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Judging School Discipline: The Crisis of Moral Authority Hardcover – October 30, 2003

3.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


This interesting study casts a critical eye on the American legal system, which [Arum] sees as having undermined the ability of teachers and administrators to socialize teenagers...Arum, it must be pointed out, is adamantly opposed to such measures as zero tolerance, which, he insists, often results in unfair and excessive punishment. What he wisely calls for is not authoritarianism, but for school folks to regain a sense of moral authority so that they can act decisively in matters of school discipline without having to look over their shoulders. (David Ruenzel Teacher Magazine 2004-01-01)

Arum's book should be compulsory reading for the legal profession; they need to recognise the long-term effects of their judgments on the climate of schools and the way in which judgments in favour of individual rights can reduce the moral authority of schools in disciplining errant students. But the author is no copybook conservative, and he is as critical of the Right's get-tough, zero-tolerance authoritarianism as he is of what he eloquently describes as the 'marshmallow effect' of liberal reformers, pushing the rules to their limits and tolerating increased misconduct. (John Dunford Times Educational Supplement 2003-11-28)

[Arum] argues that discipline is often ineffective because schools' legitimacy and moral authority have been eroded. He holds the courts responsible, because they have challenged schools' legal and moral authority, supporting this claim by examining over 6,200 state and federal appellate court decisions from 1960 to 1992. In describing the structure of these decisions, Arum provides interesting insights into school disciplinary practices and the law. (P. M. Socoski Choice 2004-04-01)

Arum's careful analysis of school discipline becomes so focused and revealing that the ideological boundaries of the debate seem almost to have been suspended. The result is a rich and original book, bold, important, useful, and--as this combination of attributes might suggest--surprising...Many years in the making, Judging School Discipline weds historical, theoretical, and statistical research within the problem-solving stance of a teacher working to piece together solutions in the interest of his students. The result is a book that promises to shape research as well as practice through its demonstration that students are liberated, as well as oppressed, by school discipline. (Steven L. VanderStaay Urban Education 2004-05-01)

[Arum's] break with education-school dogma on student rights is powerful and goes far toward explaining why so many teachers dread their students--when they are not actually fighting them off. (Heather MacDonald Wall Street Journal 2004-03-25)

Judging School Discipline provides a carefully detailed prescription for what needs to be done about one of the most critical and potentially alarming problems in our schools--the lack of student discipline. Order in schools rests not on policies like zero tolerance, but on how schools prepare their students for learning that involves trust, rules and fairness. This excellent book should be read by anyone interested in improving student learning and the institutions designed to promote it. (Barbara Schneider Contexts)

About the Author

Richard Arum is Professor of Sociology and Education, New York University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (October 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674011791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674011793
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,384,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Linda T. Pierce on January 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If there is, it suits this book. An absolute must read, eye opener for anyone entering the profession of teaching. For those of us who have been there and done that, who have felt the craziness creeping closer everyday as we viewed one failed plan after another trumpeted in and wheeled out, for those of us who believed we were the only ones who saw what was happening, who were disparagingly called "Old School", who sometimes felt totally alone wondering if we were the ones who were crazy, treat yourself to this book and enjoy a wonderful balm and tonic as you immerse yourself in some long needed support.
This book should have been dedicated to all of us who ever wondered what happened to the joy of teaching, and who have hung in there hoping someone would listen to us as we fought to bring it back. Judging School Discipline should be required reading for every administrator, school board member, policy maker, and politician, as well as everyone in our legal system.
To the authors I can only say "Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Perhaps your book will help decision makers finally realize they have been dancing us around a camp fire of futility, and also enlighten them to the fact they can not avoid the real problem by trying to reinvent the wheel of education.
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Format: Paperback
Arum's piece is full of correlative claims asserted as causal relationships. It ignores the deeper and more complex social, political, and economic dynamics during the key period of Arum's study. Instead, it boils the question of changes in school discipline down to the courts. This is a limited reading.

Arum also takes at face value notions like "order," "discipline," and "misbehavior." But these are not simple ideas. They are socially constructed and are strongly informed by the politics and culture of the moment. The narrative of the "breakdown in discipline" in public schools became salient in the 1970s and 1980s in connection with other anxieties many Americans were feeling in a rapidly-changing world.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Quality book in fine condition delivered in a timely way. Thanks.
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Arum's critique of the court system being utilizing for student redress is more than troubling in light of the extreme abuse of authority that takes place in every public school in America. The threat of lawsuit is the only potential avenue for justice for most youth. Since recent court rulings have come increasingly closer to defining minors as property, the implication of being denied access to courts pushes American society to the brink of forging a new form of slavery. Arum might be noble in his rejection of Zero Tolerance (which hardly is a profound insight), but with the "get tough" spirit that pervades schools and society, it is much more likely that children will be barred from fighting injustices in courts long before they will be afforded respect or leniency in school. Arum unwittingly has a produced fodder for fascists who will embrace his complaints, which would only apply in an ideal society.

This portion is an amendment to my initial complaint and that is the fact that Arum's analysis is fundamentally flawed. Cases that he considers to be student victories are, in fact, not. Just because the plaintiff prevails, does not mean that the ruling was a victory especially when school employees are granted qualified immunity. As such, Arum would claim that a student victory occurred in Safford v Redding where a teenage girl was strip searched for pain medication and that was ruled a violation of her rights; however, no damages were awarded due to qualified immunity and the court intimated that if the school officials were looking for illegal substances, perhaps the strip search would be permissible. Since the search was instigated on hearsay, school officials only need to claim they are looking for marijuana when they want to strip search kids. What a victory!
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