IT'S hard to learn when someone else is creating a ruckus and monopolizing much of the teacher's time. Yet thousands of American schoolchildren have to put up with such circumstances. Polls of teachers and parents typically rank unruly students first among school problems.
Getting at this problem isn't easy. It's slow, step-by-step work, demanding lots of communication - including clearly set rules and consequences of breaking them - between young people, parents, and teachers. Family and moral values are deeply involved. Strengthening those has to be a personal goal for Americans, and not just a popular political exhortation.
What to do meantime? Expulsion is the common answer. But what about situations where the number of students expelled from schools is significant and the public is worried about having troubled kids roaming the streets instead of being educated?
An answer catching on in many parts of the country is "alternative" public schools for chronically disruptive students. In urban areas, particularly, such facilities often serve youngsters who have brought weapons to school. In all cases, the success of these programs depends on having committed, well-prepared teachers who can lead students back toward the learning mainstream. That requires an ability to see past a history of unacceptable behavior to untapped talents and intelligence.
Today's public schools must deal with a younger generation swayed by influences - from family deterioration to drugs to violent entertainment images - little known in the past.
Alternative schools and classrooms are a necessity. But the ultimate solution, which demands spiritual as well as financial resources, is to awaken in every child the innate desire to learn and to get along with others.