Discipline, Part 7: Final Thoughts

PASS Parents and Friends —
The writer H.L. Mencken famously said. “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” As we complete our series on discipline, I feel like Mencken might have been talking about my own ideas with respect to discipline at the start of the discussion. I feel like I have learned a lot, and I hope you feel the same way. Thanks to Gina Stetter, Curt Hoover, Ken Sheck, and Jonathan Nateghi-Asli for your contributions.

There isn’t one singular solution to the discipline problems we face. The problems are too large and intractable for a singular solution. On the one hand, we are not going to simply suspend and expel our way to better behavior – unless we want to basically give up on educating large groups of our kids. At the same time, letting disruptive behavior continue in the classroom has a huge impact, not just on the children behaving disruptively, but on all children.

In e-mail replies and FB comments we heard a lot of interesting ideas: staffed in-school suspensions; making suspended and expelled students attend evening classes where they continue to study, but without access to their peers; bus monitors to enforce discipline on certain particularly troubled buses, and making kids serve detention outside of school hours. These ideas are all intriguing, but they have one other thing in common: they all cost money which SCPS doesn’t currently have. (Perhaps this is something to keep in mind as the School Board commences its consideration of next year’s budget.)

I particularly hope Gina’s post resonated with people – the kids are simply a reflection of society. They are ruder because we are ruder; they have drug issues because society has drug issues; they are more violent because society is more violent. Some of them are damaged because their families are broken, and some parents don’t know how to parent because they weren’t parented themselves. Some children bring trauma from conventional or sexual abuse, food insecurity, and anxiety about homelessness. Our teachers and principals are pulled between instruction and amateur social work.

One thing that I believe resonated across all the discussion: the most important ingredient in maintaining discipline is parental involvement, and not just by parents of children who face the biggest challenges. I’ll leave you where we started – talk to your kids, and listen to them. Talk to your kids’ teachers, and listen to them. Talk to other parents, and listen to them. There isn’t one solution, and the problem will never be solved entirely. But perhaps some informed educational policy solutions, along with parents taking a personal interest in the behavior of their children – even how “good” children respond to disruptive behavior – will give us enough micro-solutions to make the problem appreciably better. It starts with communication, and communication is the reason we created PASS.

Dan Walsh

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