scouts-l Mail Archive for June of 2000: Sr. Dorithy's Zero Tolerance
Anthony Mako (ajmako@NLS.NET
Sat Jun 03 2000 - 11:59:30 CDT
While composing my last post on the zero tolerance thread, I couldn't get a
particular experience out of my head. I am a product of both public and
parochial education (having attended a public school for K-4th grades, and a
parochial school for 5-12th grades) between 1969 and 1981. This period was
before the first inklings of zero tolerance in the mid to late 1980's.
In the public school I attended, Mr. Lower had a zero-tolerance policy as
the principal. He was compassionate, but strict. He didn't punish everyone
the same, but he never let an infraction of the rules go unpunished either.
In reality, his job was relatively easy because he only had to deal with
habitual offenders or major infractions. The teachers dealt with smaller
infractions or "one timers."
In the parochial school I attended, the principal was Sister Dorothy. Like
the public school, the teachers did most of the disciplining of students.
Getting sent to Sr. Dorothy's office was comparable to being sent to death
row. Sr. Dorothy had a zero-tolerance policy. She didn't put up with
anything. She didn't believe in corporal punishment (or wasn't permitted to
use it in any case), but she had a knack for impressing upon young minds the
error of their ways (without threatening them with eternal damnation).
Most of my dealings with Sr. Dorothy involved stupid mistakes. Because my
parents had trained me to respect authority, and the adults in my life went
through great pains to be fair to me and maintain my trust in them, the mere
possibility of being sent to Sr. Dorothy was often enough to keep me (and
most of my classmates in line).
In the fifth grade I made the unimaginable mistake of taking a pocket knife
to school (yes it was against the rules even back then). Realizing my
mistake, I did the only thing I could think of at the time. At the first
opportunity, I took the knife to Mrs. Markovich (my teacher) and explained
that I brought it to school accidentally and didn't want to get in trouble.
Her response was to take the knife, put it in her desk, and tell me I would
get it back after school.
The rest of the day was uneventful. Mrs. Markovich didn't mention the knife
again until school was over. I wasn't called to Sr. Dorothy's office. I
wasn't sent home. My parents weren't called. When school was over, Mrs.
Markovich told me to go to the office to get the knife back. In the office,
I was told to wait for Sr. Dorothy.
The meeting with Sr. Dorothy consisted of an actual conversation about
rules. She didn't yell. She asked questions, explained the rules, why they
were important, and what would happen if I broke them again. The purpose of
her conversation was not to brand me as a criminal or punish me. Her purpose
was to educate me - make sure I understood the rule I had broken, why it was
a rule, and why it was important to follow the rules. She made it very clear
that if I broke the rule again she and I would have a meeting with my
parents. If that didn't work, other steps could be taken (from having to
start the day in her office emptying my pockets for the rest of the year, to
the possibility of suspension or even expulsion). I left school that day
with my pocket knife and never brought it back to school.
There are several reasons why this worked for me and hundreds of other
1) The teachers and administrators maintained their focus on the purpose of
their efforts - education. Punishment progressed through a series of actions
designed to reinforce the lesson being taught. They made concerted efforts
NOT to use predefined punishment policies, or blindly concern themselves
with the rule rather than education about the reason for the rule.
2) The teachers and administrators understood that maintaining the trust of
their students was a primary concern. Without the trust of their students,
the teachers knew they wouldn't have the respect of the students and all of
their efforts would be meaningless. Not just with regard to discipline, but
in basic education as well. Part of their effort to maintain the trust and
respect of their students, was respecting the students as individuals and
believing in the "salvageability" of every student.
3) My parents were my primary source of morality education. They not only
taught me to respect my elders, but to follow the rules and know right from
wrong. They made it very clear that they would support the school's efforts
to maintain discipline. They made sure I knew the rules and didn't make
excuses for me when I broke them.
4) An integral part of Sr. Dorothy's discipline policy was including my
parents (and every other student's parents) in the process. She also
expected my parents to support her efforts (since the school's philosophy
was based on Christian morals and my parents were active members of the
parish). She knew that, in the event my parents didn't agree with a
punishment, they would at least be willing to discuss the issue and come to
an agreement with her so a united front could be presented.
5) The central concept behind all of this was the concept of responsibility.
Parents were responsible for supporting and participating in the education
of their children. Children were held responsible for their actions.
Teachers were responsible for maintaining an environment that made education
possible. And the principal was responsible for making sure all of these
efforts were made.
Regardless of my personal feelings about the adequacy of my education, I
cannot find any evidence that I was NOT treated with respect, fairness,
compassion, and respect. My teachers were human beings, and I can remember
one or two incidents where one or more of these things weren't in evidence,
but on the whole every teacher and administrator treated me like a human
being. They understood that, as a child, I was prone to making mistakes.
They believed that helping me recognize my mistakes and learn from them was
more important than ensuring that every infraction be punished equally.
What seems to be missing today is a bond of trust and mutual respect between
student and educator. We've evolved from a system designed to educate into a
system apparently designed to maintain a level of day care between the age
of six and adulthood. Our school's punishment policies seem designed more to
make us feel better for having done SOMETHING, than to educate children
about the importance of following the rules. Teachers seem more concerned
about maintaining order than maintaining the trust of their students or an
environment conducive to education. This is, of course, not true of EVERY
teacher. The number of compassionate educators who use common sense and
education to combat disorder is still greater than the number of educators
who see their job as little more than babysitting and presenting
information. The more we implement restrictive all-encompassing rules and
policies, however, the more endangered those compassionate educators become.
A. J. Mako, Scoutmaster, firstname.lastname@example.org
Old Portage District, Great Trail Council