During a specific discussion Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am –Leahy spoke with in-studio guest and former Mayoral candidate Dr. Carol Swain about public education issues and Obama’s 2014 executive order called restorative justice through a document issued by his Department of Education (Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline). This allowed for more often than naught black students to remain in the classroom despite high levels of discipline problems. The program also added those of disabilities to its initiative.
During the third hour, Leahy and Swain discussed how Nashville public schools, in particular, are facing issues both in the behavioral aspect and also the lack of true knowledge in both students and their parents when it comes to history and civics. Swain added, ‘We need to expand everyone’s knowledge of the Constitution and get people up in arms. They need to know the Bible and their Constitution.’
Leahy: We’re here in the studio with our all-star panelist, former Vanderbilt professor, and former Mayoral candidate in Nashville, Carol Swain. And it’s not a global warming day today. It’s in the 40’s Carol. It’s a welcome relief from the 90-degree temperature.
In our six o’clock hour, we spoke with Edwin Benson, a retired public school teacher and we were talking about the influence of John Dewey. A negative influence he believes and I believe in America’s public schools. His book was Can American Schools Be Saved. You, Carol, spent your career in education.
Swain: Yes. I spent 28 years teaching at Vanderbilt and Princeton at the university level. And I’ve always been interested in public schools. I attended public schools. My children did. And when I watch what’s happening around the country and very much focused on Nashville I think that we’ve always used the wrong approach to educating our children. And consequently, many parents are homeschooling or looking for alternatives.
Leahy: Speaking of Nashville, there was a story we had here and it was an issue in the Mayoral debate that the Nashville Public Schools have adopted a different discipline policy. Tell us about that policy and the negative impact it’s had.
Swain: Well, President Obama in 2014 he and his Department of Education were concerned that black students got suspended from school more often than white children. And so he put through an executive order to make it much more difficult to suspend children from schools.
And it’s called restorative justice. And it’s also being applied when it comes to criminal justice situations. I think it has had a detrimental impact in some cases because, in those schools that are most aggressive with it, you have more truancy. There’s also some research that the performance levels of all the students have dropped.
Teachers are leaving teaching. It’s much more difficult for a teacher to control the classroom. And students are sometimes intimidated by their classmates who can stay when maybe they should leave.
Leahy: That’s a point that one of our frequent callers, Mike the teacher who teaches in Davidson county schools who makes the very same point. Teachers cannot discipline anyone anymore in Nashville public schools and as a result, there’s not discipline so it’s utter chaos.
And that’s a huge problem and echoing what you talked about, is Mayor Cooper going to be able to or does he intend to change that?
Swain: There’s no indication that he’s going to change it. In fact, it looks like they’re going to double down with it. And by now they should have figured out that something is not working. And I believe that a better model would be to deal with disciplinary problems. And there’s evidence sometimes that there’s a reason that there are more black children being suspended.
Some of them are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior. It needs to be handled but maybe using a different kind of model.
Leahy: In this particular case, the school system here with a 9 member school board that’s selected. They’re all left-wingers and they don’t seem to have any common sense whatsoever from what I can tell. The Mayor, the City Council controls the overall number of the budget but they don’t have line-item control. What can or could the Mayor do to influence the policies of MNPS?
Swain: I believe they need a new superintendent and a new approach. Because this restorative justice is being implemented does not show evidence that it works. Again I think it decreases the performance of the school. A lot of teachers leave because they have been injured.
They’ve been hit by students that they can’t put out of the classroom. And there are children that stay home. So the truancy levels may increase because students are intimidated by their fellow classmates and there’s not a lot that they can do.
Leahy: We saw an initiative from Governor Lee this week that was announced. I think it is a good general direction. My question for you Carol is how effective will that be? The Governor has announced that he’s providing through his administration next academic year a half a million dollars in grants to public schools around the state in order to accept proposals from them to help them teach more about civics.
What do you think of this? This has been passed into law. It was part of his overall agenda but the state legislature passed it and it will be implemented in the next academic year of 2020-2021. What do you make of that?
Swain: In theory, it would be a great idea if we taught school children and adults about civics. But a half a million dollars is not a lot of money. And what actually happens in the classroom would depend on the teachers. And if you have left-wing teachers there’s no evidence that there would be any change in the quality of education or the knowledge of the students because the teachers don’t know civics.
Leahy: Well, you make a good point. And as you know we have written and co-authored the Tennessee Star Guide to the Constitution and Bill of Rights for Secondary School Students. It’s written from an originalist perspective. And we’ve held the Constitution Bee here in Nashville for three years.
We’ll have our fourth year here in April. We’re not formally announcing it yet but it looks like we’ve got a national Constitution Bee where multiple states will come together in Washington, D.C. this summer with scholarships and things of that nature. Our experience has been that history teachers and civic teachers in Tennessee many of lean left. Most of them. Probably 90%.
Swain: I would agree.
Leahy: And so they’re not all that excited about using a supplementary text that puts forward an originalist view of the Constitution. Even though really, right now five of the Supreme Court justices have an originalist view. Five of the nine. But and they’re also constrained by, in typically 11th grade is when they teach American history and American government. They are constrained by the standard of teaching by the test.
So anything that’s not in the test they’re not all that excited about. Do you think any of these teachers will apply to use these five or ten thousand per school to buy our Constitution book and take kids to the Constitution Bee? What do you think?
Swain: I don’t know if they will apply to purchase your book. (Leahy laughs) But I think whenever money’s being given out, people line up.
Leahy: People line up and they’ll buy something.
Swain: Yes. And I think that it still has to be monitored. But I also believe that we need to educate adults as well as children because if the American people really knew the Constitution and about the Bill of Rights I think they would be more organized. More up in arms about what’s happening in this country when it comes to freedom of religion being suppressed and freedom f speech.
Leahy: It’s very interesting because Edwin Benson who wrote a book about public schools said that his students were largely ignorant of the constitution except they understood two basic rights. Freedom of speech. And freedom from the seizure of personal property. Search and seizure. Those were the things they knew.
Swain: Well, we need to expand everyone’s knowledge of the Constitution and get people up in arms. They need to know their Bible and their Constitution.
Listen to the full third hour here:
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