Family Nature

This “Attention” Really Got My Attention

Dunce cap by Candie_NLast winter, my 7 year old, grade 2 son came home from school one day to report that he’d had an “attention”.

“A what?” I asked.

“An attention” he said.

“Do you mean detention?” I asked.

Yes, detention, that was it. He went on to tell me that he had to spend an entire recess, 15 minutes, inside. Oh my, what could my 7 year old angel have done to deserve detention? As it turns out, absolutely nothing.

Here’s the story: the school administration had been having trouble with a handful of grade 7 boys who were throwing snowballs. I guess this had been an ongoing problem and as a last resort, they decided to punish the entire school. The school’s population is somewhere around 550 and I’d guess there were 60 or 70 kindergarten kids who were not included in the school-wide punishment. Every other child in the school – from grade 1 to grade 8 – had detention that day; they had to stay inside for afternoon recess. Oh, and that’s not all: all students had to sit at their desks, with their heads down and all the lights turned off. For fifteen minutes. “How did you eat your snack?” I asked my son. “With my head down on my desk, turned to the side,” was his answer.

What. The. Frack.

This is wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.

Okay, let’s start with snow. Guess what? We live in Canada. It snows in Canada. Snow is all around us. Kids like snow. Kids touch snow. Kids play with snow. Is it really reasonable for us to ask kids to be completely surrounded by snow and not touch it – ever?

School-wide punishment …  seriously? I guess the idea is that other students will put pressure on the kids who are throwing snow, because they don’t want another school-wide detention. But this doesn’t really make sense to me. How is it relevant to punish a grade 1 student because of a grade 7 student’s actions? Is a grade 1 student going to influence a grade 7? Come on, where is the logic here?

If the principal decided one day to take away a teacher’s afternoon break – as a form of discipline for poor performance no less – that principal would have the teacher’s union and the Ministry of Labour knocking on her door before recess was over; it would never be allowed. Why then, would anyone think that this is okay for a kid? There is a reason that breaks are required by law and kids deserve these breaks just as much as adults do – maybe even more! There is much research about kids and recess, kids and physical activity, and how these relate to kids and education. I think it’s been well established that kids need recess, even in cold weather. Taking away recess as a punishment should not be allowed. Period.

I also have to wonder about this business of kids eating their snacks with their heads down on their desks. Try it. Go ahead, sit at your dining room table with your head down and try to eat dinner; ridiculous, isn’t it? The idea that kids would be forced to do this preposterous. It’s downright barbaric.

Not surprisingly, I was not the only parent who was outraged by this detention. It was a hot topic at the parent council meeting a couple of days later. The principal defended her decision. “You know what? It worked!” she told all of us.

GRRR! I hate the ‘it worked!’ argument. So what if it worked? People my age are probably old enough to remember corporal punishment in schools. At our school we called it ‘the strap’ and everyone knew exactly what it was. I’ll bet people used to say that the strap worked, but we know now that this kind of punishment is not okay. I’d also bet that expelling students for throwing snow balls would ‘work’ too (because eventually, everyone would be expelled!) How about the dunce cap? Well hey, I think that would work. It is a good idea? Absolutely not. So I reject out-of-hand the ‘it worked’ defense.

After a lengthy discussion the principal stood by her actions that day. She did eventually admit that she probably wouldn’t use this particular punishment again. I don’t think though, that she won’t use it because she believes that it is wrong; I just think too many parents complained. It’s hardly a victory. Who knows what other barbaric, preposterous punishment ideas the principal has up her sleeve. Good thing we won’t be around to find out.

Photo by Candie_N via Flickr.

8 thoughts on “This “Attention” Really Got My Attention

  1. Chris

    This is crazy, but I’m sure it happens often. Reading this story reminded me of an incident in my kids school a few years ago. The kids used to be able to play on the grass surrounding our ashphalt playground. Suddenly, this was no longer allowed. “Safety issues” were cited as the reason, (which is crazy in my opinion, as I’ve seen so many scrapes and bruises resulting from falls on the ashphalt!) Well, a group of kids organized a recess demonstration march, complete with hand-drawn signs! They marched around the schoolyard shouting “we want grass!” I witnessed it and I was amazed (it brought tears to my eyes!) that these kids had organized such an event and had almost every student involved. The principal, however, was not impressed. Apparently she was holding meetings as the kids paraded and shouted outside her office window. The next morning, I was in the school when she made a stern announcement for a school-wide assembly. I wasn’t invited to join, but heard from my kids that they got an intense lecture, and lost their recess priviledge for that morning. I have also heard of one teacher, (not one that my kids have had), who take away phys ed class as a punishment when her students misbehave. Isn’t phys ed part of the curriculum? What would happen if she took away math, or language?

  2. Winston

    When I was a kid, there was a “snowball area” in the playground. The schoolyard was sort-of L-shaped and the snowball area was the leg of the L that was away from the school and the rest of the yard. It was divided in half and you could throw snowballs at kids in the other half of the snowball area, and not the half you were in. This meant you were throwing at people who were some distance away (as nobody stayed near the boundary between the halves).

  3. Amanda

    I love the idea of a snowball area! Actually, someone at the parent council suggested this. Someone else suggested having some organized fun winter games. Another idea would have been to have the grade 7s take a leadership role with some of the younger students and organize snow-throwing or other games.

    Sadly, all of these suggestions were dismissed because of “not enough staff to supervise”, or because they “wouldn’t work here” or they “took too much time to organize” or some other reason. Plus, in the principal’s mind her detention had “worked”, so I don’t think she was putting all that much thought into it. It’s a shame because there were some great ideas.

  4. Amanda

    What’s wrong with an organized, peaceful protest? I’ll just never understand the thought process of some.

  5. mamacrow

    I can’t believe that this happened in 2009?! not just the punish the whole school (punish the whole grade 7 maybe, though I still wouldn’t agree)
    but the head on desk lights out for 15 minutes?! that’s abusive, and I would formally complain. It must have been pretty scary for the littlies.
    How did they keep the kid’s heads on the desks?! Shouting? Threats? Slapping? This in unbelivable! To think we were considering emigrating to Canada!

  6. Amanda

    I know! Crazy, isn’t it?

    When I was looking for pictures of a dunce cap for this post I came across all kinds of interesting websites about schools and discipline. Apparently, corporal punishment in schools STILL happens in some parts of the US (and maybe elsewhere too, I just remember the US). Ugh, how awful!

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