by William Lyons and Julie Drew. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2006. 264pp. Cloth. $65.00. ISBN: 9780472099054. Paper. $25.95. ISBN: 9780472069057.

Reviewed by Robert J. Safransky, School Law and American Government, Nova Southeastern University. Email: Safransk [at] nsu.nova.edu.


PUNISHING SCHOOLS begins with two quotations: one on violence and one on the purpose of education. Then William Lyons and Julie Drew illustrate how fearsome a school is by recounting their experiences with a lockdown in a suburban school for a “random drug search.” Their teacher guide described the lockdown as “It means dogs. Uniforms. Nobody gets in or out” (p.1). They give a very dramatic description of police officers present for the lockdown and the use of dogs to search students for drugs. The depiction raised some questions in the reviewer’s mind about the lockdown and the negative description of the SWAT team. The description of the young officers’ physical stature, their hair, clothing, the weapons and equipment they carried, and that they were all white men generated a negative feeling. It might have benefited the authors to have talked to the police officers who make up a SWAT team. They should have done some research on why police departments have developed SWAT teams for specific situations and why they wear a different uniform and carry certain equipment.

Why did I have questions about the lockdown and the presence of a SWAT Team? I began a public school teaching career in 1960 and subsequently taught Social Studies in two different high schools, served as a middle school principal, adult vocational school principal, and central office administrator for a total of thirty-seven years in Pinellas County, Florida, before joining the faculty at Nova Southeastern University in 1990.

I contacted Dr. Clayton Wilcox, the Superintendent of Pinellas County Schools, which is the seventh largest school system in Florida and twenty-first largest in the country. Dr. Wilcox gave permission to interview the associate superintendent for school safety and security, the campus chief of police and five high school principals. In addition to the five questions that Lyons and Drew asked at the schools, I prepared fifteen questions about lockdowns and school safety. These questions were asked of the principals and the school system’s chief of police and member of the St. Petersburg Police Department, which provides School Resource Officers (SRO) for the St. Petersburg schools.

The campus chief of police stated that a SWAT team is not used in a lockdown at a school in a drug search for several reasons: first, he does not know of a city police department that has the extra officers available for a SWAT team to be involved in a non-emergency lockdown. Second, the lockdown and [*635] use of dogs would not be permitted, as the 4th Amendment requires sworn police officers to have probable cause to do a search. The chief did not see any evidence presented by the authors of probable cause. A school principal or administrator may do a search if there is reasonable suspicion as spelled out in NEW JERSEY v. T.L.O. (1985). The major in charge of the School Resource Officers (SRO) of the St. Petersburg Police Department and two of his school resource officers were interviewed using the same questions. They were amazed that a SWAT Team and those techniques were used in a school and that no one questioned their use.

The first chapter of PUNISHING SCHOOLS states the theme of the book, “This book is about punishing schools – about the ways schools are punished as both focal points of particular, power-poor neighborhood and, in a more general senses, the ways schools are increasingly being punished regardless of the economic and political power status of their communities by the steady, increasing disinvestment in public education” (p.4). There are some extremely long explanatory footnotes which probably should have been part of the text.

Lyons and Drew describe their research methods, but present them in a way that will make replication quite difficult. The names of the schools, the towns, the newspapers have all been changed. They put their five open-ended questions into teachers’ mailboxes and then interviewed the people who responded. The administrators, teachers, and students were given letters and numbers when they were quoted or cited in a footnote, for example, (Interview of Suburban Teacher 11 = ST 11). These questions must be asked: “Who would respond to an open-ended questionnaire?” “Why did they respond?” “How does a researcher compare written responses?” “What is the mean or median or standard deviation of a response?”

Chapter 2 explores a suburban high school and the conflicts it has. Speaking from my own experience in a suburban high school, there are clear physical differences in schools and communities surrounding them. I interviewed the African-American principal of a suburban school which has gated communities nearby. He also had previously served as a principal of an inner city school. He noted similarities in the two schools – e.g., students want positive peer relationships, and the disagreements they bring with them from the neighborhood reappear at school, sometimes in conflicts and confrontations. Why? Students are adolescents, with imperfect self-control and who sometimes seek solutions through confrontation.

Chapter 3 is all about Pleasantville – a movie which was resurrected by Lyons and Drew to prove their points about schools. “Pleasantville participates in the promotion of a conservative call for traditional family values, the criminalization of youth, and the resulting war on real families and youth culture” (p.7). Chapter 4, “Punitive Politics and Punishing Schools,” presents a long discussion of inner city schools, how they have little or no power [*636] and how they are under-funded. One source of the problem can be traced to the fact that the state use of lottery funds changed after the first few years, with lottery money no longer ear-marked for education. This chapter also discusses the charter school movement and how it developed in the state of Ohio.

Chapter 5 covers the topics of zero tolerance, fear, student conflict, and many anecdotes by teachers, parents, and students about the various types of conflicts that take place inside and outside of school.

