Food For Thought

Lack of School Discipline: Who's At Fault?

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

I was listening to a local talk show host on my way home from an early-morning round of golf. The host began the program by saying that what our schools need is more discipline. I strongly agree with that statement and have written several articles and papers on the subject.

He then mentioned recent gang-related stabbings and attributed the increased gang violence to lack of school discipline. I asked myself, “Do the schools really do anything to foster gang violence?” He followed with a comment that teachers should act as parents and used the legal term, in locos parentis. He further said that teachers had to assume the role of parents because he and his wife had to work to pay for their home mortgage. He continued by saying his wife wasn’t going to quit working because some teacher wasn’t willing to do the job of fulfilling the parenting role.

Well at this point, my blood was beginning to boil. I was feeling the need to pick up my cell phone and call this guy, but I suppressed the urge and continued driving home.

He then started blasting teachers, especially the teachers’ unions. He blamed the teachers’ unions for most of the problems facing our schools. He clarified his position by saying he was in favor of the classroom teacher — it was only the unions he disliked. I began shouting in the car, “You idiot, who do you think belongs to these teachers’ unions?” The teachers do — that’s why they have names like the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers. Society in general feels the need to organize in groups such as lawyers, doctors, garbage collectors, school boards, steel workers, miners, auto workers, bus drivers, religious leaders, kids (boy and girl scouts), fishermen, hunters, cooperative members, and the list goes on and on. I also believe that these educational organizations would support a disciplined school environment.

To single out teacher organizations as a problem shows how shallow our thinking has become when we discuss classroom problems. Unions are neither good nor bad; they are just one way of expressing the opinions and concerns of groups of citizens. I’ve been president of several educational associations and found them to be a vital part of the educational experience for administrators, teachers and students.

Parents organize into groups such as the Parent Teacher Association and Parent Teacher Organization. Are parents who belong to these groups less worthy, or more of a problem, than others who choose not to participate in an organized effort to improve education? Should I as an educator say I support my students’ parents — it’s just the organizations that they belong to I dislike? Sound ridiculous? Yes, that’s exactly what statements of this kind are — ridiculous — and such statements do nothing to solve any educational problems, including school discipline.

Mr. Talk Show Host then took on school administrators. He stated that he has no problem paying the teachers in the classroom, but education needed to get rid of many of the guys/girls in the “suits.” He stated that administrators contributed little to the learning process and most of these educators should be eliminated.

Blasting educational administrators is a very common theme that usually surfaces when discussing school finances. In my opinion what is needed is a more differentiated staffing model. In most schools, the teachers are directly responsible to the principal. Assistant principals may also play a role in the process, but in most cases, the teacher-to-principal ratio is too high to permit any real supervision or control.

Most businesses have several levels of authority before the store manager. Some schools do use department heads. These are usually volunteer positions that lack any real authority. To advance in education you must either commit to becoming a principal, central office administrator, or guidance counselor.

The lack of a good administrative model is why many teachers get lost in the woodwork. How can a principal visit and observe on a regular basis 40 or more teachers in a year while attending to all the other items such as budget, building needs, cafeteria, parents, and school discipline? It just isn’t going to happen. Good and sufficient “suits” are a key part of a good learning environment.

When I was only a few miles away from home, he started on another topic that he thought would improve school discipline. Schools needed to require students to wear uniforms. He now sees the value in more “suits.” Probably my mental telepathy powers at work. I certainly agree that schools need to address the dress-code issue. I’ve written in favor of and still lean toward requiring a uniform code of dress, and school uniforms should be part of that requirement. At today’s schools, there is visible too much flesh, pierced body parts, excessively baggy pants, and body markings. Don’t blame the schools for this phenomenon. Just observe the back-to-school store advertisements. Schools or teachers don’t purchase these items, parents do.

Mr. Talk Show Host wanted the teachers and “suits” to require uniforms. To accomplish that goal, parents like him must agree not to purchase the items advertised or permit their children to hang Christmas ornaments from body parts. One of my sons who teaches school just informed me that several parents were complaining about the school requiring kids to walk on the right side of the hall when changing class. They also were concerned that the school only let students visit their lockers at scheduled times. Could you imagine the support schools would get for requiring school uniforms?

When I arrived home the urge to call the station was beyond my control so I dialed the number. After waiting several minutes I got an individual who was screening calls. He asked what I wanted to say. I informed him of my background, which immediately turned him off. He didn’t want to talk to anyone who had more than a sixth-grade education. I told the screener that I would like to discuss the issues with the host and thought the parents were the key to solving the school-discipline problem. He said, “I’ll inform him of that” and hung up. So I hope you don’t mind my venting. I feel better now and I promise not to listen to any more talk radio … this month.

Discipline begins and ends in the home. If discipline is lacking in the home environment, it carries into all other walks of society. Schools can do only what the parents sanction.

In my opinion, parents are sanctioning less and doing less to promote good discipline. The bumper sticker that reads, “Have you hugged your child today?” should be rephrased to say, “Have you hugged and disciplined your child today?”

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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