Jewish World Review Sept. 2, 2003 / 5 Elul, 5763
Framing the kids
My grammar school class at St. Brigid's school on Long Island was packed: 60 students and one small nun with a large ruler. Here's a joke. How can you tell a male who attended Catholic school: one earlobe is longer than the other. The nuns used my right earlobe like a slot machine handle. Did I mention my self-esteem was affected?
But by the second grade, all 60 kids in Sister Claudia's class could read, write and do basic math. We also understood that we would go to hell if we got out of line. That didn't deter me much, but most of my classmates appeared nervous by the prospect of Hades.
The result of this kind of education was literacy and a basic kind of discipline. We had to perform. We had to learn. There was no other choice. And we were all working-class kids with parents who cared but were exhausted and had little inclination to micromanage their kids as many parents do today. So I learned at St. Brigid's, despite being dense and surly. In fact, I was a member of the "dumb row." But even the "dumb rowers" knew the state capitals. Can you imagine a teacher imposing a "dumb row" concept today? Maybe in North Korea.
Each year in America there is another school controversy, and this season it's placing cameras in school classrooms and hallways to watch both students and teachers. They are doing this in Biloxi, Miss., and officials down there say it has cut down on bad behavior and even bad teaching.
As a former high school teacher, I, at first, opposed the camera idea. Big brother and all that. But then I rethought, and now I am on board for one big reason: Having the camera eye in public places will actually protect children from bullying and put teachers on notice that they had better do their job. The video ends all "he said, she said" discussions.
School bullying is out of control in the USA. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Development, 16 percent of American students say they have been seriously bullied in school. Of course that can destroy a kid's childhood if it's allowed to go on for any length of time. Just having a high-tech hall monitor that might discourage this kind of violence is enough to endorse the school camera idea.
Interestingly, some conservatives don't like the cameras. They say it doesn't solve the "root" problem of poor behavior by students. Well, here's a clue for the rightists, nothing will solve the root problem of bad behavior on the part of some kids. Unfortunately, by the time some children arrive at school they have been so damaged by their parents or environment in general that they are walking misdemeanors who inflict tremendous damage on other kids. If cameras in the halls and classrooms can pinpoint those troubled kids in a hurry, maybe the system can get them some help.
Many teachers unions also oppose the cameras, and this is insane. Teachers need every bit of documentation on disruptive students. But the unions have always fought performance accountability for teachers, and that's what this opposition is all about, as the cameras would record how well the teachers actually teach.
I wish I had some videotape of Sister Claudia's classroom. If I
did, she'd probably be serving time in Sing Sing. But I would go visit her,
because she taught me a lot. But somebody should pay for the earlobe thing.
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