Chapter 6 defines various aspects of “punishing schools” based on racial imbalances and lack of funding. Lyons and Drew also report that money is diverted from education to fund prisons. The authors contend that “[t]he data presented in this book highlight the emergence of a zero tolerance culture animated by a plutocratic vision of limited government that has displaced the New Deal coalition with a right-utopian, anti-democratic, cultural (and sometimes electoral) coalition intent on governing through crime and fear” (p.185). They might have considered this proposition: “If schools were truly punished enough, then educators at all levels and parents would demand positive, productive changes in public schools.” Some questions need to be asked of educators: Why don’t the senators and congressmen send their children to the Washington, D.C. public schools? Why do so many of the financially able send their children to private schools? Charter schools and the rise of home schools in the past twenty years should be sending a message to all educators: “we need to improve our schools.”

Perhaps, we might emulate the Japanese, who, after WWII adopted the business and management ideas of W. Edwards Deming. Two of his fourteen points have especial significance for potential improvement in school quality: “1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service. 8. Drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively for the company” (Deming 1986). Education administrators need to acknowledge that we need to improve our product and then to start working on making those improvements in every classroom in every school.

The authors base their findings on interviews at two schools in Ohio with administrators, students, teachers, and parents. They did not, however, interview the police who were involved in the lockdown that started the book. Why? When this reviewer interviewed police representatives, they reported being in favor of assisting students to learn how to work out their differences. The campus police chief had written several articles on using a proven technique to reduce conflict and school violence and had worked with a school principal to implement them. Lyons and Drew offer eight pages of references to support their thesis that schools are being punished and that a zero tolerance culture supported by the right-utopian view dominates the agenda. Unfortunately there are no references to any works that present another viewpoint on punishment and schools. There are no references to articles from [*637] the American Association of School Administrators, the National Alliance for Safe Schools, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Phi Delta Kappa, or to seminars devoted to school safety issues. There is no mention of the No Child Left Behind requirement that parents be informed of individual school safety statistics and the requirement that a school district establish a safety plan. Nor do the authors mention the fact that a student may leave a chronically dangerous school (The Facts About School Safety, www.NoChildLeftBehind.gov ).

Lyons and Drew conclude with these words:
This is not a utopian vision. Nor is this a repudiation of punishment as one tool for managing conflict. . . .
This is a reminder that democratic governments only “provide for the general welfare” when they are built on informed, thoughtful, cooperative, prudent, and innovative forms of citizenship – and these depend on investing more in a democratic information system that starts with a vigorous education and resilient civic organizations than in prisons or punishing schools. This is the foundation for our prosperity that Adam Smith celebrated in Wealth of Nations and the most prudent approach to protecting the “diverse faculties of men” that James Madison insisted was the both the first object of government and the foundation for liberty. (p.203)

It is not entirely clear what their concluding statement means. They spent the book inveighing against punishment but now say punishment is a tool for managing conflict. Perhaps this would have been better stated at the beginning.

Bebley, James L. and Heather K. Brickman. 2006. “Legal Issues Related to Developing School Board Policies to Support Safe Schools.” CUBE Issues Seminar, Chicago.

Deming, W. Edwards. 1986. OUT OF THE CRISIS. Cambridge, MS: MIT Press.

Gavin, Thomas A. 2000. “Bringing SARA to School.” AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL, March, 2000, p.36.

Gavin, Thomas A. 1996. “Profile of the Weapon Carrying Student in Selected Public Middle and High Schools.” Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Issues in Criminal Justice, Senior Leadership Program, Class Four. Available online at: www.fdle.state.fl.us/fcjei/SLP%20papers/Gavin.pdf .

Kenney, Dennis Jay, and Steuart Watson. 1998. “Crime in the Schools: Reducing Conflict With Student Problem Solving.” Police Executive Research Forum, Washington, D. C.

Kenney, Dennis Jay, and Steuart Watson. 1999. “Crime in the Schools: Reducing Conflict With Student Problem Solving.” National Institute of Justice: Research in Brief, July, 1999. This NIJ publication can be found at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij.

NEW JERSEY v. T. L. O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985). [*638]

Allen, Ed .D., Herman, Principal, Palm Harbor University High School, Palm Harbor, Fl.
Bohnet, Michael, Principal, Dixie Hollins High School, Kenneth City, Fl.
Brewer, Phillip, Sergeant, St. Petersburg Police Department.
Butler, Tyler, Officer, St. Petersburg Police Department.
Cambell, Antelia , Principal, Gibbs High School, St. Petersburg, Fl.
Duda, Dennis, Principal, Lakewood High School, St. Petersburg, Fl.
Gavin, Thomas A., Chief, Pinellas County Schools Campus Police Department.
Nelson, Paula, Principal, Boca Ciega High School, Gulfport, Fl.
Palmer, Barbara, English Teacher, Lakewood High School, St. Petersburg, Fl.
Roseberry, Richard. Sergeant, Pinellas County Schools Campus Police Department.
Turner, Javan, Assistant Principal, Lakewood High School, St. Petersburg, Fl.
Williams, Donnie, Major, St. Petersburg Police Department Investigative Services.

© Copyright 2007 by the author, Robert J. Safransky.