There’s not a lot wrong with New York City’s public schools that couldn’t be improved with more studious students. And, critically, with far fewer of the unserious, disruptive, sometimes violent types who populate the city’s least functional schools. Harsh, but true.
Disorder is endemic in New York classrooms. Teachers and staff complain bitterly to The Post of schoolhouse anarchy; the head of the city teachers’ union is raising alarms — and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, obsessed as he is with peripheral social issues, once again is out to lunch.
Carranza scarcely opens his mouth without words like “discrimination,” “integration” and “social justice” tumbling out. He has been chancellor for a year now and has never spoken honestly of the Department of Education’s chaotic classrooms and seething corridors.
When he does speak, it’s generally to defend the disrupters, or at least the cockeyed protocol DOE has adopted to deal with the issue — a policy that is, to paraphrase a great man, a corruption wrapped in an evasion inside a capitulation.
That is, Mayor de Blasio. Carranza and the DOE have betrayed their obligation to provide welcoming classrooms for all children to paper over racial and ethnic tensions, thus surrendering the schools to activists and others with axes to grind.
The policy is called “restorative justice.” Based on a highly dubious proposition — that black and Hispanic offenders are punished disproportionately to white students engaged in similar behavior — DOE has blinded itself to the impact of schools teeming with aggressive, disruptive students.
There is virtually no evidence that white (or Asian) students are unruly in significant numbers. But there is no question that too many black and Hispanic students are.
But to avoid accusations that black and Hispanic students are disciplined unfairly, increasingly nobody is disciplined. The result, predictably, is chaos.
Lost in all this is the profoundly negative impact on children who come to school to learn. And because black and Hispanic children comprise almost three-quarters of the system’s 1.1 million students, the ill effects of “restorative justice” fall most heavily on them.
The DOE not only permits the dysfunction, it wallows in it, doing everything possible to avoid imposing order. Indeed, Hizzoner brags about having reduced suspensions — a time-tested disciplinary tool — by 50 percent since taking office. No doubt he has. It shows.
Teachers, even United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, have noticed.
“In my 20 years working for the Board of Ed,” wrote a Queens high-school teacher for The Post this month, “I’ve never seen such a disregard for the rules — and human decency — as I’m seeing now.”
“Teacher X” described belligerence, foul-mouthed invective and sometimes physical threats routinely being directed at authority figures — which, she wrote, administrators, also routinely, ignore.
“The good kids,” wrote “Teacher X,” “the kids who do their homework, who pay attention, are seeing this and asking themselves, ‘Why do I have to be good all the time?’ And now they’re misbehaving, too — because, well, why not?”
Why not, indeed.
Mulgrew, whose relationship with de Blasio is far more transactional than pedagogical, is more temperate in his criticism — but, adjusting for de Blasio’s power to reward or punish the union, no less damning.
“Our current discipline system is broken,” says Mulgrew, no doubt mindful of restive, sometimes endangered, teachers.
But then he waffles, making a predicable pitch for more jobs for his members: “To make schools safe for everyone, we need the resources and training necessary to change school climate.”
To make schools safe, the city needs first to reject the statistical fiction underlying “restorative justice” — that disproportionate discipline is a thing — and then to address aggressive disruption on its own terms.
An education cannot be imposed on unwilling students — and attempting to do so makes it far too difficult to teach anyone at all, especially those eager to learn.
Thus have de Blasio and Carranza embraced failure. Whether they have the courage, the imagination or even the inclination to reverse course is an open question.
But this much is certain: New York City’s classroom crisis is self-imposed, and a solution is within reach. All that’s lacking is the will to seize it. Your move, City Hall.
Bob McManus is a contributing editor of City Journal.
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