Students and schools behaving badly

This is an ugly story, and it’s ugly on both sides. First, rude students make a nasty, mocking video of one of their teachers and post it to YouTube, which is bad enough; these are kids who definitely need some discipline. But then the school district suspends the students for 40 days in punishment. Forty days is almost a quarter of the school year. They deserved a harsh response, but kicking them out of school just deprives them of the education they need, and they’re probably going to regard it as a vacation.

I must confess, though, that what first caught my eye about the story is that it’s from Kent, Washington — where I grew up. I read it wondering if it was my alma mater, Kent-Meridian High School, that was going to be the scene of the crime…and no, it wasn’t. It was Kentridge, our hated cross-town rivals, the school that was even more despised than Auburn. I felt relief.

It’s funny how those silly scholastic enmities can come back to you after 30 years…


  1. chris rattis says

    I don’t know how things in Washington are, but where I went to high school at, if you missed more than 15 days of the school year (even with a valid reason like being hospitalized (which you could appeal with if you had a valid reason)) it was an automatic failure, and you had to repeat the grade.

    So it maybe a vacation to them, but it’ll hurt them later when they try to move on, and their friends will be a grade ahead of them. I do think that the punishment exceeds the crime though.

  2. says

    Thank goodness I’m not a high school teacher, but still I wonder…

    How much video of me in class would my college students need in order to make me look like a totally psycho dweeb? Probably not much.

    Of course, extensive and misleading editing would be required.

    I think.

  3. M says

    I first thought that they had made the video outside of school and were penalized for it…that, I would be up in arms about.

    This is stupid of the students – the punishment may be out of proportion, but they definitely need some disciplinary work.

  4. Gork says

    Um, are we forgetting ‘in loco parentis’? The responsibility for misbehaving students goes to the grownup in charge. According to the article, there was no lack of adult supervision: it was simply supervision by an adult oblivious to what was going on in her classroom. She proved herself incompetent and should be fired.

  5. Christian Burnham says

    I thought the video was quite funny and demonstrated their skills in satirizing an authority figure. Remember, kids don’t have a choice- they are forced to attend school. Gentle satire in such situations seems like a very minor crime.

    My biggest gripe is the kids’ inability to distinguish “your” from “you’re”.

  6. Jon says

    You went to KM? Small world. Of course, the Kent school district always overreacts when it comes to discipline. When I was at Kent Junior High they imposed uniforms on us to try to quash “gang violence” and I once was almost suspended for calling my geometry teacher “ma’am.” I was a transplant from the south, so I didn’t understand what was going on, but apparently she felt it was mocking and subversive to her authority.

  7. dorid says

    I thought the whole thing was rather appalling. I have to say, that a lot of the video (and a lot of the things people seem to support the kid over) were things the teacher probably had little control over… there were books and papers stacked up all over, but very little filing space. Unfortunately, we pretty much get what we get as far as storage is concerned in public schools. As far as the sexual harassment goes, the kids obviously thought this was pretty funny, and personally I think they should have been reprimanded for that alone.

    Finally, one of the things we HAVEN’T heard about is the content or setting of the class room. Someone mentioned alternate placement. With the low number of kids in the class, the teacher checking the condition of the books as they are returned, and the general behavior of the class, I have to believe that these kids were already in alternative placement.

    Of course, free speech would NEVER be extended to the teacher should she decide to video some of the misbehaviors of the students and post them on the internet… and I’m not sure it should be.

    as far as ‘in loco parentis’ is concerned, it would be great if teachers had the authority to match the responsibility. The fact is they aren’t, and a lot of what can and does go on in the classroom falls squarely on the shoulders of the administration. I’ve been in schools where teachers were ordered NOT to issue suspensions or detention, because the school “numbers were too high”. Kids were not to be suspended for fighting or weapons because “the school would be rated ‘dangerous'” due to high numbers of incident reports. This kind of behavior gives kids free reign, and there isn’t a whole lot the teachers can do except go to class every day and hope no violence erupts in the school.

    Of course there are plenty of clueless teachers out there, and they aren’t always the ones the kids dislike. But I’ve also seen a STAR class run by a woman who was just holding on… she went to work every day, tolerated the misbehaviors of the students every day because she KNEW there was no other placement available for the kids, and worked ONLY on keeping the kids in the room and from destroying the class assets.

    On the other hand, so long as administration allows it, there are things that teachers CAN do in classrooms like this to make it more engaging and more relevant to the students. I’m not saying teachers have no part to play in all this, just that we have to stop thinking of these kids as merely innocent victims of a classroom gone wrong.

  8. sailor says

    Things have changed since my young day in the UK. We had teachers that could pelt chalk with the accuracy of a bullet, and were allowed to grab your ear and twist it as far as they could. Then if that failed they could send you off for a beating. Funny thing is some managed to control a class that way, some were less aggressive and had virtual anarchy, and a few managed to maintain perfect discipline just by being really interesting and good teachers.

    In this case a 40-day suspension is idiotic. These guys need education and discipline not a holiday. They should have had any free time converted to extra work – maybe tidying up that classroom and fixing the filing system, or repainting something. Is the 40 days somehow related to Jesus’s 40 days in the desert? Does 40 days have some special significance?

  9. One Eyed Jack says

    Waaaaay over the top reaction.

    The video was disrespectful, but that was about it. A two day suspension at most.

