Friday, May 9, 2008

What Happens When All Punishments Fail?

I still intend to offer more comments on the teacher survey in addition to some other issues, but this post on the Fordham Institute's blog caught my eye. In it, Jeff Kuhner rightfully condemns the actions of a Vice Principal who punished students by making them eat while sitting on the floor (which, by the way, I don't think means the food was actually on the floor).

While it's probably not the end of the world, the punishment was clearly over the line and the Vice Principal should've known better.

What really caught my eye, however, was Kuhner's claim that we don't need to resort to these types of punishments b/c we have other options that are "tried and true," including calling home, detention, suspension, and expulsion. This raises two questions for me:

1.) Are we really sure that these methods work?

2.) What happens when they don't?

I'm under the distinct impression that most schools don't have to worry too much about the latter -- the "tried and true" methods certainly seemed to do the trick in the middle-class public schools I attended -- but I've seen schools where there seems to be no answer to #2.

What happens when these methods don't work? A teacher calls home . . . the behavior continues. A student is given detention . . . the behavior continues. A student is suspended . . . the behavior continues. Now what? Should the student be expelled? Moved to another school? Receive a psychological evaluation? Should we just fail them and hope they drop out?

I'm not sure what the answer is or, for that matter, that there is an easy answer. But I know that teachers and administrators across the country face this dilemma on a daily basis. Inhumane treatment is no solution, but I don't envy their position.

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