ST. PAUL, Minn. – There’s a simple way to decrease the number of K-12 students who are suspended from school for bad behavior: Redefine the behavior so it’s no longer considered bad.
Aaron Benner, a fourth-grade teacher who’s been working in the St. Paul, Minnesota school district for 14 years, has watched that insane philosophy take root in his district and make a bad situation even worse.
Violent, unruly behavior is at an all-time high, to the point where it’s difficult for teachers to instruct or children to learn, Benner told EAGnews.
That’s particularly true among black students, who are frequently not held accountable for their actions, Benner said.
Benner said the problem can be traced to the school district’s three-year-old contractual relationship with the Pacific Educational Group, a radical San Francisco-based organization that makes millions of dollars in consulting fees every year from public schools throughout the nation.
PEG has an odd philosophy about black students, behavioral issues and learning. It’s based on the controversial theory of “white privilege,” which is the notion that the American K-12 education system (and society in general) is skewed against people of color.
The organization teaches that black kids frequently lag behind academically because lessons are taught in white cultural terms they don’t understand. PEG also teaches that black kids get into a disproportionate amount of trouble because school officials don’t understand their cultural norms.
PEG’s answer is for educators to adjust their academic and behavioral expectations of black students, stop suspending or expelling them for bad behavior, and literally roll with the punches, according to Benner.
“We are asking our staff to change rather than expect kids to change to fit our comfort level — and that’s huge,” one district building principal told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
But Benner, who is black, says PEG is pedaling dangerous nonsense that’s ruining the schools and destroying the chances of black children gaining the discipline and structure they need to succeed in life.
“As a black man I can say that they are hurting black kids,” Benner said. “I’ve never seen anything as idiotic as PEG. Everything we do, PEG is at the forefront.
“It’s so comical. PEG says shouting out in class is a black cultural norm, and being on time is a white cultural thing. It’s so demeaning, so condescending to black kids. If a white person were making claims like this, black people would be in an uproar.
“You are not doing kids any favors by making excuses for them because they are black. It’s not a matter of culture if you’re talking about norms that all cultures need to abide by – you cannot throw things or attack your teacher, regardless of your race.”
When asked for examples of how school officials have chosen to ignore behavior issues involving black students, particularly boys, Benner has no shortage of disturbing tales.
“I remember two black boys humping on a second grade girl,” Benner said. “The teacher wrote up a referral for inappropriate sexual behavior, but the principal and vice principal dismissed it by calling it ‘cultural dancing.’
“That’s just plain racist. PEG ties everything to culture.”
Benner also remembers a black student punching another student in the face over the type of shoes he was wearing.
“The principal said they were just playing,” Benner said. “I’m like, wow, that’s just so wrong. You’re not trying to help these kids. You just don’t want any of this to be recorded.”
Benner has also had his own share of incidents with unruly students, and very little support from administrators.
“In 2011 I was punched by a black boy,” Benner said. “The prinicipal brought him back to the classroom 10 minutes later. No write up, no nothing. I was like, ‘What, are you serious?'”
With little support from administrators who have abandoned any effort at maintaining discipline, teachers are forced to focus on maintaining some semblance of order, instead of pushing students to learn and succeed academically, Benner said.
At Ramsey Middle School, nine teachers resigned last September due to security concerns, he said.
“When you have to discipline a student of color, you know you’re going to be questioned by an administrator, who is going to try to keep that student in class by any means necessary,” Benner said. “So you just keep that kid in the classroom and try to keep a safe classroom. There’s no learning being done.”
The situation in St. Paul schools became considerably worse in 2013, when the district decided to shut down separate classrooms for mentally and emotionally impaired students and mainstream them all into regular education classrooms, according to Benner.
Once again the dangerous new philosophy could be traced to PEG, he said.
“Every one of our learning centers closed, everyone was mainstreamed and all hell broke loose,” Benner said. “There are kids throwing chairs, and (administrators) give you no support.
“Then I noticed a writing (by PEG founder and president Glenn Singleton) saying that in ‘schools of equity,’ there should be no remedial classes, because there are too many black boys in them. I just thought, ‘Oh my God, this is the reason our learning centers closed.'”
Thursday: Benner says he was targeted by the St. Paul school district after speaking out about the lack of discipline.