Third Graders, Really?

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When I was in elementary, I got in trouble with one of my teachers — let's call her "Miss. X." She had promised the entire class a cookie party if we all got 100% on our spelling bee. So I raised my hand to "share" something with the class, and proceeded to tell everyone there was a silent "e" at the end of all the words.* My punishment? No one got cookies, and all my friends wouldn't talk to me for the rest of the day. I was upset with Miss. X for being so mean, and I wanted to teach her a lesson. So I wrote up a mock report card, and gave her a check minus for Achievement, and an "unsatisfactory" for Behavior.

When I look back on it now, I realize she probably fought hard to stifle her laughter; but, at the time, I felt like I had made my point. I showed her!

Well, it seems times have changed. A group of 8- to 10-year-olds in Waycross, Georgia recently plotted an attack against their third grade teacher, who teaches special ed. Apparently, they were mad at her because she scolded one of them for standing on a chair during class. Armed with handcuffs, duct tape, a crystal paperweight, and a broken steak knife, they intended to overwhelm and stab her. The most disturbing part of this story, though, is the planning that went into it — obviously premeditated, they had a designated "look-out" person, and another person who was responsible for cleaning up afterward. Clearly, they understood the concept of negative consequences. Thankfully, the police were tipped off before they were able to carry out their plan.

We're all familiar with the usual suspects when it comes to children and violence — television, video games, permissive or abusive parents. But is reality really that simple? Ted Feinberg from the National Association of School Psychologists joins us to take your questions. If you work in schools, or if you're a parent of a grade-school student, what concerns you about this story?

* I really wanted that cookie party.



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Good lord! Why is no one mentioning that this is a class of children with learning disabilities???

This is critical information. Do you think that learning disabilities stop at problems with reading and writing? No. These are brain disorders, and they often come with other problems.

It is UNBELIEVEABLE to me that your "expert" did not mention this off the bat. You're missing the point completely, folks. Wise up!!!!

Sent by Gina Pera | 2:45 PM | 4-2-2008

Yes, thank you it is mostly about the the unfunded mandates and irresponsible funding of USA education, then it is about the school, then the teacher, then the parents, and finally the student. Children can get out of hand and led astray but a forceful and dynamic peer, but many have to turn their heads away first.

Sent by Rita Zindorf | 2:46 PM | 4-2-2008

Could this be an April Fools prank gone bad? The photo was dated 4/1.

Sent by Tony Vertrees | 2:46 PM | 4-2-2008

Obviously an April fool's joke.

Sent by patrick | 2:47 PM | 4-2-2008

I would like to know the amount of time these kids spend with video games, and television. What we let our children do and see in the media is disturbing to them. They have a hard time seeing the difference between whats real and what is not. On tv and video games we kill and then the characters come back to life. Very confusing.
I am a mom of a home schooled 5th grader.

Sent by Jennifer in Fresno | 2:48 PM | 4-2-2008

I really want to know who's asking whether or not what these kids were doing is justified. I know it sounds horrible, but something must have driven kids this age to behave this way. They must not feel as though they can trust their parents or other people at the school. Kids who feel they have no other choice will always elect to defend themselves. It's human nature.

Sent by Greg Holkan | 2:49 PM | 4-2-2008

Okay, now you're getting to the crux of the matter.

Of course this behavior is not typical of children with LD, but it must be factored in. The public--and even many schools--just don't understand the related brain deficits in empathy, anger, etc.

Many of these children do not belong in mainstream schools, but their parents often insist upon it. And the parents often have disorders of their own. Consider the genetics.

Sent by Gina Pera | 2:49 PM | 4-2-2008

As a food service director (lunch lady) in a small rural school, I have consistently observed children whose learned lack of respect for all things school related, and they learn it at home, leaves me sadly unsurprised at this particular turn of events.

Sent by Robyn Bertelsen | 2:53 PM | 4-2-2008

Just listening on my car radio. Are these children special ed or ADD/ADHD. In Arkansas children with ADD/ADHD can have classroom modifications but they are not classified as spec. ed. I would think this is true throughout the US.

