Judging School Discipline: The Crisis of Moral Authority

Judging School Discipline: The Crisis of Moral Authority

Judging School Discipline: The Crisis of Moral Authority

Judging School Discipline: The Crisis of Moral Authority

Excerpt

On October 31, 1991, in my fourth year of teaching English at Castlemont High School in Oakland, California, one of my students was shot three times at lunch in the courtyard next to my classroom. The student survived the assault, but the incident, which would have been viewed as a tragic aberration in some suburban schools, at Castlemont was greeted with neither surprise nor disbelief, only dismay. In the Fall semester of that year, students had already fired guns on at least three other occasions in nearby Oakland public schools. Castlemont High School was particularly plagued with disorder, with teachers and students physically threatened and classroom instruction often interrupted. As an educator and building representative for the teachers' union, I felt deeply troubled and pedagogically and politically responsible for the unacceptable educational environment at that institution. Despite much well-intentioned student, teacher, administrator, and community attention to school problems, we were not able collectively to identify and implement solutions that would improve the school's climate. While the school community discussed the merits of metal detectors, increased uniformed police presence on campus, and a plan to build an impenetrable wall around the school, even proponents of these authoritarian measures acknowledged the undesirability and inadequacies of the proposed remedies.

During that year of endemic violence and disorder at Castlemont High School, many teachers at the site were equally concerned with a more fundamental institutional shortcoming. The school was doing a poor job of educating and socializing youth. Few students were trained to enter the labor market (traditional vocational education programs had been decimated in California during the fiscal crises of the 1980s, and only a handful . . .

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