I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. Every classroom that I entered had the desks all in a straight row, facing the teacher. Order was kept in the room by the threat of going to the principal if said order was disrupted. If you were lucky, you could get detention (horrors!), but if you were one of the kids involved in any extracurricular activities, you were getting “licks.” For those of you who never had to go to the office, “licks” are the swats that you get with the paddle that hangs on the principal’s wall.
By the time I had gotten into school, “writing lines” was pretty much an extinct form of punishment. You know, “I will not throw spit balls. I will not throw spit balls.” Only you had to write it one hundred times. It’s a great way to work on penmanship. Doesn’t do much in the way of teaching a new behavior.
In many schools, there is a move toward a kinder type of guidance for children. It’s based on the idea that to extinguish an undesirable behavior, it should be replaced with a desirable one. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? There is more of a focus on teaching children how to function in society, rather than removing them from it. During school years, the classroom and school campus is their society—where they spend most of their time interacting with others and learning about social rules and cues. When a child displays an undesirable behavior, does it make sense to put them in a desk with nothing to look at but the wall and no one to talk with? How is that teaching them anything new?
This leads me to a recent punishment that was inflicted upon my oldest son. He is ten years old and in the fourth grade at a posh little private school. First, a little background about him. He is the almost perfect ten-year-old. He is handsome, smart, caring, thoughtful, and sweet. Everyone says so. I do know that he has the typical ten-year-old side, but with all that being said, he has never been in any trouble at school. Thus, the reason I was a little livid over this issue.
He had gathered his things, getting ready to move on to his next class, stacking his books, pencil box, etc., on his desk. When he went to his next class, he realized that his pencil box was missing, so back down the hall he went. He located his box on the bottom shelf of the overhead cart, right next to his desk. His teacher called him over and took his box. Took his box! She told him that for leaving his box in the room he was to write, “I will not leave my things in the room” one hundred times. Excuse me? He tried to explain that his box must have slid off the stack on his desk and fallen, but she wasn’t buying it. She said he had to have put it there. Again, let me remind you that he had never done anything like this before. And, it wasn’t like he defaced property, or injured someone.
So, here is my question: Why would he do that? And what in the world did writing sentences about his pencil box teach him? Never mind that he had study cards in his box that he needed for a quiz and had no extra pencils in his other classes.
Generally, I tell my children that they must follow the teacher’s rules. But this really got to me, and I told him that he didn’t have to write anything, that I was going to see the teacher. That really got him nervous. His father, my ex, even agreed with me! But over the next few days, when she did not return my calls, he went ahead and wrote the sentences so that he could get his box back. I never did get to talk to her about it. A little time passed, holidays emerged, and I ran out of time. If it happens again, you better bet I won’t be waiting for her to call me back. I mean, seriously, one hundred sentences? Is this Little House on the Prairie?
So here is my challenge to teachers, principals, and anyone else in authority over children. Use a little discretion. You know if a child has a habit of not being responsible, or making poor choices. This idea of “no tolerance” for breaking rules can get a bit out of hand. Oh, and use some positive, creative guidance! Make consequences connected to the behavior.
I don’t think writing lines is connected to anything.