Should teachers intervene to break up fights in classrooms? That’s the question posed by Fox News in Dallas-Fort Worth last night after a YouTube video showing a very one-sided fight made the rounds. In the video, which picks up the altercation in progress, one boy punches another with the requisite bully flourishes while the victim stands as passively as the teacher off to his side. Teacher groups responded by saying intervention is a “tough call,” as school districts don’t always compensate for injuries in breaking up fights. Better to wait until an administrator wanders by, they say:
The video shows 17-year-old Michael Milczanowksi getting punched over and over during geometry class. His teacher stands by watching as he appears to take several blows to the head.
While it may seem the teacher could have intervened, a teacher’s union president said that is not what teachers are told to do.
“In today’s society which is a violent society, you do not touch the student. That should be left up to the administration,” said Rena Honea of Alliance-AFT. “I believe that that is for the safety of number one the students, but for the individual teacher as well.”
The district said it has no policy on how teachers should handle student fights because every situation is different.
Today’s “violent society” in schools might be violent precisely because schools don’t exercise authority like they did 40 years ago. Contra the notion aired in the second half of the spot, schools have always had big kids that presented disciplinary problems. What they used to have were teachers who took charge, not stand passively by while mayhem ensued. And if the argument is relative compensation as the determining factor, well, perhaps we should go back to what compensation profiles looked like 40 and 50 years ago.
This case doesn’t fit those weak rationalizations, anyway. The kid involved is not some huge linebacker; it’s a skinny teenager who appears to be no more than half the bulk of the teacher. Moreover, this isn’t even really a fight. It’s one kid beating on another. The risks of intervention seem rather low in this instance, while the long-term risks of non-intervention are much higher. Every kid who sat in that classroom and saw their teacher either be too afraid or uncaring to stop a bully will never look at that teacher or school in the same way ever again, and probably authority as well.
If we want to teach that violence is its own reward, is “today’s violent society” any surprise?
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