On the Spring Valley High Incident

So the Spring Valley High School incident is yet another case of a teenager treating a cop like a teacher. This is, as always, a terrible idea.

I watch the video and wonder about the teacher. I wonder if he’s wondering what I’d wonder in his shoes. Teachers aren’t just focused on the recalcitrant girl who refuses to comply, who hits the police officer, who gets arrested. Teachers notice the girl directly behind the cop and the defiant kid, the one who wasn’t a troublemaker, was just sitting in class doing her work and nearly gets clobbered by the flipped over desk. Or the other kids trying not to watch–suggestion, I think, that the shocking events aren’t a common occurrence. Teachers notice that the kids are working with laptops and hope none of them fly off a desk into another student. (Teachers probably also notice the photographer’s test has many wrong answers. Occupational hazard.)

He’s got to be wondering, now and forever, if he could have prevented this. One time, a student in my class inexplicably left her $600 iPhone on her desk during a class activity that involved working at boards, and it disappeared, which required a call to the supervisors and a full class search. I told them who I suspected, then left because I didn’t want to know. When I came back, they’d detained the strongest student in the class–not for stealing the phone, which was never found. I have decided it’s better not to say why, but it was one of those things that lots of kids do in violation of policy because they’re unlikely to get caught. But if they get caught, it’s bad. (No, not drugs). He was suspended for the maximum time period and had to worry about more than that, although more was mostly scare talk.

The point is, I felt absolutely terrible. The student who left the phone out was careless and silly, the student who stole the phone was a criminal, the student who got suspended was knowingly in violation of a major school policy without the slightest thought for his long-term prospects. But if I’d just seen the damn phone on the desk, none of this would have happened.

So when I look at this video, like many if not most teachers, I’m not thinking about whether the girl deserved to be flipped about, because that’s the cop’s problem. I’m wondering was there anything that teacher could have done to avoid having the cop there in the first place.

Reports say that the student initiated the event by refusing to turn over a cell phone—also offered up is refusal to stop chewing gum, which I find unlikely. However, it’s clear the student was refusing several direct orders that began with the teacher and moved up through the administrator and the cop.

Defiance is a big deal in high school. It must not be tolerated. Tolerating open defiance is what leads to hopelessness, to out of control classrooms, to kids wandering around the halls, to screaming fights on a routine basis. Some teachers care about dress code, others about swearing, still others get bothered by tardies. But most teachers enforce, and most administrators support, a strong, absolute bulwark against outright defiance as an essential discipline element.

Let me put it this way: an angry student tells me to f*** off or worse, I’m likely to shrug it off if peace is restored. Get an apology later when things have settled. But if that student refuses to hand me a cell phone, or change seats, or put food away, I tell him he’ll be removed from class if he doesn’t comply. No compliance, I call the supervisor and have the kid removed. Instantly. Not something I spend more than 30 seconds of class time on, including writing up a referral.

At that point, the student will occasionally leave the classroom without waiting for the supervisor, which changes the charge from “defiance” to “leaving class without permission”. The rest of the time the supervisor comes, the kid leaves, comes back the next day, and next time I tell them to do something, they do it. Overwhelmingly, though, the kids just hand me the phone, put away the food, change seatswhen I ask, every so often pleading for a second chance which every so often I give. Otherwise, the incident is over. Just today I had three phones in my pocket for just one class, and four lunches on the table that had to wait until advisory was over because I don’t like eating in my classroom.

We have a school resource officer (SRO), but I’d call a supervisor for defiance, and I’ve never heard of a kid refusing to go with a supervisor. If there was a refusal, at a certain point the supervisor would call an administrator, and it’s conceivable, I guess, that the administrator could authorize the SRO to step in. So assuming I couldn’t have talked this student down, I would have done what the teacher did, and called for someone else to take over—and long after I did something that should have been no big deal, this catastrophe could conceivably have happened.

I ask you, readers, to consider the recalcitrance required to defy three or four levels of authority, to hold up a class for at least 10-15 minutes, to refuse even to leave the classroom to discuss whatever outrage the student feels warrants this level of disruption.

Then I ask you to consider what would happen if students constantly defied orders (couched as requests, of course) to turn over a cell phone, or change seats, or stop combing their hair, or put the food away. If every time a student defied an order, a long drawn-out battle going through three levels of authority ensued. School would rapidly become unmanageable.

So you have two choices at that point: let madness prevail, or be unflinching with open defiance. Students have to understand that defiance is worse than compliance, that once defiance has occurred, complying with a supervisor is a step up from being turned over to an administrator, which is way, way better than being turned over to a cop. (Note that all of this assumes that the parents aren’t a fear factor.)

