Dads Against the Divorce Industry

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Kathleen Parker: Making Sense of Things

In school, teacher knows best

By Kathleen Parker

Published in The Orlando Sentinel, November 15, 1998

Ever see race horses charge out of the starting gate? Hold that image and think of teachers offered early retirement.

Given the opportunity, America's war-weary teachers would make a steeplechase look like a tortoise tea party. They're tired. They're fed up. And they don't want to take it anymore.

Oh, but for a winning lottery ticket. Or how about this? A parent looking a teacher in the eye with these four words: ``I'm on your side.''

Of course, we would have to call out the National Guard to erect emergency triage stations, what with so many educators collapsing in shock. For a teacher, having a parent support his efforts at disciplining a child these days would be like Bill Clinton saying: ``I did not have sex with that woman.'' And having it be true.

So I've learned during the past week or so. My electronic mailbox has been smoking with letters from teachers and administrators grateful for -- nay, ecstatic about -- a column I wrote in the Sentinel's Living section about inmates (students) running the asylums (schools), with lots of help from parents who can't believe that their little darlings ever do wrong.

You would have thought I had given educators slumber-party privileges in the Lincoln Bedroom. Let's just say, were I to effect a coup today, my assassins first would have to get through 2.5 million teachers whose loyalty makes Lassie look like Benedict Arnold.

Most letter writers place the blame for today's disorderly students squarely on parents' shoulders. My files are bulging with scores of testimonials from throughout the country that read as though they're copied from the same page -- tales of students who curse, threaten, harass and physically abuse teachers with alarming impunity.

A speech pathologist in Louisiana writes of an elementary-school child who told the coach he was going to go home, get a knife, come back to school and ``gut him and leave him dead on the playground.'' Then the child ran away. When the sheriff's office rounded him up an hour later and called the parents, their response was: ``What did the coach do to provoke him?''

In the same school, a second-grader routinely swears at the teacher, hits other children and disrupts class. When the teacher asked the parents to take their child home one day, the parents said: ``He has a problem with female authority figures.'' So naturally they took him to Houston for a sports event.

Then there's the Illinois teacher who complained to parents when their daughter called her an obscenity.

``I'm not surprised,'' said the mother. ``Kristi has been throwing desks at teachers since the third grade. You're lucky you didn't get hurt.''

And so it goes, from the mountains to the valleys to the ocean's craggy shores: ``What did the teacher do to provoke him?'' In a word, the teacher said, ``No.'' Understandably, children who've never heard the word before react violently.

Teachers and administrators, who are quitting as soon as possible -- leaving whom to teach our kids? -- lament having to abandon their once-loved career and, of course, the good eggs. Most point out that though many children and parents are wonderful, the growing number who aren't make teaching impossible.

They also hasten to correct any assumption that disorderly conduct is a problem only among socially and financially deprived children. Kids from the ``best'' families -- with two-career, professional parents and enough toys to entertain an entire inner-city ghetto -- are some of the worst.

They point to a decline in respect for authority that began when we boomers -- the hallowed '60s generation -- became parents. For some, apparently, it was difficult to parlay ``If it feels good do it'' and ``Question authority'' into ``Sit down, shut up and pay attention.'' The ``Me Generation'' birthed the ``Wanna Bet!'' crowd. Over my dead body or, better yet, yours.

Parents, meanwhile, are intimidated by their little demons, possibly -- as one teacher suggested -- on account of guilt. Parents who aren't around much don't like their ``quality time'' tarnished by the unpleasantness of discipline. The boy isn't ``bad;'' he just has trouble with female authority. A sports event will make it all better.

It's not hard to figure what has gone wrong. What's hard is the fix, which will come only when parents return disciplinary authority to teachers and administrators and back them up at home. The alternative, by the way, is to kiss public education goodbye.

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Wednesday in the Sentinel's Living section. She can be reached on the Internet.

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