Inside our Public Schools

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There is a lot of talk about how to improve Public School Education these days. The Common Core, consolidation, raising test scores, and the lack of or the abundance of technology, just to name a few. However, the one thing I never hear addressed is how the atmosphere inside a school or the school environment itself has perhaps the most profound effect on learning.

This is true for the whole school; K-12. There will be those that read this and say you have to shift with the times, it’s the new culture, it doesn’t mean anything and has no effect on the school’s atmosphere, environment or culture.  This seems to be the attitude inside today’s public schools.

If as a parent, grandparent, public school taxpayer you have not visited a public school during the day then perhaps you should drop in. Walk the hallways in between classes while students are rushing  from one class to the next; pop in for a lunch hour and sit and listen to the conversations taking place. I suspect you will be appalled at what you hear. You may think you were on a navy ship in the middle of the ocean listening to sailors go about their day.

However as a former sailor I am often embarrassed by the language I hear coming out of the mouths of students in the public school today. They speak this way with no fear that their language will be called into question. Rather they will often look at the closest adult, almost challenging them to intervene. Only on a rare occasion will this happen. I have been told by many teachers that they just ignore it. Others have told me if we send them to the office nothing will be done anyway.

I have spoken to students who have casually dropped the F-bomb in front of me only to hear, “Speak to my parents, that’s how they talk at home.” This is not an occasional slip, this is now the common language used by students in our public schools. In one placement I had first graders telling me to F-off, first grade. They learned this language at home.

In the navy the F-word was used frequently at sea, yet in port around mixed company or people in public we knew it wasn’t appropriate and did not use it. There is a time and place for everything; the public school is not the place for this and it should not be tolerated. It poisons the atmosphere.

When this language is tolerated…and it is tolerated, it serves to exacerbate other poor behaviors. Students are smart. They realize if they are allowed to determine the language that is allowed in the school environment, then they also realize that they will be allowed to set the parameters for other behaviors that will be tolerated as well.

 There are many students in the school environment who do not want to listen to this language, do not like the atmosphere it creates and yet they have to reside in it every day.  These students realize if they speak out and ask their peers to stop; that they are offended by their language, they will be ostracized. They should not be put in this position, it is not their job, it’s  the job of the teachers and administrators in the building to stop it.

Teachers come to school every day knowing they will hear this language and knowing they will ignore it. It has an effect on their psyche, their desire to teach, their concentration. Not all students use this language but there are enough that it permeates throughout the school environment.

I had lunch duty one day in school and a male student sitting with female students was dropping the F-bomb repeatedly when I spoke to him. I heard him turn to his friends and say, “I didn’t even realize I was saying it.” Often the females are worse than their male peers.

As adults we can blame it on the music of the times and say children today begin hearing this in music by the time they are in fourth grade and probably before. As a result students will tell me the F-word means nothing.  I tell them; if it means nothing, why use it.

In the program I teach in I might hear that word once a month, and there are consequences for it. When I first started teaching there I was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t hear this foul language and I asked the teachers why I wasn’t hearing it, they replied, “We don’t allow it.” What a revelation…we don’t allow it…neither should any other schools.

I am not signaling out any one school. I have been in many schools in Vermont and I have talked to students from Carolina to California and they have told me that the same language, the same atmosphere exists in their schools.

Before we worry about what new policy works best to increase student learning, we must create an atmosphere inside our schools where students and teachers can feel safe and comfortable teaching and learning  in. At this moment in time, that atmosphere does not exist.

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