School discipline: who's responsible?

''Why don't they make schools for kids like me who want to learn?'' asked my 10-year-old son. His eyes brimmed with tears as he poured out his heart. What a terrible indictment of the educational system of our day! There seems to be a common spirit of helplessness and hopelessness among student and faculty these days.

While some smaller town schools don't face the problems of big city schools--gang warfare, open violence on the school grounds, and terrorism--these systems, too, could stand improvement.

A recent NBC Special Report indicated that the biggest objection students have to school is lack of classroom discipline. Moving hidden cameras into the classroom, NBC revealed mass confusion. But even the kids who have behavioral problems confess they have no respect for teachers or principals who make idle threats. Kids want guidelines set down for them. It is unreasonable to expect acceptable behavior if students don't know what acceptable behavior is.

Innovative school systems look for creative ways to deal with school discipline. One school has abolished suspension. A spokesman has said, ''Suspension is nothing more than vacation. Instead we restrict offenders to another classroom in the building where they are unable to see their friends or enjoy school privileges. It's working for us!''

We parents must also shoulder our share of the responsibility. In bygone years school discipline was reinforced at home. If a child was punished at school for misbehavior, he was punished again at home. Too often today parents side with the child without ever investigating the problem. Even if we suspect the school is in error, our responsibility lies in upholding the school at least until we hear the other side of the story. If we find there is a problem at school, comments should be made directly to school officials and not in front of the child.

We can make our children's job easier if we take a few simple steps.

1. Require disciplined behavior at home. An undisciplined life style at home means an undisciplined student at school.

2. Never openly criticize a child's school or teacher in front of him. We can't expect the child to respect school officials if we don't.

3. Be actively engaged in the PTA Group pressure can bring about marked improvement in school programs.

4. Ask questions. Find out all you can about who runs the school and how they run it.

5. Inspect textbooks. What are they teaching our children? Is the material wholesome?

6. Develop a good working relationship with your children's teacher and principal. In this way problems can be detected earlier, and solved more easily.

7. Act with maturity. As Albert Schweitzer once said, ''There are only three ways to teach a child. The first is by example. The second is by example. The third is by example.''

Who's responsible for school discipline? The only possible answer is both parent and school alike. The school is responsible for providing an atmosphere in which quality education can be administered, and parents are responsible for reinforcing what the school is trying to do. Such a spirit of cooperation will make the system better for everyone.

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