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Student: “I Appreciate You Disciplining Me.”

January 17, 2021

I expect my students to wear a school uniform shirt and an ID. It is my habit to check for these, and my students know so.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they always comply.

Last week, in one of my classes, I hit on a noncompliance bonanza of sorts. One had no school shirt. A second had no ID. A third had neither school shirt nor ID.

So, out come the detentions.

During the course of handling these incidents, I had an unusual response from one of these unfortunate three:

He thanked me for disciplining him:

His exact words: “Ms. Schneider, I appreciate you taking the time to discipline me.”

Now, my first thought was that he was being sarcastic, but he was not. He was serious.

As I was writing his detention, I congratulated him on his maturity and told him that the willingness to subject oneself to authority and to own one’s self-induced negative consequences are indispensable for living a peaceful, private life and for becoming a productive member of our greater society.

Then, I told him this story:

In my second year of teaching, 1992-93, I had a student (I named him in my telling but will withhold here) who received unlimited three-day suspensions for his misbehavior– nothing more substantial. He was the son of a teacher at another school, and for some reason, this appeared to figure into admin’s decision to never go beyond those three-day suspensions. The student did not mind the suspensions. Since he learned that there would not be any consequence more substantial, he had no reason to correct his disrespectful, disruptive behavior.

More terrible than that: This student learned the false lesson that repeated bad behavior incurs no consequence of substance.

Ten years later, in 2003, I read in the newspaper of this student’s death in an apparent drug deal gone bad. He was gunned down in his home, living long enough only to say the name of his killer in the moments before he died.

I remember where I was when I read that article. I remember my sadness. And I remember how my first thought was of those unlimited three-day suspensions that were more like vacations than correction.

Of course, human behavior is not so simple as to allow a direct connection between those vacation-like suspensions and the young man’s death in a botched drug deal. However, I did watch this young man learn that he was untouchable by any consequence for his behavior in my class, and I believe he carried that lesson into his adult life– a destructive lesson that may well have been reinforced in other contexts in the years preceding his time in my classroom and possibly beyond.

A terrible lesson that may have worked right up until the costly consequence of his untimely, awful death.

So. When I hear a student thank me for disciplining him, that is gold.

Gold for him to choose such a mature attitude towards correction.

Gold for me to hear.

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2 Comments
  1. For me there is a profound difference between the colonialist word “discipline,” from disciple, requiring that there is another with more power who is the master, and “consequences,” the idea that rule-breaking is an offense to a community of learners, imposed by the community since every member has “voluntarily” agreed to follow those rules for the sake of each person’s learning. Of course, in most schools that community has a member or two who are “more equal” than everyone else, and there is a surrounding structure of overlapping communities where inequality increases and the volition of ordinary members becomes more and more fictitious. The change in framing to take learning out of a rigid hierarchy of power is what matters most to me, rather than the details.

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