As an educator concerned about the welfare of this generation of learners, I feel compelled to address a major issue in public education: student behavior. While intense efforts are focused on improving student achievement, a serious deterrent to better academic performance is the decline in acceptable school conduct. Implementing multiple programs to raise test scores is being negatively impacted by disruptive students lacking appropriate self-control. Schools struggling to manage these disruptive students are allocating significant resources to this problem, subtracting valuable time and energy away from instruction. Failing to succeed at educating the ‘whole child’ is diminishing schools’ effectiveness at graduating a literate, socially responsible adult citizen.
A combination of related factors is contributing to this dilemma. Lax parenting, a society that glories self-gratification, electronic images encouraging personal expression, and a disturbing tolerance of ‘atypical’ behavior are all guilty. Parents, in particular, are failing to teach and model responsibility. Children receive less nurturing and guidance because parents are either coping to survive or driven by materialism. As the quality of parenting declines, children are psychologically and emotionally needier than in prior decades.
Given excessive freedom to satisfy personal needs because of parental guilt or denial, students are uninformed about the importance of social etiquette toward others. This creates an immediate conflict in school, since children unprepared for compliance disrupt the feeling of cooperation required for learning. Unless parents assume their obligation to develop ethical behavior in their children, public schools will become socializing agents rather than places of learning.
Beyond apathetic parents, society has an enormous role in this problem. As fascination with technology reaches epidemic levels, children quickly become addicted to the stimulation and excitement associated with these products. Shorter attention spans and distractibility are creating extreme pressure on teachers to maintain motivating lessons that satisfy this constant desire for visual entertainment. School activities are viewed as boring and irrelevant. A commitment to excellence defines a small portion of students, while the majority is either satisfied with being average or becomes alienated by high testing standards. Ultimately, classroom behavior is determined by the students’ power to resist instruction, especially if their parents misunderstand the purpose of school.
Typical measures of school success, including grades, are competing with students’ preference for self-expression. Ignoring rules and expectations is considered ‘normative,’ particularly with adolescents, who feel a sense of entitlement to challenge faculty consequences for misbehavior. Regardless of government mandates to improve achievement, students’ ambition to learn will be directly connected to their ability to behave in school.
Public education, therefore, is balancing two opposite realities: educating young people to value the long-term outcomes of their schooling against societal approval of behavioral immaturity and self-centeredness. Unfortunately, teachers frequently lack sufficient training to manage challenging classes. This inadequate preparation reduces their ability to implement creative lessons that motivate all students to attend and behave.
If public education is going to achieve its lofty goal of preparing competent graduates to succeed internationally, improving students’ behavior must be a top priority. Parents must assume responsibility for teaching their children respect for authority, social awareness, and ethical values. Developing behavioral self-control in children requires a huge commitment of time and energy that school cannot provide. Leaving discipline to social institutions is arrogant and irresponsible.
Finally, society must assess its profound influence on the mores of our youth. Condoning heedless self-gratification is producing a generation of disruptive and disrespectful students. Exposing impressionable children to constant toxic messages is tearing apart the social network that allows society to function. Conscientious citizens should rally against this profit-oriented culture before this generation shapes the future of our nation.
Without a determination to address this matter, schools will be prevented from educating young people to become self-sufficient and socially accountable. Our country’s standard of living and social interdependence are at stake.