Middle School Punishment Culture

Syracuse schools are trying to diffuse behavior issues rather than just punish the students.  They are doing it in response to racial disparity of punishment, but the solution will help all the students.  Story from ThinkProgress.

In middle school, as my oldest kindly phrased it “they want to keep us safe from everything, so we can’t do anything.”  My younger son was less generous in his characterization of middle school administration as “fascist Nazis.”  In reality, they described the same culture of forced acquiescence.

In Syracuse, they are trying to teach the kids to resolve their issues in socially acceptable ways without punishment being the first action.  They are also doing this in elementary school:

…a student, Josh, burst into the room. After the principal told him to close the door and knock, he came back in and said another student, Nathan, “was talking about my mom.”

“Nathan doesn’t know your mom and I will follow up with up him,” Reeve-Larham said.

“I’m going to punch him in the face!” Josh yelled, on the verge of crying.

“You’re not going to punch him in the face,” she said calmly before Josh slammed the door.

Although it may seem worrisome that one student said he wanted to hit another, the student only went to the principal’s office because she built a relationship with him and he trusts her. Josh anticipated that he would be angry and went to an adult for help.

My son did this in 8th grade.  The response from the vice principal was, “Well, now we know you have a problem with him so if there is any issue between the two of you we will know it’s your fault.”  That’s the difference between punishment culture and what Syracuse is calling “restorative practices.”

Not surprisingly, the middle school teachers are not at all happy with this new system, as they can no longer just send a kid away based on any infraction and not have to see them until (at least) the next day.  They report feeling less safe, and feeling that the students no longer face consequences for misbehavior.  That’s understandable, because it’s true, at least somewhat.

There’s a lot more to this, click the link.


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