The media obsession with ‘bad kids’

Think twice about those narrowly reported ‘student misbehavior’ stories. They can do a lot of unintended harm.

By Cafeteria Duty


If you’re under the impression from reading news coverage that schools have become zones of anarchy this year, I don’t blame you.

A recent headline from the U.S. News and World Report informs us that As Students Return to School, So Does School Violence.

The Washington Post published a similar headline: Back to school has brought guns, fighting, and — brace yourself, people — acting out.

Here’s Chalkbeat: Stress and short tempers: Schools struggle with behavior as students return.

The list of news outlets covering the story goes on and on, including Education Week, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times.

Add to this mix the “devious licks” TikTok trend, countless local news stories about student fights, tantrums at school board meetings, and a record-breaking year for school shootings, and who could deny our schools have become Thunderdomes?

This year’s been rough, no doubt. On most days, I leave school dreaming about a drab office job where the most stimulating part of my day is lunch with coworkers.

This year’s been rough, no doubt. But news stories about widespread student unrest aren’t just overblown — they’re odious.

Here are 3 reasons why.

Reason 1: Weak evidence and overgeneralization.

First and foremost, the evidence behind the claims that schools are wracked by violence is weak.

Much of it relies on a form of deceptive, blanket attribution. You see it all over:

“School districts across the U.S. say…”

“Teachers and school administrators across the country say…”

“Multiple schools in Southern California and elsewhere have reported…”

“Teachers are reporting…”

“All over the country, teachers and school districts are reporting…”

“Schools across the country say…”.

Obviously, some generalizing is necessary. But it’s a problem when these stories can only substantiate their broad claims with cherry-picked incidents from across the country.