Some schools can’t avoid the insanity. Their students simply don’t fear the outcomes enough, and unlike charters, they are bound by federal and state laws to educate all children. If the schools suspend too many kids, the feds will come in and force you into a voluntary agreement. This is when desperate times lead to desperate measures like restorative justice, where each incident leads to an endless yammer about feeeeeeeeelings as teachers play therapist and tell their kids to circle up.

Judge the cop as you will. I can see no excuse for putting other students in danger; the fight could have seriously injured the girl sitting directly behind the incident. He could have cleared the area first, making sure all students were safe. I believe that’s his responsibility.

However, once the administrator asked the SRO to take over, the student was dealing not with a school official, but with a cop. At that point, she was disobeying a police officer’s order. On government property. And she is clearly hitting him, in this video.

And, like I said, disobeying a cop is a bad idea.

So the question is not what should the cop have done, but why did the administrator call the cop? And what would you have had the administrator do instead? Don’t focus on that single incident, because teachers, administrators, and cops don’t have that luxury. They have to handle it in such a way so that defiance doesn’t become a regular routine, that students customarily obey their teachers, maybe with some backtalk, maybe with ample opportunities to walk a bad mistake back. Ultimately, though, students have to comply. If a school backs away from that line, defiance gets contagious. It’s one thing for new, inept teachers to have trouble controlling their students, quite another for an entire school to give up.

I recently had an exchange with David Leonhardt on his NAEP scores article, and he asked me “I assume you agree school quality should be linked to amount students learn, yes?”

Well, not the way we currently measure it, probably not. But I do think school quality should be linked to established order and by “order” I don’t mean an Eva Moskowitz gulag. Control freaks like Moskowitz fail to allow for normal mood swings and eruptions from kids who are, after all, engaged in an involuntary activity for eight hours a day.

Schools that fail to establish order are those like Normandy High School, with out of control violence, open defiance of teachers and administrators, and students in constant danger of assault. Students should have the opportunity to learn, even if they aren’t mastering material at the rate our policy wonks would allow. Schools that can’t enable that are genuine failures.

The Moskowitz contingent point to schools like Normandy as rationale for their despotic rules. Look, they say. Let “these kids” think they can act however they like, and you end up with screaming, chaotic classrooms, truancy, assaults and fights on and between students, ineffectual teachers, and worst of all, low test scores. Teach them to behave respectfully, five times more compliant than suburban white kids, and you’re doing them a favor, saving them from “those schools”. Better Animal Farm than Clockwork Orange

Any school with a solid percentage of kids who’d really rather be somewhere else has to find a balance. Make enough kids want to comply so there’s room to expel the kids who routinely don’t. This isn’t achieved by Eva Moskowitz tyranny, but nor will restorative justice get the job done. It’s hard. There has to be limits. There has to be balance. Administrators who think they have the perfect mix are probably kidding themselves.

In the meantime, if, like Martin O’Malley or Chris Hayes, you’d be “ripped ballistic” if a cop did this to your kid, familiarize yourself and your children with the dangers of disobeying a cop and resisting arrest.

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18 responses to “On the Spring Valley High Incident

  • Jim

    The world is so different today from when I was a kid long long ago. I can’t remember any defiance of teachers when I attended public schools. The thought of having to have a police officer called to a school classroom utterly astonishes me.

    • Jacob

      The middle school I attended had cops there almost every day. It was a middle-class school in a famously pleasant college town but had had experienced a substantial demographic shift as a result of a lot of families moving there from the South Side of Chicago and some court-ordered busing. Things had already settled down some between when my brother was there and when I was there, probably because the schoolwork had become mind-numbingly easy.

      In general, I don’t think that kids have gotten worse over the last several decades, controlling for demography. Everyone at my first terrible school as a teacher told me how the kids used to be more mature, but much more violent, which I believed.

      It really wasn’t until I became a teacher that I saw the connection between how difficult the lesson was and how many kids I had acting out, which is something Ed Realist has talked about before; also, I’ll add that my very worst day in the history of my ten years of teaching– the day I cursed at a kid, to my eternal shame and anger at myself– was the day I tried to do that dumbass sit-in-a-circle restorative justice thing. Some people can pull it off, I couldn’t.

    • viijay

      There are vested interests who use this incident top argue either way, as an example of crime in the US schools, or to smack down the cops.

      Before we go overboard on school crime, it should be noted that all crime rate in schools have dropped by an order of 4 in the last 20 years (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2015/2015072.pdf). Even homicides have dropped by factor of 2. This follows the secular trend of reduction in violence in the society as a whole since 1994. So, let us not use this particular example to argue for crime increase or police excess in the US.

  • retired

    Morbid curiosity: what are the parents of this perp likely telling her about how to deal with cops?

    • Tort

      What parents?

      Read the Ravitch blog post. Find what some commenters have stated about it. According to one, the student’s mother, or grandmother and caretaker, recently died. The student may not have had much guidance at home.