Sent by Sue Buffalo | 2:54 PM | 4-2-2008

As a teacher, I have always wondered how parents can expect their children to learn math with approximately 200 minutes a week spent on it at school - but they don't expect them to learn violence with untold hours spent on it by way of tv and video and Internet and...

Sent by Nancy Skalla | 2:54 PM | 4-2-2008

The challenge of these students goes far beyond their labeled learning disabilities. What kind of school environment is this school? Is the staff as diverse as the students? I find it difficult that a single incident moved these students to commit such an act. The students' emotional state I would guess is a build up of how they are treated in school over time. I have kids ranging in K -7th grades and I am also completing my degree to become a teacher and find that many public schools are run as if they are prisons with a complete lack of respect to the students themselves in effort to totally control students in a disrespectful way. Teachers tend to have an adult expectation of children particularly children of color when use harsh discipline rather than constructive redirection and the teachers face rebellion. It is a complex problem that is in our schools in how students are treated but the question becomes do we want school environments to mimic prisons or do we want schools to be more of positive social interaction where giving respect is learned and promoted.

Sent by Kevin Rice | 2:56 PM | 4-2-2008

When I was in middle school I made a film in which we killed all of our teachers. We actually got the teachers to be in it. I think this was actually the best outlet for our frustration with school.

Sent by Aidan | 2:57 PM | 4-2-2008

as a clinical social worker, i know full well that the issue of 'transference' can and does happen between teachers and kids with behavior difficulties. The punishment cycle is a slippery slope. I'm not at all defending what those kids were planning, but a I have to point out that kids like this DO crave a loving and supportive relationship in general. I agree with the callers who wanted to hear more about the relationship that teacher was promoting with the kids.

Sent by jeff | 3:00 PM | 4-2-2008

Building on the last callers comments, could this have to do with lack of stimulation for students? And sure, maybe the scolding was the most recent incident, but as long as we are apparently speculating with little or no background, could that have been a last straw type situation?

Speaking of speculation, I expect better of npr that to participate in nancy grace type speculation with no basis in reality or factual underpinning. If we don't know any of the facts maybe we shouldn't be talking about it.

Sent by Tony Carton | 3:00 PM | 4-2-2008

I know this comment will anger many people: but, why is no one asking what about the teacher caused so many children to plot against her? If one or two were involved I can understand you all just looking at the kids. But when so many work together? Is anyone going to ask what the teacher did to foster such anger with the kids?

Sent by Kevin | 3:07 PM | 4-2-2008

I just finished listening to the Talk of the Nation broadcast on this subject and was appalled by a caller who suggested that these children might have somehow been justified by the possibility they were abused by this teacher. Now I am not naive and realize that teachers are capable of abusive behavior toward children, but what kind of society do we live in that teaches children that this is the appropriate way to respond and deal with anger? Perhaps they had no recourse: broken families, uncaring administration, but the larger issue is how they chose to cope with their situation. A sad, sad commentary on our society.

Sent by Anne Assante | 3:09 PM | 4-2-2008

I am shocked that your interviewed labeled these kids as having ADHD and ADD. Special Ed is a federally mandated program. Under the guidelines kids with ADHD and ADD DO NOT qualify for special ed services. Kids have to have other learning disabilites to get special ed services. They start at age 4 and end at age 21. Kids with ADHD and ADD get whats called a 504 plan, also federally mandated. This is not at all special education. Please get a better "Expert" next time.

Sent by Susan Breon | 3:09 PM | 4-2-2008

This screams April Fools Joke, has anyone actually fact checked this? All info seems to be 2nd hand.
As one of the generation of video game consumers since I was 13 in 1990, I am always amazed at how they are automatically scapegoated. Go look at the FBI crime stats during the rise of the video game, the number of crimes goes down, not up. All that has happened are the fewer events are turned into spectacle. Video game consumption is ubiquitous and corollaries are easy to make, but not any causal relationships.

