The Crisis of Discipline in Public Schools


Anyone who grew up in the 1960s, 70s, or even the 80s has to wonder what is going on in the public school system right now. How is it that students are so badly misbehaved across the entire country? How is it that there is criminal and gang activity in many schools? And could this trend of misbehavior be connected to the rise in mass shootings?

I’ve personally long been wary of public schools, and have no intention of sending my kids into that system if at all avoidable. I just see too many issues in the system, my main objections being the uniformity of the approach, and lower quality of the curricula compared to private and home school alternatives.

However, this behavioral issue is becoming even more concerning for me as time goes on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen stories of major fights at schools, drug trafficking, assaults, bomb threats, etc. etc. The list just goes on and on of students misbehaving in ways inconceivable just a few decades ago. What has changed?

TPOH has written plenty on the importance of family for economic outcomes, and more recently on how absentee fathers are a common denominator in many of the recent mass shootings. But there may be another factor, one that is happening right in schools all across the country.

It’s being dubbed the “Broward County Solution” (named after the county where the most recent mass shooting took place). The basic premise is that students will not be arrested for 12 different misdemeanor offenses, the goal being the reduction of referrals from the school system to the juvenile justice system.

The 19 year-old who attacked the high school in Parkland had a long history of police encounters, 39 to be exact. But, with the county’s solution being to avoid making an arrest, he continued in this behavior for years unchecked. It reached the breaking point on February 14.

When I first heard of this, I was flabbergasted. How could a school district shrug off criminal behavior? It just didn’t make sense, at least in a sensible world. But is it possible that this is not an isolated case? I decided to do some digging myself, to see if anything like this exists in my own area. I unfortunately found that my town, Virginia Beach, has a major discipline issue in the public schools.

The new discipline procedures are referred to as “restorative justice,” and are part of a 2015 directive from the state Department of Education. Rather than punishment, it attempts to focus on mediation and agreement. But the result of this approach is that over one third of students in middle and high school are clueless about the consequences of misbehavior.

Teachers here are fearful because they are not allowed to discipline students. They are even afraid to speak out on the issue, believing that their administration will attempt to strike back at them. I find that extremely disconcerting.

One school board member, Trenace Riggs, once stated that “the discipline process should not be about punishment.” Except, the discipline process is about punishment by definition. Without some sort of consequences for misbehavior, it’s not much of a discipline system is it?

This kind of discipline approach is commonplace across our country, and we are seeing the fruit of it in front of our eyes. If students do not learn that bad behavior will produce negative consequences, how can we expect to have a society where people live freely and happily?

As I conclude my thoughts on this, I have to point to the principle of discipline in Hebrews 12:11. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

In trying to avoid the short term pain of discipline, we are sowing a crop of long term pain. And if we don’t wise up quickly, the harvest will be more than we can comprehend or handle.