ArabicChinese (Simplified)EnglishFrenchItalianRussianSpanishSwahili

Stay Informed

“We are a simple minded, mean-spirited people.”

Leave a Comment

Rick Wertheimer (founding principal of City Charter High School and author of The Principal’s Office) hits the nail on the head today with his post about the Post-Gazette’s wrong-headed editorial claiming that “suspension has a role in keeping order.”

Our research in Pittsburgh’s schools, and research done by many others including the ACLU of Pennsylvania and  UCLA Civil Rights Project, has shown that suspension rates are more predicted by the practices of adults in the building than student behavior.

What Dr. Wertheimer’s post lays out so effectively is the inherent institutional bias that underlies arguments for “getting tough on kids.”

We are a simple minded, mean-spirited people. It is easier to blame the child… or the child’s parent. It is more nuanced to blame the lack of jobs, the breakup of families, the lack of ability of schools to be sensitive to the mental/physical/emotional health of all of its students. How dare the Post-Gazette use its bully pulpit to encourage removing children before they encourage schools to become healthy supportive institutions.

We know what works, and suspension for minor infractions, isn’t it. Schools with principals reporting effective restorative practices, were more likely to have much lower out of school suspension rates, and reported better teaching and learning environments:

Out of school suspensions

But don’t just take it from us. Read the words of a local parent who wrote the following after reading the Post-Gazette’s editorial:

The editorial board, in their piece, “A Place to Learn – Student Suspension has a role in keeping order”, Feb 25th, suffer from the same point of view that many educators and administrators in Pittsburgh Public Schools do. “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail” – Abraham Maslow.

As a mother of two special needs children who suffered neglect as infants and toddlers, and who has seen what their history has wrought in behavior and learning deficits, I can tell you that the typical “no tolerance” policy in PPS or even the disciplinary system under which I was educated 40 years ago cannot and will not help children who come from an a-typical environment.

A-typical can be children who live in neighborhoods that are stressed, who have two working parents or single parent households, uneducated or undereducated households, living under the poverty line (28% in Pittsburgh), caring for ill family members, even one-time witnesses to violence, just to name a few. And who of us has not seen our children go through difficult periods when “an event” has taken our kids off the rails?

Pittsburgh children are stressed, as are all children, in ways that can be addressed by non-punitive, restorative justice and not by police. Police are for adult crimes. Children need thoughtful child behavior specialists setting the bar for discipline in schools. Children need thoughtful, communicative school administrators and teachers who are willing to do the work to create a better school environment that in the long run will make for a better neighborhood environment.

Better students will not suffer, but will also profit short and long term if restorative practices become the norm. What child wouldn’t profit from learning how to “repair the harm, address the conflict, meet the needs to repair and restore relationships and the community?”

The data and research is clear about how to help children grow into better adjusted adults. Is it easy? I can tell you, after five years of adjustment with my children, that it is not. But the rewards are astounding. PPS and the PG Editorial Board just have to stop seeing everything as a nail and put down their hammers.

We agree. Let’s put down our hammers and follow the example of principals and schools within our own district that are working on changing school discipline so that it’s proactive, that it teaches children to make amends, and that helps children learn the social and emotional skills they’ll need to be successful in life.