When my husband Steve was in middle school he got caught one
day sneaking off campus. The principal later called him to the
office on the intercom. Punishment, a paddling, was in waiting
and everyone knew it, so the students responded with an “ooooohh!”
This otherwise good student was suddenly famous. In one
stroke of brilliance, and in one good spanking, he achieved what
every other kid in his Georgia school sought — coolness — the
very opposite of the school’s intent.
Gone, mostly, are the days of paddling — just as well, it
didn’t seem to work anyway – replaced by more… prosaic
Nowadays, schools often use the dreaded in-and out-of-school
suspensions. The question is, though, are they any more
effective than a well- planed and wielded paddle?
As a “good” parent in the post-paddling world of education,
I’ve always supported the disciplinary actions of the teachers
and the assistant principals of the schools my boys attended,
but I will admit there have been several cases that made me
question the value of the punishments handed down.
A few examples:
One day in-school suspension: having a hole in his
jeans, a violation of the school dress code
One day in-school: being late to school three times.
Saturday school: being late to school five times.
Three day in-school: not listening to school officials
Three day out-of-school suspension: smoking on school
All this, of course, is in praise of zero tolerance, an odd
concept often applied in school settings.
Here again, we have to ask: Is it very effective? And here
again, I have first-hand experience suggesting it is not.
One of our sons is highly ADD. He found the school
environment overly stressful, a place where the learning
environment was almost impossible to navigate.
When he received in-school suspension for some minor
infraction or another, he was often relieved. This was a
sanctuary where he could put soothing music on his headphones to
block distractions and complete all of his assignments at his
own pace. As a semi-permanent resident of In-School Suspension
High, he was able to function as a successful student.
One incident especially has always caused me to question the
effectiveness of using suspensions as a discipline tool. Our
three high schoolers always struggled to meet the bus at 7:10
a.m. So one survival strategy they employed was to catch the bus
on the way out of the subdivision, instead of the “assigned” bus
stop nearer our house.
One Friday morning the bus driver instructed my sons they
were not to use the second bus stop, but had to use the
“assigned” one. Of course on Monday instead of missing the bus
at the “assigned” stop, they arrived at the second. The bus
driver wrote all three up for a three day in-school suspension
for “not listening to a school official.” I was more than
dismayed to hear they had been sentenced in-school suspension,
instead of regular classes.
So I’m not surprised by the study of the Texas schools, that
found nearly 60 percent of students in the state had committed
infractions that netted them an in-school suspension with “…one
in seven students facing such disciplinary measures at least 11
Additional troubling findings in the report were that these
types of disciplinary actions were applied to minority students
more than whites and that they tended to lower graduation rates.
My boys respected the authority of teachers and
administrators while in high school, but often found the
policies and application of discipline capricious and somewhat
I’m sure that school administrators can figure out saner
methods to accomplish their goals – without returning to the
woodshed, of course — while not frustrating these students who
are trying to just stay focused on grabbing that high school
diploma on their way out the door.