Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

This week, I've spent a lot of time talking with other parents about discipline inside the classroom: when it makes sense and whether the "punishment" should fit the crime. I have enjoyed hearing other perspectives on this issue, as I think it's a really important part of the educational system that often gets pushed to the back burner.

For what it's worth, I don't have any answers. I'll tell you that up front. At my public school, we were often threatened with a paddling when we missed up. While I'm not an advocate for corporal punishment at all, I will say that it did work. We had the fear of God put in us from those teachers. Similarly, my friends who attended Catholic school don't remember the nuns with rulers fondly but do acknowledge that they were scared to screw up.

This is in clear contrast to my daughter's experience at private school. It was a Quaker school, so clearly there was no corporal punishment (a good thing). And initially, I was really impressed by the conflict resolution at the school - the "talking it out" stick is a great way to get kids to express themselves and talk through conflicts rather than escalate them. But, I quickly learned, that really doesn't prepare them for life outside of the school. My friend, a teacher in a suburban school outside of Philadelphia, agrees. The reality is that, as great an environment as the private school was for my daughter in terms of building some of her skill sets, it really didn't prepare her for life outside of private school: not at the art center in Center City; not at language classes; and not at swimming. It especially didn't prepare her for public school in Philadelphia.

My biggest disappointment this year with public school has been what I consider to be an inconsistent and uneven approach to discipline. Last year, my daughter's teacher had a very similar approach to discipline as me: I feel that, as much as possible, the punishment should be related to the "crime." So, when my daughter's teacher informed me that my daughter had been rude to another teacher, I promptly made her write an apology note - and she had to deliver it to the teacher. I wanted her to learn that her actions (being rude) had an effect on another person (the other teacher) and that she had to acknowledge that action (hence, the note). It worked. To be honest, my daughter isn't good with strangers - and the whole thing kind of freaked her out. But in a good way.

This year, however, disciplinary actions have not been consistent with the "crime." My daughter has been sent to the equivalent of detention - for 2nd graders - for not completing a spelling assignment and for failing to write down the name of a book that she read on her reading list. I'm not sure that I think these are appropriate responses to failing to complete homework. What kind of lesson is she learning from that punishment? Why not make her do it over? Or write an extra homework assignment? I think she would learn more from those punishments. Sitting in detention just gives her more time to stew - there's no real lesson learned.

To be fair, she's a good kid and consistently scores among the top in her class. And I feel very strongly that she has to do what she's told in class and complete her assignments on time. So, she doesn't get a free pass. But this "one size fits all" scheme of punishments this year isn't doing her any favors. I don't want her to be one of those kids who gets pegged as a bad kid early because she's scattered (and yes, as her mom, I can tell you that she's a bunch of wonderful things - but also scattered). I know that public school teachers can sometimes be so overwhelmed that this approach of leveling the same punishment for all offenses is easy - but the easy road isn't what's always best for the kids.

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