Traditional and “Innovative” Approaches to Student Discipline

Jan 10, 2019 by

Never say never. Well, hardly ever. Substitute “only as a last resort” when recommending for how long and under what circumstances students should be suspended from school for extreme violence or persistent disruption.

Physically banning a student from school and cutting him off from direct instruction sends the wrong message. Banishment is not an option. Sometimes , in fact, it is exactly what the kid wants. It enables them with the power to trigger a vacation at will. It also implicitly denigrates the value of education by making it disposable  and being exiled from the classroom encourages resentment.

Schools are not troubled. Students make them so. Nonetheless, by suspending its students, school administrators are acknowledging their own strategic and sometimes human failure. Still, despite a school’s failed efforts to deal with a student’s errant behavior, it is the student’s responsibility to practice self-control, and not the shame of adults in authority for not convincing them that it is worth their while. 

We must all learn the consequences of our conduct, for better or worse. It is part of growing up, or used to be.

Years ago, before “alternate learning centers”, “SAVE rooms” and “restorative justice” sessions, students would be thrown out, spend a week on the street as though they were feral, be entrusted with no expectation of work, and then return to school none the wiser and none the calmer.

However, there still are times when removing the student from the rest of the school community is absolutely justified. A staff developer once called this “antiseptically bouncing” and I’ve laughed at this kind of jargon ever since. But except for instances of criminality, the instances when traditional suspension is a viable option are few and far-between.

Our public schools are forced by senior administrators and politicians to abrogate their duty to penalize students, regardless of the severity of their deeds. Instead they apply pop-psychology, trendy nostrums, and impose restrictions on corrective action in order to engineer or fudge statistics that lend themselves to publicity stunts and illusions of improvement.

Indeed it is harder for a student to get suspended these days than to pass a chemistry regents exam.

Making it nearly impossible to suspend students allows the DOE to accurately claim that suspensions have been reduced, and certain people lap up the deceit and figure that schools have become more tranquil, tolerant and learning-friendly, because their methods of managing challenges is more enlightened.

Many cynical principles have gotten big bonuses based on this tall story.

No doubt many of our schools have sincerely tried to find and take the “high ground” in protecting students from cruel and unwarranted discipline. They do it out of ethical conviction rather than to placate their bosses who cover their butts by treating chancellor’s regulations like scripture.

But in some cases, the greater rigidity of some schools to uphold traditional decorum is preferable to allowing one child to obliterate the quality of the learning environment for everyone else.

Charter schools tend to be far too harsh and public schools too forgiving.  Has the “happy medium” gone out the door with the threat of Y2K when the millennium turned?

Infinite forbearance with mischief-making that rises to chronic mayhem is an unwholesome permissiveness that sends the wrong signal to all kids, including the perpetrator, who are in a formative developmental stage of understanding about life, making them victims of a confused recognition of right and wrong, cause and effect.

And it also makes some parents consider school choice alternatives where the  issue of student safety is not a political football. Public schools should take the best of traditional disciplinary practices and the best of innovative options, should as “restorative justice” and apply them in whatever proportions is suitable on a case-by-case basis.

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