Last 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.