  • Vijay

    In response to an earlier Ms.realist post, I argue that all of the above is driven by the lack of tracking (gradation) in the school system. A glance at the class room in the video show students who are 100% focused on the work, and then, this girl! I even refuse to blame this girl, as she may even be completely out of element here.

    If the knowledge gained is not linear, and if we can increase eight grade test scores, but the increases do not stick for high school, then the situation screams for the Hauptschule/Berufsschule (40% of students); Realschule (20%); Gymnasium/Abi diploma (40%). What we have is a Hauptschule bereft of Berufsschule!

    Algebra 2 and computer programming is not for everyone!

    • Hattie

      “Algebra 2 and computer programming is not for everyone!”

      Everyone knows that. Everyone also knows what the demographics of the streams would be. People aren’t doing this for fun, or because they don’t know any better.

    • Tort

      Vijay, I want to agree with “tracking,” but lately I’ve seen that tracking or dumping low achievers into one class, actually causes these low performing students to:

      do more poorly academically (did Marzano attest to this?)

      And, behave worse.

      The integration of the low performers, based on no research by me –just experience and observation–causes them to behave much better and try harder academically. When they are tracked, they look around and vocalize, “We’re the losers.”

      Thus, they act that way.

      • Hattie

        “When they are tracked, they look around and vocalize, “We’re the losers.”

        “Thus, they act that way.”

        The only people who act that way *are* the losers. And, at some point, you have to admit that the education of the mid and high ability students is more important than the precious snowflakes’ self esteem, even assuming it’s true.

        And it’s far from obvious that it is true. From my experience, being put in a maths class full of higher achievers, where I couldn’t keep up and was clearly slowing the pace down excruciatingly for the smarter kids, was far more damaging for my self esteem (for what that’s worth) than being put in a slower class where I could keep up and sometimes even ended up near the top.

        Was the latter class more badly behaved? Sure. But that’s more likely a result of the fact that weaker maths skills seem to be highly correlated with worse behaviour – certainly louder behaviour, including in my case. There’s nothing more reassuring than discovering that you’re simply a little loud, rather than that you actually have a voice like a foghorn. Tracking was as much a relief socially as academically; I got along far better with the smarter students once I wasn’t disrupting their education.

  • Kelsey

    It is likely this student has a lengthy discipline file. If so, she has cost the school district extra money in figuring out and implementing policies to encourage good behavior and learning. But defiance also costs the other students because of loss of learning time.
    I wonder if parents of well-behaved students could sue students of ill-behaved students for robbing their children of class-time which affects learning, grades, college, future jobs, etc.

  • Retired

    I was at the gym yesterday and CNN was running a video loop of the incident while some talking head was ranting about it. Fortunately the sound was down. At one point 3 of the 4 TV’s were showing the video, the third was carrying the World Series, or it might have been all four.

    Funny how this story about the principal being “body slammed” by students while breaking up a fight in Sacramento was on page 2 of the local paper while the Spring Valley video was on page 1. I found the video on an out of town paper on page 2. Doubt that this one will loop on CNN tonight with calls to reign in violent students beating up educrats. 3 punks arrested. The name


  • The Word From the Dark Side – October 30th, 2015 | sovietmen

    […] Realist has an interesting theory that kids get into trouble with cops because they treat them like teachers, who have more patience and fewer […]

  • Tort

    Respect for authority? Respect for life?

    Where has it all gone?

    Go back to the Sixties. Kill God. Kill Jesus. Kill authority. Oh, kill fetuses too.

    Progressives point to racism. They institute policies that kill what we traditionally believed, and now they wonder why people don’t respect life. No, they don’t ask why we don’t respect authority because they don’t believe in it. The father, who represented authority in the family structure, has been removed. Read the Moynihan Report.

    If you are a white male, you are in for a rude awakening. A lot of white men, and successful black men and women, see the truth when it comes to reversing racism: grit, education, and responsibility.

    Read the Ravitch blog daily and see what progressives believe about grit, discipline, standards, etc. There you will find the the anti-Realist.

  • 2015: Turning a Corner. Maybe. | educationrealist

    […] isn’t the writing. I can knock out essays in relatively little time when I need to. I did On The Spring Valley High Incident in an evening (a very late evening, though), because I wanted my thoughts to be in the mix so […]

  • End of Education Reform? | educationrealist

    […] treat a cop like a teacher.A year later, the truth of this maxim was again revealed in the Spring Valley High incident, as a recalcitrant student learned that ignoring school officials on school property […]

  • Lawton Chiles Middle Academy: When the Cop Shows Up | educationrealist

    […] asked him to leave. More than twenty times. Many, many school officials read about the events at Spring Valley and learned their lesson well. They made no effort to physically force the boy from the […]

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