As for how can parents expect learning of beneficial things? They PARENT, they spend the time to work with their children so the children learn how to be part of society. The ultimate responsibility for how a child turns out is the parents. I am very grateful to my parents for working with me to make me turn out how I did.

Sent by Will | 3:11 PM | 4-2-2008

This is an adult-caused problem, more than one created by children. What I have witnessed in many public schools is a behavioral program of "good choice" and "bad choice," emphasizing that the child has a choice as to how they can behave. How about "right" and "wrong," emphasizing that the child does not have a choice, and that they are expected to do what is right, end of story? I think we are in an era where many adults have abdicated their responsibilities towards raising children. That these children were in a special behavioral group is not an excuse. 35 years ago, I assisted in a special-ed class. We never saw such shocking and criminal behavior in this age group. I don't think that this is because the children have changed, but because many adults have stopped doing their job.

Sent by Margaret | 3:14 PM | 4-2-2008

Brava! to Shava (?) from MA (?) the last caller for pointing out the white elephant! We have NO IDEA what the TEACHER's role is in this! Perhaps she threatened the children on a regular basis, perhaps she abused them psychologically. Please, I am in NO WAY excusing the behavior of these obviously deeply troubled children (and NO, their troubles are not directly related to their educational diagnosis), but really, it's very possible that the entire bureaucracy ignored grown-up bad behavior. I speak from personal experience: I had a VERY abusive 3rd grade warden named Miss Wernle, and she terrorized us. Then again, my daughter's 3rd grade teacher was also an emotional wreck and not ready to take on very a class of bright, energetic, but highly difficult kiddos. She too abused the children regularly enough that she was asked not to return for the following school year. Please, our society is pointing way too many fingers, when we should be trying to learn something from this near-miss.
k.e. st. louis

Sent by k.e. | 3:15 PM | 4-2-2008

I think that the "usual suspects" are only a portion of the problem. There is definitely a saturation of violence in video games and TV, but I think whats really missing are adults to check the ratings before allowing a child to play or view these things, and also to put the violence that they do see into perspective. When I was about 8 years old, my Dad took the part of Jonathan in the play "Arsenic and Old Lace." As a young child, the humor of the play was lost on me, but the fact that my father was(very convincingly) pretending to be an ill tempered serial killer wasn't. After the play, my mother made it a point to take me back stage and talk to my dad before he removed his costume or makeup to solidify in my mind that the person on stage was still, in fact, my father.

I'm not going to suggest that all parents take up acting, but I think introducing children to the theater might be a good way to open the conversation about reality vs. media. Especially since seeing a play will often provide an opportunity for a child to meet the actors out of the context of the stage.

Sent by Sam Clark | 3:17 PM | 4-2-2008

I wish that you had taken on this particular story when you had had all the facts involved. Your expert is really no expert if the children had a range of autistic spectrum disorders (ADD, ADHD, Aspergers, PPD, NVLD etc). School psychologists really don't understand ASDs. I first think you need to look at the teachers credentials, experience, and personality with the children. Then you need to look at the composite of types of children she had to work with and the amount of support she had with these kids. Sure, you can say that the video games, tv shows, ads, etc etc are a factor and they probably are. However, ASD children process their thoughts differently and interpret their experiences differently. I think they thought they were being treated unfairly by the teacher and they were exacting their justice for the act. This situation started at the beginning of the school year and not because one kid stood on a chair. This has been building for a long time.

I have a son who was diagnosed at 13 with Asperger's Syndrome. Because of the inability of the school district and county to provide a proper educational and therapeutic setting for him (this was due to not enough money available to really do the job at school) at school he is now at a private emotional growth boarding school that address his needs. He is doing tremendously well because of it.

Please get an expert on ASDs next time if you really want your listening audience to learn something. Afterall, these kids are 1:150 births. So be prepared!

