Hugs for Thugs?

To the editor:

Wow. You folks have really got it twisted [Katherine Kersten, “No Thug Left Behind,” Winter 2017]. We already have a school-to-prison pipeline in St. Paul and everywhere. What does “cracking down” on a bunch of already-traumatized teens achieve?

If we think that school is good, we must try to keep kids there. Black kids, especially, are disproportionately suspended and arrested in schools for the same kinds of things that white kids do with impunity. Of course, you won’t believe me. Let’s just abolish any attempt at racial justice, right? If you are sincere in your desire for law and order, you would look for alternatives that address the root causes for disenfranchised children acting out in school.

Cynthia Gomez


To the editor:

It is true that there should be standards in the school and in the classroom; and most schools, principals, and teachers try to uphold the standards.

All studies indicate that the only thing that will help students is smaller class size. What happens to the kids who act out and get suspended or expelled? They are out on the streets, doing nothing. You can’t keep them in a classroom of 30 or more students: that is chaos. Once again, the answer is smaller class size; kids can then develop better relationships with the adults who are there to guide them.

If Americans want an educated population, they must be willing to pay for every one of our children to have the opportunity for the best classes and teachers. Try smaller class size!

Anne Danforth

New York City

Katherine Kersten responds:

Thanks to the writers of these letters. However, I fear that Cynthia Gomez and Anne Danforth make the same mistake as the leaders of the St. Paul Public Schools about how to restore school discipline: both believe that, in a school where out-of-control students wreak havoc, it is adult—not student—behavior that must change.

For Danforth, the problem is class size, which she says school authorities and legislators must decrease (presumably, at a hefty cost to taxpayers). For Gomez, it is nebulous “root causes,” which our society has attempted to address since the 1960s, only to see school mayhem skyrocket.

The level of school anarchy we see now in St. Paul was unimaginable in the past, when classes were often larger and budgets were much smaller. Likewise, school environments around the country were far more orderly in the 1940s and 1950s, when racial discrimination was rampant. And if poverty causes school disorder, why are St. Paul’s Asian students—most of them low-income and from refugee backgrounds—so much less likely to be disciplined than their black peers?

Danforth and Gomez misunderstand the source, as well as the stakes, of St. Paul’s school crisis. They fail to see that the underlying problem is that many black students enter school today without the impulse control, social skills, self-discipline, and regard for others necessary to learn in a regular classroom environment.

Adults are to blame for this, of course—parents, not teachers. Yet school officials are letting parents off the hook, assuring them that “institutional racism” is to blame for their kids’ misbehavior and failure to learn.

Advocates of racial-equity discipline show little concern for the majority of students—many of them poor and minority—who come to school ready to learn but are prevented from doing so by out-of-control classmates. Their vision of equity seems to anticipate that all students will sink together. What kind of racial justice is that?


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