01/19/2012 06:49 pm ET Updated Mar 20, 2012

Boys and Girls Interrupted

Things couldn't be going more swimmingly in Mrs. Paige Turner's literature class. She's teaching her own personal favorite, A Day No Pigs Would Die -- the ultimate tear-jerker. Mrs. Turner is overwhelmed at how emotionally invested her students have become in the story, and she revels in the impact that the book may have on their love of literature, not to mention their overall outlook on life, as they learn such values as kindness and treating your fellow life-traveler with respect. The kids are taking turns reading paragraphs aloud from the last chapter, and Pinky is just about to become chops, loin and rind. There's nary a dry eye in the schoolhouse, even on the faces of the most cynical youngsters.

But then there's that kid. We parents know him -- Johnny Hooligan. Johnny intentionally engineers a foul noise with his tongue (covering his mouth with his hand so that if he is accused, he can deny guilt.) In fact, every time the name "Pinky" is uttered, he repeats the action, and the intimate connection the class had been sharing of a boy's love for his pet pig is irrevocably shattered. It is an experience more or less emotionally robbed from the other 23 kids in the class. Even after being warned numerous times, Johnny does not desist. No one else is laughing, but Johnny is amused by it enough for all of them.

Finally, the class finishes reading the book and Mrs. Turner excuses her students eight minutes before the bell. Pinky has died. So has the moment she had hoped to share with the class.
This isn't Johnny's first transgression of the kind. He acts out on a regular basis. (The stunt he pulled during a reading of The Lovely Bones the previous semester was particularly offensive.) His parents have been called in a few times, but they never seemed to take much of an active role in improving his behavior, and consequently it hasn't improved. So, because nothing can be done aside from sending him frequently to the principal's office or detention (which alters a delinquent's tendencies as much as a week or two of jail time alters those of a hardened criminal) the teachers relinquish their efforts to turn him around and instead just learn to tolerate him. Or worse, ignore him.

Who benefits? Certainly not the other students. Why must those 23 kids in Johnny's class lose precious learning time while a miscreant (who isn't paying attention or learning anything anyway) is allowed to create all sorts of distractions? Not the teachers. The constant interruptions halt the usual flow of lessons and cut down on the amount of material that they are able to cover. Not even young Mr. Hooligan, who is only hurting himself with his fraudulent flatulence. Looks like it's a pretty sour deal for everyone involved. So why is it allowed to continue?

For the same reason that books are banned from school libraries, or that works of art are taken down from cafeteria walls, this behavior is allowed. There is a pervading fear in schools -- as well as in many other public places -- that someone is going to take offense and make a federal case out of it. Granted, moving a child from one class into another that resembles a special needs track is more potentially rife with controversy than removing a work of literature from a bookshelf, but the thought process is the same.

Administrators are hesitant to give permission to manually weed out the mischief makers because of their fear that the amount and severity of backlash will not be worth it.

They may be right. Parents of rotten eggs don't see them that way. They will make any number of excuses to justify their child's actions so that no one can criticize their parenting skills. OK, fine. But why should I, the parent of a couple of good eggs, have to suffer the consequences of their failings? Shouldn't my children have the right to receive an education uninterrupted by fart sounds?

Regardless of how many feathers it may ruffle, we need to seriously consider other options than merely that of letting the rabble-rousers stay because it's easier than shaking things up. Think about the real cost here. If 23 students each lose 30 minutes of class time every day over the course of a 40-week school year, that's 2,300 hours lost because of disrupting influences. Just imagine how many more pop quizzes might have been given in that time. (This last point will probably not be a very persuasive one among high school students.)

It is a touchy topic, to be sure, but one that deserves our attention. If a student is given numerous warnings and is subject to regular disciplinary action, and still the lesson is not learned, then perhaps they should be placed alongside others of a similar ilk. After all, that's the way things are done out here in the real world, and isn't preparing our children for the real world what we're supposed to be doing anyway?