Sent by Ann Pianetta | 3:25 PM | 4-2-2008

Many of the comments offered today reflect the exact reason why I believe our schools are not as successful as they could be.
As a nation, we are SO QUICK to protect our children (and ourselves) from feelings of guilt and the consequences of bad behavior. The result is children who are incapable of handling even the slightest critique. Presumably, one of the third graders had been reprimanded for standing on his or her chair. Clearly, this is a child who does not understand that it is REASONABLE to be scolded for behaving in a way that is distracting to the rest of the students in the class.
I found in my own career as a teacher that roughly half of the parents I spoke with were more upset at me for administering reasonable consequences for their child's poor behavior than at their child for behaving badly in the first place.
As parents, we need to get a clue. We are not doing our kids any favors by making them think that the poor decisions they make are invariably someone else's fault or that the consequnces they receive are unfair. Our schools cannot be the stimulating, safe places they should be if there are adults unwilling to lovingly discipline the children in their care.

Sent by Jennifer Canal | 3:25 PM | 4-2-2008

How is it possible that we have failed our children so miserably that a group of eight-to-ten year olds could come up with a murderous plot like this? Is this really just the failure of a few parents and a rural school system in Georgia, or have we as a nation failed to pass a good sense of morality and behavior to our children?

Sent by Eric | 3:31 PM | 4-2-2008

Ok.. it looks legit (not an April Fool's joke). You can check out the front page stories for the last week on the topic on the local newspaper (The Waycross Journal-Herald) at

Sent by patrick | 3:33 PM | 4-2-2008

The root cause for any child that does not recognize reality from fantasy is the family, the community and society as a whole. It begins at the home with lack of respect within the home and then no respect is shown to authority figures.

Sent by Duane Meinen | 4:52 PM | 4-2-2008

Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) have problems self-regulating their emotions. They do not process their experiences necessarily the same way normal kids do. Emotionally they may be 3 years younger than their physical age, which would make these kids 6 years old. Now, doesn't that age make you think that they really didn't know the true consequence of their actions? Also, many of ASD children can't generalize from one situation to another in order to learn the "lesson" of what they did wrong. A therapist has to help them process what happened. Finally, environment is important as many ASD kids have sensory integration problems (things feel funny, have hypersonic hearing, can't stand to touch certain items, like glue) so they are distracted by those things and cannot focus on what the teacher wants. These are little kids who really need extra understanding from the adults.

Public schools really cannot meet the demands that ASD kids or any Special Ed kid needs in order to grow up to be aproductive citizen. There is no therapeutic component in public schools. Public schools can barely meet the demands of normal students. They are just cheaper to educate.

Sent by Ann Pianetta | 4:58 PM | 4-2-2008

Your last caller today did what too often happens in today's society: blame, or at least question, the victim. Even if the teacher were Attila's wife, there are other avenues to address that problem.
Dealing directly with issues that affect you is a great lesson for us all, but violence is NEVER an appropriate remedy.
As a teacher, I see far too often parents who want to justify/excuse the bad behavior of their child on the RESPONSE of an adult/teacher to the child's initial bad behavior.
What happened to the days when parents said, "I love you, but you really messed up. You'll have to deal w/ some consequences and I'll be there if you need any support. I hope you learn from this experience, but whether you do or don't, I'll still love you. But part of growing up is taking responsibility for you actions, bad or good, and learning from them is the best way."
We should teach our children to APOLOGIZE, rather than rationalize. I know the pride of some is hurt by having to say, "I'm sorry," but many more suffer whenever someone believes that hurting someone else is justified.

