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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Tadross

Students Need Education, not Imprisonment

One in 25 students is currently in detention, suspended, or held after school for misbehavior. But do disciplinary programs that treat students like criminals for minor infractions benefit society?

These programs are modeled after typical law enforcement, doling out punishments in proportion to the offense as a form of deterrence. However, these disciplinary conditions have been ineffective in incentivizing better behavior. According to a study conducted by the Civil Rights Project at U.C.L.A., suspension and detention have become the go-to responses for even minor misbehavior. Many schools do not have formal criteria for punishment; how a student is punished depends largely on their grade-level, favor with the teacher, and whether or not they were caught. Rather than preventing further transgressions, contempt of authority is the inevitable consequence of this system.

Dr. Ruth Payne, a lecturer at Leeds University, surveyed students ages 11-16 about their attitudes towards rewards and punishments. The survey found that when given detention, students not only begin to distrust their teachers, but also become more likely to misbehave in the future. In fact, 82% of students in detention at any given time are repeat offenders. In reality, these punishments only strike fear into typically well-behaved students, many of whom would probably follow the rules regardless.

Consequently, detention leaves many students feeling they can not trust the authorities whom they once respected. Many students in Dr. Payne's study echoed this sentiment, and believed it exists because punishment is uniquely applied to behavioral issues, and not any other struggles students experience. no teacher would ask a student to sit in a classroom alone for failing his or her Algebra test. Rather, the teacher would give the student extra help, or find them a tutor. Similarly, many students may have never been taught proper behavior, and school should be a place for them to learn exactly that.

At Richmond High School in San Francisco Bay, students who break a rule discuss the offense with a teacher, and why it is, in fact, an offense. Students then decide their own forms of reparation and are only punished if they do not follow through with their commitment. As a consequence, suspensions have decreased 47% in three years. When schools minimize punishment and increase cooperation, dropout and arrest rates for students fall as well.

The education system's go-to forms of disciplinary action label students as delinquents, prompting them to fill that role. Only when schools take on their responsibility as educators in all areas of life will they form a generation of students willing to learn.

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