Should We Put Live Cams in Public Schools to Show How Abusive They Are?

From Jonathan Dorf's play "Thank You for Flushing My Head in the Toilet," a play about teen bullying

When I was creating The Winston Academy (now defunct), my then-wife and I searched all of Broward County to find the “best” public school.  We chose the school first and then rented an apartment close to the desired school so that our children could attend.

Our children began complaining immediately.  They had previously been enrolled in an excellent Montessori school (Judson Montessori of San Antonio) and we expected the transition would be difficult, but initially we trusted that the local public school, which had the highest test scores in the county and was highly praised by local media, was a good one.  But after a couple of weeks during which we saw the light going out of our childrens’ eyes, my wife and I decided to go and observe.  We visited our children at lunch hour, and immediately upon entering the lunch room we realized that this was not a healthy environment for our children.  Physical and verbal abuse was the norm.  We took them home immediately and they never set foot in regular public school again.

Today I read this from the Commonwealth Foundation:

Using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Safe Schools Online, policy analysts at the free-market think tank discovered more than 100 indecent or sexual assaults and 225 indecent exposures; nearly 2,600 assaults on students and staff; more than 330 cases of reckless endangerment, and more than 500 weapons possessions and terroristic threats occurred at these academically failing schools in the 2009-2010 school year.  On average, only 32 percent of students at these schools were able to reach proficiency in reading, 38 percent in math.

These schools are far, far worse than that my wife and I regarded as excessively abusive for our children.

I’ve often thought that we should put live cams, with direct feeds to the web, showing the lunchrooms, washrooms, hallways, and parking lots of public schools so that people can observe just how routine physical and verbal abuse have become at schools.  Older generations who still support public schools have no idea how bad the situation has become.  If more people were aware of just how violent and abusive our schools have become, perhaps they would begin to take seriously the need to change the system.

With tuition tax credits, an increasing number of disadvantaged children could escape and begin learning and having an opportunity to have a better life.  The oft-cited concern is that those students that are left behind would be in even worse schools.  There are three responses to this:

1.  So we are supposed to hold the best behaved children as hostages to the rest?

2.  It is important, with any school choice plan, to facilitate ease of entry so that educational entrepreneurs can open new schools as easily as possible.  We need to allow for as many new educational options to come into being as quickly as we can.

3.  If we do allow for ease of entry, with minimal requirements regarding curriculum, teacher qualifications, etc., we will see specialized schools for children with diverse needs.

People often claim that students with “special needs” would not be served well by a private system.  All of the schools that I created, because they provided far more individualized education than did conventional schools, attracted a disproportionate number of special needs children.  For instance, while I was at the Emerson Middle School in Palo Alto, a private elementary school that specialized in learning disabilities (and charged $30K per year) recommended that their students attend our middle school despite the fact that we had no faculty trained in teaching special needs – but we individualized our program for all students.

Why do we keep students who want to learn hostage to students who don’t want to learn?

If a for-profit corporation deliberately held well-behaved children hostages to bullies and thugs it would widely be regarded as evil.  But the romance of public schools misleads us into accepting intolerable abuse of children as “the price of democracy.”






About Michael Strong

Co-founder, Ko School + Incubator, Conscious Capitalism, Radical Social Entrepreneurs, lead author of Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World's Problems, author of The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice.
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