Violence in the schools

November 09, 1993

At its heart, education depends on a relationship between teacher and student, a bond of trust and mutual respect through which good teachers transmit more than facts and information. Education, after all, is fundamentally a process of socializing young people, of teaching them how to participate in society. When teachers feel physically threatened by disruptive students, when they must work in an atmosphere in which they fear for their own safety, education becomes impossible.

That seems to be the case in a number of Baltimore schools. From verbal threats and actual beatings to a pervasive atmosphere of disrepect for any kind of authority, city teachers can point to plenty of reasons to justify a task force to examine violence and threats against them and to recommend stronger disciplinary policies. The only problem we have with the appointment of the new task force formed by the Baltimore Teachers Union is that the teachers felt compelled to address this problem themselves. The responsibility for maintaining order in the schools lies with the administration, not simply with the teachers.

Teachers deserve not only a thorough investigation of any violence and disrespect, but they also should have the full support of School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey in devising policies that make it clear that there is no room for this kind of pTC behavior in any school. Violence in a school, whether verbal or physical, should be treated as a threat against the institution itself. Students need to know that any assault or threatened assault on a teacher will bring swift and certain retribution -- possibly even jail time. Likewise, teachers need to know that their safety matters. So do the majority of students who never threaten or commit violence.

That said, it is also worth noting that students don't leave their problems at the schoolhouse door, and conditions in schools often mirror the chaos of homes and neighborhoods where respect and attention from anyone, even from parents and other relatives, is in short supply.

More to the point, any honest effort to address disrespect in the schools must acknowledge some painful realities. What messages do students get from crumbling facilities, inadequate supplies and overcrowded classrooms? Marylanders shouldn't kid themselves that students in city schools don't understand full well that they rank far down on the state's list of priorities.

Respect goes two ways. Every student should be held to civilized standards of behavior. But they also deserve schools that are equipped to meet their part of the education bargain.

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