Is student discipline as simple as suspension? What alternative solutions are there to the problem of misbehaving students?
In the midst of escalating violence in our schools, many adults are calling on authorities to get tough with young trouble makers before their actions result in the type of incidents recently seen in Little Rock,Arkansas, Littleton, Colorado, and Springfield, Oregon.
“Zero tolerance!” “Kick them out!” “Get rid of them before they ruin things for the rest of the kids!” These are popular sentiments heard all around us.
In theory, banishing the problem before it starts sounds like a good idea. If,the first time a young person lost his temper and hit a fellow classmate on the playground, he was suspended from school, we wouldn’t have to worry about him,(or her), again--or would we? Is suspension really the solution?
True, suspending the culprit does make things more peaceful in the immediate area where the offense took place, thereby giving us a sense that the problem has been solved. And, perhaps it has been, temporarily at least. Unfortunately, the problem, too often, has merely been postponed. And, as with many postponed problems, is likely to grow, becoming more difficult than ever to solve when it pops up again, and you can bank on it, it will pop up again. Suspension is seldom the answer, and may lead to even more serious problems in the end.
A major problem caused by indiscriminate suspension is that of allowing already “at-risk” students to get even further behind. Most, although not all, students who consistently display anti-social behaviors are having trouble academically. If you send them home for a scuffle on the playground or a food fight in the cafeteria, they miss out on even more of the instruction they so desperately need.
Another problem with suspension is that you are simply moving misbehavior from school property to public property. Suspended students, sent home, seldom go there, and, when they do, seldom stay there. Many, with no supervision at home, are then free to roam wherever they choose, causing problems all over town.
Finally, even the suspended student who does spend the suspension time at home, under the watchful eye of a concerned parent, has, in a sense, been rewarded for his misbehavior with a vacation from school and, in many cases, the admiration of his friends.
This author is not advocating that the school put up with anything misbehaving students can dish out. Instead, I would like to propose several alternatives to suspension.
1. Have a minimum number of rules for students to follow; be sure every student knows those rules; and be consistent in enforcing them. (No one likes to find he has broken a rule he never knew existed, or feel that he got punished for doing something other people get away with all the time.)
2. Remove the offending student from the situation rather than from the school. (If discipline is called for, make it constructive. Helping the janitor wash windows used to be a great deterrent. It still should be. A time-out in the corner may work for some children but just gives others time to plot revenge.)
3. Discuss the inappropriate behavior with the student. Simply berating him for his misbehavior accomplishes little. He already knows he is in the wrong. (Ask him to come up with several more acceptable ways he could have dealt with the situation.)
4. Stress the need for co-operation with others.(Try to impress him with the idea that school is a training ground for life and that if he learns to deal properly with people here, he will be able to live a more successful adult life.)
Such simplistic ideas are not going to change life dramatically in the schools of America, but they can help ease smaller conflicts among ordinary kids. For kids that still insist on battling the establishment every day of their lives, there are other alternatives.
Since a large proportion of behavior problem are caused by students who are struggling academically, tutoring is an excellent way to help them. They can enroll in after school or Saturday classes without disrupting their regular school schedule at all. Many schools will arrange for the student to leave an hour or two early each afternoon for such special help.Countless behavior problems are solved every year when students are finally able to work at the same academic level as their peers.
Transferring the student who cannot cope in an ordinary school setting to an alternative school where his particular needs and interests are being met. This is much better than throwing him out of the school system where his choice of friends will be limited to drug users, thieves, etc. He will soon follow their lead.
Eugene, Oregon, this year is opening a federally granted “Turnaround School” for chronically disruptive or suspended students. Their goal is to be a transition school serving some 75-100 middle school and high school youth from the area who have been expelled, at risk of expulsion, disruptive, or at risk of dropping out. Some of the students will be referred from the juvenile detention center or mental health placements. It will be interesting to follow up in a year or two and see what has been achieved with these kids. Maybe, with a few good examples like this to show us the way, there will eventually be a “Second Chance” school in every community in America.
Tags: Pedagogics Education