Monday, 17 March 2008

Ecclesiastes 8:11 and public school education

This is a slightly edited version of a letter I wrote in the online comments section of the Sunday Times.

I was very pleased on Sunday to read (almost) the first good idea to come from Mr McGowan, of making the expulsion process quicker and easier "Bad pupils to be kicked out of public school". In sage advice from Ecclesiastes 8:11, "When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong." This is why in the past, the immediate penalty of caning was effective. While some people suggest we reinstate its use, this is no longer an acceptable punishment in Australian society which has largely forgotten that the proverb, "No pain, no gain" applies to matters other than physical exercise.

Immediate removal of the disruptive student from the classroom, short and long term suspensions, and permanent (or at minimum until the next school year) expulsion provide punishments which stop the problem from reoccurring in that class and school. On their own, they do not provide a complete solution, however. Disruptive, violent and abusive students must be taught appropriate behaviours, and parents must be held ultimately accountable for their child's behaviour. Unfortunately, many parents lack the skills to do so and often gave up the effort long ago when they saw their methods were not working. I would argue that this problem is due in large because the vast majority of parenting how-to manuals today present a method of parenting based on the idea that if you make your child the centre of your world, making every effort to keep them happy by giving them "positive" experiences and rewarding "positive" behaviours with "positive" reinforcement, they will never have to display "negative" behaviours and will grow up into perfect little angels. This is a load of codswallop!

When a child is expelled, often the solution cannot be to enrol them in McGowan's first option of Distance Learning, because the parents will be no more able to obtain dilligent educational effort from this child than the teachers. Part of the solution is training for the parents in setting and sustaining boundaries of acceptable behaviour for their child and the concurrent use of immediate consequences. While the parents are obtaining this training, their child must be enrolled in the "student-behaviour centres" or "special private schools" which McGowan mentioned, with teachers who have already received training in the aforementioned skills.

The student does not need to learn to express their anger at deep emotional wounds, as the counsellor "concerned for kids of Claremont" suggested (see comment 25 here). They need to learn how to act in accordance with Australian society's standards for appropriate behaviour. This includes the idea that those who want something ask politely and, if they are not given it, work to obtain it for themselves. Learning to whinge is not a lesson any disruptive student needs to learn from a counsellor. They already have it down to an art form, as the comment from "At my wits end of Perth" illustrates (see comment 34&39 here).

I'm an ex-teacher with experience in both public and private schools, where I did, unfortunately, experience physical assault from a student. I am now enjoying educating my own children at home. They are being taught both academics and the sometimes more rigorous lessons of self-discipline. I made every effort with my own children to start on the right track from the very beginning, but for parents and children who are a long way down the wrong track, streamling expulsion will provide a much needed "time out" from schooling to develop better ways of dealing with others, ways that will make possible the opportunity for a successful return to (academic) education in the future.

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