Schools battle violent home lives and disrespect for women
Letter to the Editor
CONGRATULATIONS Bruce Revie on your letter (The Gympie Times, Saturday, March 10) regarding, among other aspects of education,the worrying statistics relating to school suspensions.
Although the number of offending students is probably significantly fewer than the 1190 suspensions (many suspensions being incurred by serial offenders) it is patently obvious, as the headline claimed, "Suspensions aren't working."
Like you, I can recall the head teacher swishing the cane against his trouser leg as he patrolled the playground and the corridors outside the classrooms.
Interestingly, none of the kids died of fright and, in fact, the cane was sparingly employed.
But if a recalcitrant were "sent to the office" he usually behaved appropriately for the rest of the day and his classmates followed suit.
But long gone are the days of Goldsmith's village school master...
"A man severe he was and stern to view;
I knew him well and every truant knew."
In recent years some schools instituted a system of classroom withdrawal for persistently disruptive and invariably insolent pupils.
After several warnings,the teacher could refer the trouble-maker to the ironically and ambitiously titled "Responsible Thinking Classroom."
There, under the supervision of an experienced teacher, the miscreant would write an acknowledgement of his or her transgressions and make a plan to reform.
Most days the same students populated the RTC - so the intended reform was rarely achieved.
But the system, now unfortunately largely abandoned, allowed the classroom teacher and the motivated students some "clear air " to teach and learn.
I suspect that this is the only merit in suspension too - a major impediment to teaching and learning is out of the way for a while.
Otherwise, a suspension is, as you said in your letter, "a reward for bad behaviour", a form of "sanctioned truancy", a licence for a few carefree days on the skateboard or thumbing the game boy.
Ironically, the good kids have to sweat on a cyclone or some other major emergency to jag even a day or two of unscheduled freedom.
And, unfortunately, the unintended "reward factor " is not balanced by any deterrent effect because those directly affected do not value education.
And you are right to lament the passing of an era when parents unequivocally supported the school's efforts to inculcate appropriate standards of behaviour.
Today some school administrators are intimidated by the violence in the background of their most troublesome students.
You accurately identified several societal influences which no doubt have contributed to the overall decline in school discipline.
And there may be yet another subtle and sinister contributing factor - the declining proportion of males in the teaching profession.
This is not a criticism of female teachers. They are, in my experience, generally highly professional and dedicated people, as committed as their male counterparts to their students' welfare.
But, sadly, in our society females are not universally respected and are too often the victims of violence by men. It is possible, even likely, that some of that learned attitude of disrespect is being manifested in the school environment.
After all, as Wordsworth remarked somewhat paradoxically some 200 years ago:.
"The child is father of the man."
Like you Mr Revie, I am not sure what has brought us to this rather sorry pass in the matter of school discipline. But I suspect that to mention "discipline" in the context of children's behaviour is something of a taboo - and that reflects societal as much as educational values.
And while suspension remains the main instrument of "discipline" in schools there is little likelihood that the situation will improve.
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