Walter E. Williams: Why are inner-city schools more violent today than in the past?
The Philadelphia Inquirer's big story Feb. 4 was about how a budget crunch at the Philadelphia School District had caused the district to lay off 91 school police officers. Over the years, there's been no discussion of what has happened to our youth that makes a school police force necessary in the first place. The Inquirer's series "Assault on Learning" (March 2011) reported that in the 2010 school year, "690 teachers were assaulted; in the last five years, 4,000 were." The newspaper reported that in Philadelphia's 268 schools, "on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes. That doesn't even include thousands more who are extorted, threatened, or bullied in a school year."
I graduated from Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin High School in 1954. Franklin's students were from the poorest North Philadelphia neighborhoods — such as the Richard Allen housing project, where I lived — but there were no policemen patrolling the hallways. There were occasional after-school fights — rumbles, we called them — but within the school, there was order. Students didn't use foul language to teachers, much less assault them.
How might one explain the greater civility of Philadelphia and other big-city, predominantly black schools during earlier periods compared with today? Would anyone argue that during the '40s and '50s, back when Williams attended Philadelphia schools, there was less racial discrimination and poverty and there were greater opportunities for blacks and that's why academic performance was higher and there was greater civility? Or how about "in earlier periods, there was more funding for predominantly black schools"? Or how about "in earlier periods, black students had more black role models in the forms of black principals, teachers and guidance counselors"? If such arguments were to be made, it would be sheer lunacy. If white and black liberals and civil rights leaders want to make such arguments, they'd best wait until those of us who lived during the '40s and '50s have departed the scene.
Over the past couple of decades, I've attended neighborhood reunions. I've asked whether any of us recall classmates who couldn't read, write or perform simple calculations, and none of us does. Back in those days, most Philadelphia school principals, teachers and counselors were white. At Stoddart-Fleisher junior high school, where I attended, I recall that only one teacher was black, and at Benjamin Franklin, there might have been two. What does that say about the role model theory? By the way, Asian-Americans are at the top of the academic ladder, and, at least historically, they rarely experience an Asian-American teacher during their K-through-12 schooling.
Many black students are alien and hostile to the education process. They are permitted to make education impossible for other students. Their misbehavior and violence require schools to divert resources away from education and spend them on security, such as hiring school police and purchasing metal detectors, all of which does little for school safety. The violent school climate discourages the highest-skilled teachers from teaching at schools where they risk assaults, intimidation and theft. At a bare minimum, part of the solution to school violence and poor academic performance should be the expulsion of students who engage in assaults and disrespectful behavior. You say, "What's to be done for these students?" Even if we don't know what to do with them, how compassionate and intelligent is it to permit them to make education impossible for other students?
The fact that black parents, teachers, politicians and civil rights organizations tolerate and make excuses for the despicable and destructive behavior of so many young blacks is a gross betrayal of the memory, struggle, sacrifice, sweat and blood of our ancestors. The sorry and tragic state of black education is not going to be turned around until there's a change in what's acceptable and unacceptable behavior by young people. That change has to come from within the black community.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.
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