Treat violence in school as a crime

Such a measure would send an important message to violent parents and loutish juveniles.

school strike 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
school strike 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Last Tuesday, all secondary school pupils started their studies an hour late because of a teacher protest against mounting classroom violence. The teachers have every right to be outraged. Their jobs have in some instances become hazardous - as hazardous as those of social workers and doctors and nurses. Those who work in these professions all too often become punching bags for anyone with pent-up frustrations. Our society must not tolerate the physical or verbal abuse of such professionals. The law already specifies discretionary remedies. The problem is that the authorities rarely throw the book at the offenders. The latest anti-violence protest was sparked by Monday's assault on a Kiryat Gat religious school principal. She was struck by a father apparently irate over the fact that his daughter had been sent home for coming to school wearing inappropriate attire. The traumatized principal was briefly hospitalized. Such incidents proliferate. Not all even make the headlines. But the teachers' one-hour strike on Tuesday was probably not the proper response. It might even have sent the unintended message that our society handles its problems through strikes, coercion and pressure. It underscored a growing tendency to regard just about every public policy dispute as necessitating the exercise of power rather than of reason. WHAT TO do? There's no point demanding that Education Ministry bureaucrats wave a magic wand and effect an instant solution. Nor can education ministers who come and go be relied upon to solve the problem. Yet they, along with teachers and parents, are culpable, as is our entire society. School violence won't go away while permissiveness flourishes at home and in school. This isn't a uniquely Israeli predicament. It plagues the entire Western world, where youngsters' whims are increasingly indulged and grown-ups fear to say "No." This isn't, as some assert, a function of socioeconomic deprivation. If anything, the phenomenon is often more pronounced in schools serving affluent communities. Neither can the problem be ascribed exclusively to overcrowding. Previous generations of Israelis attended even more crammed facilities, but weren't disorderly. The then-prevailing vogue wasn't one of "Anything goes." It's time to get back to basics and admit that - in most instances - schools must to some degree be "authoritarian," and that a degree of discipline must be restored. There must be zero tolerance not only for physical disruptiveness but also for unruly conduct and discourtesy. Israeli society practically prides itself on rearing ill-mannered youngsters - vocal, impolite, pushy and demanding from early on, as many are. This promotes patterns of bad behavior which are bound to manifest themselves in later life. Cheeky kids aren't cute. They are the ugly Israelis of the future. They start out being fresh, go on to shove their way past peers and elders, and cheat on exams. They then become rowdy in school or on the highways. A PROFOUND change of attitude is vital. Various commissions established by the Education Ministry to collect statistics and recommend dialogue, and yet more counseling, have not had the intended results. Such approaches mostly tend to win the cooperation of those youngsters who are not likely to misbehave in the first place. Over the past decade, teams of parent-teacher-student violence monitors have been set up in schools, and yet have made no dent in the situation. Equally irrelevant - in this connection - will be upping teachers' pay on the theory that raising their status will solve the problem. The deputy chief of Kaplan Hospital's Urology Department was severely stabbed last May, despite his rank. The law must leave no loophole for the authorities to go soft on offenders who take their frustration out on teachers, social workers, job-center clerks, doctors and nurses doing their jobs. It's a shame we've come to this - but it's possible that obligatory minimum punishment is no longer avoidable. While judges should continue to have discretion in dealing with first-time offenders, those employed in the helping and educational professions need to feel reassured by the introduction into law of mandatory penalties for repeat attackers. Such a measure would send an important message to violent parents and loutish juveniles.