, it got them closed. Their century of history was buried under the four or five new schools that Bloomberg dumped into the building. Their teachers were scattered all over Queens. Some of them landed in my school, some in yours, and others travel around the city, week to week, school to school, here and there, teaching whatever. Naturally they're vilified in the tabloid op-eds for drawing salary, if not breath.

But if schools don't report incidents, they're also guilty. What possible motivation would a principal have for not reporting incidents? Oh yeah, their schools can get closed and they can lose their jobs. But Attorney General Eric Schneiderman thinks these principals should stand up like little Whack a Mole dolls and get hammered over their heads. Surely he reports absolutely every sordid detail about his own life, holds nothing back, and trusts in the inherent fairness and objectivity of Andrew Cuomo to keep him in his position. Who wouldn't?

Seriously, does anyone think fewer schools are labeled persistently dangerous because human nature in NYC has fundamentally changed? Are fewer young people engaging in bullying? Have they seen the light because some guidance counselor came to their classroom and explained that it wasn't a good thing? Are children becoming inherently kinder because they watch TV and find role models, like our presidential candidates, to look up to?

Or could it actually be that people haven't changed all that much? Could principals be saying, "Hey man, I don't want my school to go down the road Jamaica did." What happens to principals who preside over schools that close? Do they put it on their resumes and boast about it? Is it a stepping stone to assistant superintendent, superintendent, chancellor, and then Emperor of All I Survey? Don't bet on it.

It’s ridiculous to incentivize people to hide what really happens, or to punish them for trying to help victims. But that's precisely what our system does. Principals should get credit for trying to help students. Instead, they're encouraged to sweep trouble under the rug. It's the worst of both worlds.

I've got a low tolerance for stupid. Nonetheless I'm understanding of errors kids make, and I think being a kid is among the best of excuses. After all, their job is to learn. But they can't do that if we're effectively forbidden from dealing with issues, reporting them, or helping them. It's a lot worse with adults. We're supposed to know better. And educational leaders ought to know even better.

But they don't. Joel Klein was a disingenuous and fanatical ideologue who'd just as soon close a school as eat a pizza. And his legacy lives on in Schneiderman, whether he knows it, whether he means it, or not. If we want to help our schools, if we want to help our kids, we need to stop penalizing people for doing it.

Maybe common sense is the least common of all the senses after all.
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