Sent by michael gordy, middle school teacher (28 years) | 5:35 PM | 4-2-2008

At my daughter's middle school's School Advisory Council meeting this passed March, I addressed the council with a soapbox speech about how our pubic schools are inundated with products of societal abuses that make the process of educating America's youth a challenge! Societal abuses are: parents with low education; parents demonstrating low or lax parenting skills; families living in inadequate housing; parents not making adequate wages to raise a family; families that cannot afford health care or child care; parents who are in need of help for mental, stress, health and financial related issues; and family residential areas that are environmentally toxic and provide no safe and clean recreational area for families--let alone the children. And the list goes on. Therefore, the students of today, a good number our U.S. children, go to school with huge suitcases of existing challenges that our "tied and gagged" (pun intended!) teachers are supposed to ameliorate and prayerfully educate the children while being held accountalbe for test scores all at the same time! So, the present shocker of the 3rd graders' premeditated intentions for their teacher in Waycross, Georgia, is no shocker at all! Remember what happened in South Florida, where a middle school boy was stabbed to death in a school's boys bathroom by his best friend over some jewelry? Or how about the 14 year old, also in South Florida, who shot his well-liked teacher during school hours at the end of the school year just a few years ago? The television news program, 60 Minutes' reported about a teacher who lived to tell how he was badly bludgeoned by a student with a baseball bat for trying to break up a fight. Again and again teachers are put in dangerous situations without protection or recourse. As society keeps pumping out "children with baggages", America's public schools will need more help to handle this sad state of our nation's children--That's if our policy makers set priorities to help America's children.

I believe that parents must take ownership of raising their children regardless of the societal abuses and indulgences. Parents and children must face the consequences for their actions (and inactions) especially concerning school related matters. However, there are abuses that stem from the school side as well.

For the most part, most teachers and principals are dedicated, well intentioned, and hard working folks. However, there are a number of educators and principals who should seriously reconsider their career paths. Administrators and teachers alike can provoke troubled school experiences and incidents by their lack of vision and purpose involving student matters. Educators who are inflexible, intolerant and disrespectful of diversity, teach in one mode (mainly rote learning), unfair or dislplays specific favoritisms, provides no feedback or maintains accountable and accurate grading of student progress are all considered "abuses of the educational systems". Is the case of the Waycross, Georgia, 3rd grade teacher, was he or she one of these types of teachers? Did she or he provoke the students to conjure up this heinous act by displaying and demonstrating unethical or unprofessional traits? Both sides of the Waycross, Georgia incident need to be thoroughly investigated!

Sent by K Mohammed | 6:04 PM | 4-2-2008

One caller's comment re: the possible behaviour of the teacher really hits home! My son (ADD, gifted, now Bi-Polar) was quietly targeted by his 3rd grade teacher, adding lasting problems to his already difficult life. I did not become wise to the situation until it was too late! Most teachers are caring, but a few are a problem! My husband has taught 1st thru 6th and now has 4th grade. It is entirely possible for students at that age to become organized and violent!!! He teaches in the inner city and has witnessed arrests in his classroom and others in this very same age group! The plan those students tried to initiate should not be dismissed as a mischievious prank!

Sent by Sheila Scotti | 6:55 PM | 4-2-2008

There is a very serious trend that is going on in the United States. Violence is skyrocketing, and looking to superficial sources will miss the obvious thing that is staring us all in the face, the alienation inherent in American society, the otherness that we feel within our own institutions. Nowhere is this felt more strongly than in special-ed classrooms geared towards ad-hd. The youth of this day won't take it like we've been conditioned to. Unfortunately, they aren't educated and don't have any sources of inspiration for how to break out of the shackles of institutions that dehumanize us except for violence.

Sent by David Flexer | 7:12 PM | 4-2-2008

I am reading some of these comments and I am appalled! How on earth can some of you possibly blame the victim, who happens to be the teacher, for this plot against her? Are some of you actually saying that it was unreasonable for her to scold a child for standing on a chair? If you are over the age of 30, you grew up in a time when children respected their teachers and would never have even thought to act so outrageously. The problem is the parents who spoil their children, do not set boundaries, are afraid to say no to their kids, buy them everything they want and let them watch too much TV. I am a teacher and have been yelled at by parents who were unhappy with a grade their student earned in my course. I use the word earn because good grades are something one has to work for. Once I even had a parent literally scream at me because the student received a D on the paper that SHE wrote! I asked her if she read the directions and the rubric for the assignment and she admittedly said no she hadn't. What are we teaching our children if we do their work for them? Parents today are even calling college professors about lower than expected grades and feel that since they are paying for college, their child should automatically pass with flying colors. I wonder how many of those parents are aware that their "precious darlings" are going to keg parties, using drugs, skipping classes, buying papers and not doing their homework? It's time as a society and as parents we take responsibility for our failures and stop blaming the over-worked and under-paid teachers.

