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Spot the Problem

Since the invention of school, educators have had the un-glorified task of teaching young children, while at the same time maintaining order by invoking discipline. In the “olden” days, educators were against “sparing the rod and spoiling the child.”  A good swish of the switch across the palm would generally suffice to quell any rebellious behavior in a child. Later, the rap of a ruler against the same palm worked wonders for order in the classroom. A good paddling across the bottom never hurt either.
Corporal punishment in school went the way of the dodo after a time. The United States became a litigious society, suing over a stinging swipe at school on said palm or bottom. So what was an educator to do?  How would a school solve the problem of the unruly student?
For a while, the word “detention” caused a flurry of silence or stillness. “You’d better behave or I’ll give you detention,” was a common threat in class. Detention meant you missed football or cheerleading practice. And for those “problem” students, detention gave them notoriety. “Stay away from them, they’re always in detention.”  And detention became either a scary thing for those who hardly got in trouble, or a mark of honor for those who craved the notoriety.
Society still uses detention today and in-school suspension and expulsion. Do they work?  Critics vary in opinion. “Detention is too much of a mark of honor,”  ”Detention works,” “Detention doesn’t work.”  Expulsion?  “What’s a child to do when he or she is kicked out of every school in the county?”  “We should go back to the days of the switch.”
Or we should use SPOT. The dog?  No, S-P-O-TShow Respect, Practice Self Control, Own  Your Actions and Think Safe—the mantra of one elementary school in North Carolina (it’s the one I know; and for all I know, this could be the mantra of all the elementary schools in the county)—the place where my children go to school. In theory SPOT sounds really great. Children are taught these valuable rules and are taught to be proud of their actions; they are taught to be responsible for themselves, to love the school, and to love learning.
Okay, back up a little. The first I heard of SPOT was when my son and daughter came home and talked about how they had to march single file through the hall with their voices at zero level. What?  March, right side, zero voice?  I had to stop them there and ask them what it meant. They answered with SPOT, and then like little automatons, they spouted off what each letter stood for. Like I said, it sounded good in theory.
I wasn’t too pleased with the marching or the repetition of the words. I wasn’t pleased with the fact that once the children got off of the bus, they were to march to class single file, they weren’t to pass anyone in line; they weren’t to talk. Their voice level had to be zero.
I went to school to check this out for myself. What I saw made my stomach turn. Little children were marching single file, and sometimes they had to slow their walk because a little kindergartner with small legs was “holding up the line” by walking slow. A sarcastic thought came to my head—all that was left was for them to be goose-stepping in the halls and Jewish kids would have to wear yellow Stars of David. Maybe I was going a little too far.
Using SPOT at school properly meant that sometimes the child would get rewarded by getting a ticket (like the ones you use for a raffle or at the county fair). I’d see the teachers standing in the hallway in the morning and at afternoon dismissal handing out tickets to those children they thought deserved it. The child would put the ticket into a pot, and if there name was chosen, they would be the “spotlight student” of the week or month or some other time interval. Enough tickets would guarantee a prize from the prize box. 
Did they have to live in a world where you couldn’t stop and talk to a friend in the hall on your way to class in the morning?  Where you couldn’t hug your brother or sister when you saw them in the hall because it was disruptive (don’t even get me started on that one; that’s another whole article)?  Where the sun had to be red and the flowers had to blue, and the grass absolutely had to be green?  At some point in these children’s future, they’ll be told to “think out of the box.”  Why are we nailing that box shut now?
Most parents agree with SPOT, and the discipline it created. I am not most parents.  I have taught my children to be creative, to let their inner spirits show, to color the dog purple, if that’s they want to do, because that’s what it means to express yourself. This whole SPOT thing was a cop-out. It was a way for teachers to exact discipline without making any real attempts. It was a way of control without any imagination, creativity or thought. It is one thing to want discipline and control during a lesson; but at lunchtime or recess or in the hallway, all of that nervous energy has to come out.
Come on administrators!  Every child is not the same. Every child cannot receive the same kind of discipline. Don’t quell the creativity. Let it out!  And SPOT the real problem.

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