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Discipline vs achievement

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Posted on Jan 13 2009
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[B]By STEPHEN B. SMITH[/B] [I]Special to the[/I] Saipan Tribune

Today’s school environment is a mix of old and new thinking. Old: discipline must be certain, effective, and strict. New: no child must be left behind and schools must be held accountable if such is not the case. How to meld these two realities is the question. Schools are caught in a Catch-22.

Fact, a student who has been suspended or expelled is going to react to the severity of the discipline in very negative ways. Fact, the data does not support the notion that strictly enforced disciplinary procedures enhance school achievement; actually the data indicates quite the opposite (J.E. Davis & Jordan 1994; Raffaele-Mendez 2003; Skiba and Rausch 2006). In my experience, once a child has been effectively kicked out of school, either temporarily or permanently, it is difficult if not impossible to get him back into the fold in any real sense. All we have gained is his eternal animosity. Oh, we might get him to eventually behave, but we may never again get him to care. In such cases we all lose.

Children are not small adults; they are children and only that. Neurologically they are incapable of fully rational thought processing (Gardner and Steinberg, 2005). The brain is a developmental organ. Unlike the heart or the thumb, it is not what it is going to be until adulthood. A young person of, say 15, has a well developed amygdala (emotions) but the frontal lobe of the brain (reasoning) is far less developed at that age. Put another way, these are among the primary reasons that young people are not held as accountable for their actions as are adults

In order to maximize achievement in our schools, our young people must be brought along slowly and with great caution. The feelings, the egos, as well as the minds of the young need to be cultivated, not cut off from the very sources of guidance and support that is so clearly essential to their development as students and citizens.

A suspended student does not sit at home and say to himself, “Gee, I shouldn’t have brought that betel nut to school; I’ll never do it again.” No, it is far more likely that he is going to be more determined than ever to dare the school to stop him again! A student who chronically misbehaves in class is doing so for a reason; disciplining him before understanding the “why” can only be counterproductive.

If it is the goal of our schools to educate and prepare our students to be competitive in the globalist world in which we live in. We absolutely must keep them in the classroom, not look to finding ways to exclude them so as to make our adult lives easier and less problematic.

It may be said that what I recommend here may be easier said than done, but such is not necessarily true. I have known very few students who, knowing they were respected and liked by the adults with whom they relate, act up intolerably or commit expellable acts. That then, in this writer’s view, is the solution: make certain that every student is valued, and appreciated, and yes, even loved and most problems will disappear.

Finally, I add this codicil; there are some acts that are beyond the scope of the schools to deal with. Behaviors that are actual criminal acts are not part of the thinking here, e.g., weapons, extreme violence, the like, these must and ought to be handled by the justice system. But, failing to be so classified, all other infractions need to be carefully looked at before taking extreme disciplinary action.

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[I] Stephen B. Smith is the Accreditation, Language Arts, and National Forensic League coordinator for the Public School System Central Office.[/I]

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