The way we’ve been punishing children has changed dramatically throughout history.
Many years ago, corporal punishment was supported. Teachers hung a paddle on the classroom wall to use when students misbehaved. Over the years, a shift has occurred, however, with schools implementing less of a “hands-on” approach to misconduct, including in-school suspension, alternative schools, and deans of discipline. But has it helped anyone?
I came across an interesting and in-depth article on the matter. Called Corporal Punishment: Violation of Child Rights in Schools, it explores just how detrimental physical tactics tend to be.
“The research studies show that the theory of corporal punishment was an ineffective discipline strategy with children of all ages and it is often proved to be dangerous. The punishment of such kind leads to create anger, resentment, and low self-esteem. It teaches them violence and revenge as solutions to problems and perpetuates itself, as children might imitate what the adults are doing.”—Prof. Maadabhushi Sridhar, author, Corporal Punishment
So then, what about the nonphysical approaches?
“Kids who have been suspended or expelled are two times more likely to drop out and five times more likely to turn to crime,” explained Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, who introduced a bill to cut back on suspensions and expulsions for minor misbehaviour in school. “Rather than kicking students out of school, we need to keep young people in school on track to graduate, and out of the criminal justice system.” California became the first state in the nation to pass a new law that limits student disciplinary measures.
There has been a national plea for disciplinary reform, resulting in policymakers, educators, parents, and more, to begin questioning the harsh discipline policies and practices that exist. Research has revealed that suspensions, expulsions, and school arrests hinder students’ learning time. Suspensions have even been found to interrupt the education of non-misbehaving students.
I am captivated by a statement made at the beginning of Corporal Punishment:
“The discipline is not taught, it is learnt. The text books give information. The communication through teaching is imparting education. To attain wisdom, an abundant amount of common sense has to be added to education, which then includes discipline. Discipline is an attitude, character, responsibility, or commitment. The discipline is basically internal, while the attempt to impose it would be an external process. One has to internalize the process of education and discipline. Discipline and education go together in letter and spirit.”
—Prof. Maadabhushi Sridhar
The words “internal” and “spirit” especially stick out to me. Is the system failing because we don’t teach kids to reform from within? To understand their words and their actions by digging beneath the surface?
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In Baltimore, Maryland, Robert W. Coleman Elementary is taking a new and holistic approach to how it disciplines students. Rather than punishing them, or sending them off to the principal’s office, they are directed toward “the mindful moment room.” Here, misbehaving students meditate and wind down.
The policy has been in place for more than a year, and the administrators have noticed that no suspensions have been reported throughout that time.
The new disciplinary approach is organized by the Holistic Life Foundation, which is a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization whose goal is to nurture the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities. One of the organizers of the project, Andres Gonzalez, says the students are absorbing the experience, bringing what they’re learning to their families.
“That’s how you stop the trickle-down effect, when Mom or Pops has a hard day and yells at the kids, and then the kids go to school and yell at their friends,” he said. “We’ve had parents tell us, ‘I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe,'” Gonzalez explained.
Research continues to confirm the advantages of meditation: pain relief, a boost in creativity, stress relief, and healthier immune systems. One study even found that meditation can reverse heart disease.
In the “mindful moment room” at Robert W. Coleman Elementary, lamps, decorations, and comfy purply pillows fill the space—much different than the typical windowless detention room kids are used to.
In the room, misbehaving students are guided to sit, breathe and meditate in order to calm down and re-center. They are also advised to open up about what happened.
“It’s amazing,” noted Kirk Philips, who is the Holistic Me coordinator at Robert W. Coleman. “You wouldn’t think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do.”
Even at the school’s Christmas party, kids were expected to mediate prior to receiving gifts. “As a little kid, that’s got to be hard to sit down and meditate when you know you’re about to get a bag of gifts, and they did it! It was beautiful, we were all smiling at each other watching them,” explained Philips.
Other schools are implementing such practices, too. In the U.K., the Mindfulness in Schools Project educates adults on how to set up programs. And in the U.S., Mindful Schools, another nonprofit, is working to do the same thing.
It’s a pleasant breakthrough for students, educators and parents alike, as the powers of living in the present are being materialized.
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