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School Discipline
Photo: Elias Minasi
A friend of mine happened to be looking in on her fourth-grade son’s class one day when he talked back to his teacher. She confined him to their house for a week and made him write a one-page, single-spaced letter of apology. He actually had to write three, because Mom required that the letter sound sincere and contain no spelling or grammatical errors.

Now, that’s my kind of mom!

The teacher called to thank my friend, but also happened to mention that in her school teachers aren’t allowed to make children write letters of apology to other children they’ve wronged. Seems a child might feel “punished” and “humiliated” by having to write such an epistle. Furthermore, boys don’t like to write, and the feeling is that using writing as a punishment will cause boys to hate it even more.

Funny, I’m a writer who thinks of writing as recreation, yet on several occasions when I was a child, I was required to write a letter of apology to someone.

Even though “positive discipline”—i.e., rewarding good behavior and all but ignoring bad behavior—has proven to be bankrupt, most public schools still embrace it. But the problem is not just teacher training. Administrators who absolutely know that positive discipline doesn’t work require that it be used to the exclusion of punishment for the simple reason that it keeps parents off their backs and, by extension, lawyers out of their offices.

Punishment Prohibited

Thus, even teachers who know that misbehavior is best dealt with by punishing the culprit are prohibited from using punishment because of the outraged parent and/or litigation factor. Thus, the problem is not teachers, their trainers, or their administrators. It’s parents who become apoplectic when their very own immaculate children are punished at school for anything at all.

Once upon a time, when a child misbehaved in school, he or she faced the possibility of being punished by four people on four separate occasions: his teacher, his principal, his mother when he arrived home and finally, the most dreaded of all, his father.

In those days, when a teacher called a parent and reported misbehavior, the parent accepted the teacher’s version of the story pretty much without question. In many cases, the child was not even allowed to offer up a defense. I’m a member of that generation, and if statistics are any indicator, this was anything but bad for us. Since the mid-1960s, when the parenting tide in America began to turn away from traditionalism toward psychological correctness, every indicator of positive mental health in children has declined, and significantly so.

As permissiveness took root and blossomed, parents became more concerned about their kids’ self-esteem than their kids’ behavior. Supposedly “liberated” moms went to work, came home feeling guilty, and began letting their kids walk all over them. Dads let themselves be brainwashed into believing that traditional fatherhood was bad and became “sensitive” dads who substituted talk for discipline.

People—otherwise rational adults—began thinking that children had “rights.” Schools began purveying “therapeutic” education, which means education that makes a child feel good even if he isn’t learning a thing. And in no time at all, as my mother would put it, “everything went to (a certain very hot, underground place) in a handbasket.”

Personally, I think it’s time every parent in America wrote their child’s teacher a not of apology. That would, after all, be a fitting way to begin this new school year.

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By John Rosemond. Reprinted with persmission from Signs of the Times, September 2006. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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