Kicking kids out of class, suspending them out of school, hitting them, and degrading them in front of their peers all fall into the same family of discipline for me: The Ineffective Lazy Discipline Family.
These are all horrible in their own right and we’re all guilty for using them and allowing them to continue. I’m not just talking to the teachers either. It’s way easier to punish than to seek to understand, just like it’s easier to lash out and commit violence than it is to look within and process your deep emotional trauma. It’s no big surprise that those methods of discipline reinforce the cradle to prison / school to prison / whatever to prison pipelines.
Whenever you see one of these studies/stories/articles about changing discipline, the comment section is usually full of people who are defending all of these damaging methods by either says “back in my day <insert something crazy and embellished here>,” “what else are we supposed to do,” or “poverty is to blame.” Make no mistake, this is giving up ,not just kids, but on entire communities that lazy people are essentially dooming to eternal failure. People say “It has to stop,” but it really doesn’t because things can continue to be a disaster and people away from that disaster are just as happy living and allowing that disaster to persist as long as it doesn’t bother their lives; however, it should stop, and it can if we abandon our disciplinary laziness and try using a little empathy.
Why It’s Insane
How mature is a kindergartener supposed to be? What about a teenager? The problem here is that we keep putting adult expectations on kids. We do this with politics to when we make decisions that are better for adults than they are for kids. We take the easy way out. Do you remember how absurd your ideas and impulses were when you were 5, 10 15 years old? Of course you don’t because your liar brain remembers how you had 3 jobs and a house by the time you were 7 and you are enforcing those absurd expectations on all of our kids. When in your adult life do you get banished from work, frequently, on the whim of a supervisor with no explanation of what you did wrong or follow up on why or how to improve? It’s an outdated approach that’s destroying our communities, but specifically our communities of color because the kids that are disproportionately suspended at every age, including the 6 and under category, are black and brown kids.
The End of the Pipeline
Articles that discuss this are spot on when they say our disciplinary methods become a self fulfilling prophecy in the lives of our kids. There’s a student that used to sit in my class when he got kicked out of other classes. The whole school thought this kid was a pain, and he was. Teachers that didn’t even have him, like myself, felt like they knew everything about him because of what they heard from other teachers. He got suspended frequently and I watched his behavior deteriorate over the next year or two. Why did it get worse?
Nobody ever talked to him. People said things to him like “you’re going to jail” or “you’re going to get shot and die,” but nobody really asked why or had a conversation with him. I was no different. I let him sit in my room, but never asked why he acted the way he did, showed an interest in his homelife, or tried to invite him to a new path rather than telling him he had to take a new path.
About a year ago, he dropped out. A few weeks ago this kid got shot during a home invasion, losing one of his friends in the process. It’s the second time in about calendar year he’s been shot. Once he gets out of the hospital, he’s going to jail. That’s what the school to prison pipeline looks like. That is the words made flesh.
Why should you care? Quick message for the haters:
Even if you don’t care about poor, brown children, why should this matter to you? Maybe money is the only thing that gets to your heart, in which case perhaps you’d be persuaded to care by the reality that he was shot by a taxpayer while breaking into a tax payers home and he’s being patched up for free with taxpayers dollars where he will be taking by police who are paid by taxpayers to go live in jail and be fed, clothed, and cared for by taxpayer dollars. This is due, in part, to the fact that the education he failed to receive, which is also funded by taxpayers, wasn’t able to provide him the opportunity to become a taxpayer that could provide you some kind of return on your investment.
What’s the Alternative?
If I had the answer I’d be rich, but in my classroom, I talk to my kids. Do I take points off, change their seats, talk to them sternly, etc? Yes. I also ask why they did what they did, try to help them reason through why and what possible alternatives were, and talk with their parents all to seek to understand the roots of behavior that I think is getting in the way of their learning. It doesn’t always work. It’s a huge pain in the behind. It’s time consuming. None of that matters to me though because it’s better for kids than the alternative. This is especially true for kindergartners whose brains aren’t developed enough to decide to be horrible. They are reflections of a problem elsewhere so it’s double crazy to punish them for it by banishing them one a week.
Why focus on Kindergarten discipline?
The focus on kindergarten is important because the young man i talked about wasn’t always a criminal. He was a smart, vibrant, young black male with a great deal of potential. Unfortunately, he was typecast early as a deviant. Teachers looked at him like an outlier, a disruption, a criminal, and a nuisance not worthy of their time and effort to understand or assist.
We as teachers do this to our young children and give them an identity they can’t escape and they live up to those titles. We have to start investing in our kids because every child has potential until we as adults limit it for them.
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