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Sunday, November 3, 2013

How to address discipline in Duval County Schools

By Greg Sampson

Having passed beyond the morning coffee, I continue to muse over the judge’s reaction to discipline in Duval schools …

The Urban Subculture of Poverty

I am amused by those who come from a culture of upper middle class values, and expect that all children in our Westside, Northwest-side, and North-side schools share those values.

Why do boys wear their pants low? It is not media influence. They will be quick to tell you that it is Jail. They want to identify with males who have been to jail. This is more than normal adolescent rebellion.

In our urban neighborhoods of poverty, most everyone they know has been through the justice system. It is not a matter of shame; it is a rite of passage.

That’s what we deal with in our schools. Don’t blame the students, don’t blame the teachers, it’s the way it is.

Rather than getting mad, rather than pointing fingers, let’s try to help kids.

1.       Many of our discipline problems do not arise in our schools. They come in from the neighborhood. Sometimes students will fight as proxy for their parents. We have days where problems arrive on the bus and the administrators and school resource officer spend the entire day dealing with it: calling parents, working with the students, dissipating the conflict.
2.       Children from poverty have the attitude that they must defend what belongs to them. It may seem silly to us, but when a child has decided that a certain seat in the room belongs to them and someone else sits in it, it is a major issue that they will fight over. They cannot allow someone to take something away from them, or they are announcing to the world that they are easy pickings—a cow carcass tossed into a piranha-choked stream.
3.       Parents also teach their children from birth that no one has the right to put their hands on them. If someone touches them, they have permission to fight. Even if you own nothing else, your body belongs to you. Allow no one to violate that idea in the slightest way.
4.       Family is strong, very strong. Older children are told to protect their younger brothers and sisters.
5.       The worst thing to do is back away from a fight. Once one is challenged, that person has to go through with it.
6.       However, with all this being said, kids are strategic. It’s not a matter of losing control; they have decided for reasons that make sense to them that they want to have a fight. They look for the right opportunity. We can head off many conflicts by maintaining a visible presence during times of student transition and being alert in our classrooms for erupting conflict.
7.       Children from poverty lack the background knowledge of their peers. They haven’t been exposed to much and they lack the ability to understand what is going on in a situation. For example, they do not understand math problems about revenue, cost, and profit because nothing in their family’s, neighbors’, or relatives’ lives expose them to small business people—entrepreneurs. School is therefore harder for them.
8.       My background is in math, but over the past few years I have been exposed to the reading side, and the key to FCAT success is background knowledge. No child can write about a camel if they have never seen one.
9.       When they enter adolescence, and social standing is everything to them, and they cannot keep up, the way some choose to handle it is to act out and take a classroom down. If no one is learning, they won’t be embarrassed in front of their friends.
10.   We have a student in our middle school that was in second grade last year. Thanks to a hurry-up program under the former superintendent, he is now in 6th grade. He admitted to one of his teachers that he deliberately acts up in class because he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on academically.

      I am not an expert, but I am sharing what I have learned and how it impacts discipline in our schools. My hope is that this post will stimulate the thinking of others about the challenges in our schools that children from poverty present in ways that do not condemn them.


  1. I wish people in charge would read this. If they did, they would rethink everything about the school system's behavior issues. It is seemingly simplistic, yet complex in its conclusions. Students don't misbehavior for the heck of it; there is always a reason. Many times, students don't know why they do it, yet sometimes they do. Why should a kid worry about studying for a test or writing an essay when someone or something is challenging his/her beliefs about one of the concepts above. Most students value the idea of education; they just struggle in understanding how to value that education. If someone takes my seat, I just go to another seat. If someone bangs into my shoulder in the hallway, I just say "excuse me" and move on. If someone makes fun of me, I surround myself with my friends and forget about those who don't respect me. Most of my students don't see life this way. Because of that, behavior issues occur. Because of the behavior issues, the educational issues become secondary.

  2. Your post was an eye-opener for me. Thanks very much for sharing.I have tried to to teach math courses where 90% of the students just didn't have the basic knowledge to begin. I have had students in AP Calculus that could not do basic algebra never mind trig.