Sent by Kira | 10:26 AM | 4-3-2008

It does not matter if they are "learning disabled" or not. Some of my brightest students had and have learning disabilities. It does not mean they do not know right from wrong.

What are we teaching these and all other children who hear this story if there are no repercussions for their actions? Saying that children do not understand this seriously underestimates how savvy children are today.

And where were the parents of these children? Why was a child allowed to take handcuffs to school? Why was a child allowed to take a steak knife to school?

Put the problem back where it belongs - in the hands of the parents. If they can't handle their own children, what makes them think anyone else can?

Sent by Joe | 12:10 PM | 4-3-2008

After listening to your story about the third grade class in GA, I as disturbed but after reading the comments posted by your listeners, I am speechless. I am unclear as to how anyone can think plotting to kill another human can ever be justified. We as a nation act as if we are surprised each time there is a school shooting but then we don???t recognize that amoral behavior can reveal its self in the youngest of society.

Sent by norma | 12:38 PM | 4-3-2008

Where were the parents for these kids? What were they doing when their children were plotting to harm their teacher? These same questions were asked with Columbine and of course the kids had no supervision. Blaming the teacher is pointless because they have now become glorified babysitters for kids. Why didn't the children complain to their parents if they were being treated so poorly? Teachers are no more or less guilty than the children they get from lazy, uninterested parents. Blaming the teachers instead of teaching them coping mechanisms and providing support (parents side with their children and often yell at instructors showing no respect) will continue to drive them away.
Being scolded for standing on a chair doesn't describe the actual event. Was the child giving her the finger? Was the child screaming like an animal? Were they throwing things?
My mother deals with kids like this and sees no point in being a teacher anymore. Parents aren't responsible and don't care about their kids nowadays. The majority they deal with come from broken homes with one parent and stories like these will become more common, making it far more difficult to hire teachers. These children represent the failure of their parents and crippled public schools. It's disturbing, but sadly, not surprising that this happened. What bothers me more is that these children are mentally handicapped and yet understood the consequences of their actions enough to carry out a murder/mutilation.
The fact they planned this so far ahead shows they are sociopathic as well. They should not be in public schools and better testing for learning disabilities, etc. should be made mandatory for any child in school. Kids slip through cracks because no one is looking to begin with. We are treating the future leaders of this country like cattle and now it's starting to look like Animal Farm.

Sent by Sarah Adkins | 1:09 PM | 4-3-2008

I was disapointed in your expert's failure to recognize that third and forth grade is a time of powerful role play coupled with a overwhelming sence of fairness. You only need look into the "Battle of the Books" suggested reading or classical childrens lit to fing examples of kids rising up against oppressive adults and conquering them. I always thought that Jim Hawkins was a forth grader since I read "Treasure Island" in the third grade.

I am relieved that the teacher in question emerged un-wounded, I won't say unharmed. Though I would definatly want to examin her relationship to the class as a whole and verify whether the children had sought remidy from oppression in the past. If they had complained in the past and were rebuffed it would follow that they felt that vigilante justice was there only recourse. Civil discourse requires justice, when justice is denied civilization breaks down.

ON a different front, Over-worked and under-paid is very relative term. Funeral Directors make less than teachers anual pay and work far harder. Funeral Directors are rutinly on call at night and can rarely get more than one week vacation at a time "If I don't need you for two weeks I don't need you." No teacher I have ever met would trade drycleaning bills with a Funeral Director/ Embalmer. There are many other examples of others who work far harder than teachers and make much less. Banktellers, Loan officers concrete finishers all make less than teachers anually much less than hourly since teachers have so much time off to either work a second job or play.

Too many teachers take up the trade because they are afraid of blisters, glorify their own childhood, want summers to play etc. They are a spoiled class.

Sent by Scott L. Sammons | 3:13 PM | 4-3-2008

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