    Honestly, this isn’t that different from sketching a caricature of your teacher in class and passing it around. It’s just higher tech. Time to get some perspective.

    This sort of thing has been going on ever since Plato scribbled a picture of Socrates kissing a goat.


  10. Scott Hatfield, OM says

    PZ, you don’t suspend the student for a month of Sundays (which admittedly seems excessive) because you care about that student’s individual education. You suspend him or her because you care about education in general, and you want to send a message that certain choices will not be tolerated.

    Or, as my old master teacher once noted, sometimes you have to burn two to save twenty. That sounds bad, and I don’t like spending any time invoking a consequence outside of class, but with some high school students, it’s necessary in order to preserve the learning environment.

  11. Observer says

    I thought the video was quite funny and demonstrated their skills in satirizing an authority figure. Remember, kids don’t have a choice- they are forced to attend school. Gentle satire in such situations seems like a very minor crime.

    My biggest gripe is the kids’ inability to distinguish “your” from “you’re”.
    Posted by: Christian Burnham

    They didn’t demonstrate any skills or creativity in that video – they simply made fun of her. Is that a productive way to challenge authority? Pity that they’re forced to go to school! Maybe if they didn’t act like such idiots they would be able to distinguish ‘your’ from ‘you’re’. These are seniors remember. Notice the one girl trying to do her work.

    Dorid made good comments. I also disagree with 40 days as that’s just too much missed work and it will probably just be a vacation. In-school punishment would suffice. I like Sailor’s sugggestions. Suspension only works if you have parents who make sure it’s not a vacation and who are embarrassed and angry at their kid for being suspended. When I was in school if you got suspended for five days that was really bad. If you got a detention our parents weren’t happy about that either, but that wasn’t uncommon. If I was that kid and my parents saw that video they would have grounded me.

    When I went to meetings, conferences, classes, or such for work, we had to turn off our cell phones. It’s disruptive. Why should a classroom be any different? I have mixed feelings about cell phones with or without cameras in the classroom. Teachers are like anyone else who have to go to work every day; they have good and bad days. Does the whole world need to see that because of stupid snarky students?

    Look at the comments on YouTube.

  12. Ed says

    The video was nicely done as far as production values. If these are alt-ed they really should be in the Big Bad World as soon as possible. School obviously retards their progress. This was not satire. This was juvenile and mean-spirited.

  13. says

    As far as I can tell, the only student who should have been punished is the one who, in the words of the Seattle PI, was making “pelvic thrusting” motions. All of the video editing was presumably accomplished off of school property. I don’t recall a similar out cry during that case where the high school student make a recording of one of his teachers proselytizing during class time. So what is the difference? Intent? Either it should be legal to have a video camera in class or it shouldn’t. The kid doing the filming may not have even been the one to edit it down to the form it eventually appeared in. I think everyone except the kid who was imitating Elvis behind the teacher should get a pass on free speech grounds since the filming in and of itself isn’t a disruption and the editing probably took place off of school grounds. Either way, 40 days is beyond excessive, in fact it would most likely cause the kids to repeat the year of high school for an ill considered Youtube video. Sad. It does remind me of a time when I skipped school a lot. My punishment? Suspension. Sweet irony. However, all that time off of school may have allowed me to pick out the fact that the last song played in the video is Guile’s theme from Street Fighter 2. We all know that is worth its weight in gold.

  14. Ulayanov says

    Hey, that not so bad; in the old country my grandparents got beaten, raped, crippled and killed for mocking the atheistic leadership.

    40 day suspension is nothing.

  15. CalGeorge says

    Give them extra homework. Lots of extra homework. After school study hall.

    Make them teach a class. Have them experience what it is like to be a teacher.

    Then make them do a video of their experience.

    Kicking them out for forty days is a wasted opportunity.

  16. WickyWoo says

    Some kind of public humiliation would be far more effective. How about the stocks at lunchtime, with a “freethrow” zone where they can be pelted with the garbage? Make sure they have to work janitor duty their free periods where the really nasty jobs are saved just for them?

    That’s real punishment that would get through. Out of school suspension is just a vacation.

  17. says

    I’ve never understood suspensions. The nastier the kid, the longer the suspensions, and the less said kid cares about – horror! – not going to school.

    The only kids suspensions work on are those who like school and have good parents – and they’re about the least likely to get suspended.

    You’d think “extra two hours at school mopping the floors, every day for the next 40” would be a much, much better punishment where suspensions are used.

  18. David Marjanović says

    As far as I know, suspensions only occur in English-speaking countries.

  19. David Marjanović says

    As far as I know, suspensions only occur in English-speaking countries.

  20. Will Von Wizzlepig says

    I went to Kentridge for 10th grade, and to Kent-Meridian for 11th and 12th grade.

    Kentridge sucked. The atmosphere was awful. Placed, as it is, near a fairly well-off neighborhood, but otherwise surrounded by what was (in 1984) sprawling, nearly rural areas and poorer neighborhoods, the students were left to deal with the turmoil that caused.

    Kent-Meridian (again, in 1985-87) was fairly consistently average middle class families’ kids. There wasn’t an odd balance or bad atmosphere.

    I realize that’s all from the subjective view of a difficult teenager, but I can totally understand where those kids were coming from. I had a math teacher at KR who would have ended up on youtube if I’d had my way.