The St. Louis Public Schools Special Administrative Board approved in April 2016 a new discipline policy forbidding schools from punishing children in preschool through 2nd grade with out-of-school suspensions.
During the 2016–17 school year, Carver Elementary School students practiced “mindfulness yoga” on Fridays, and misbehaving students were sent to a “reflection room” to talk to a counselor about their feelings.
Discipline a ‘Vexing Challenge’
Mike McShane, director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute, says student discipline is a complex issue, and innovation should be encouraged.
“I think that student discipline is one of the most vexing challenges that teachers and school administrators face, and I don’t think that there’s necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution,” McShane said. “So, we see some charter schools that are known to have very rigid discipline—’no excuses’ schools—but you also see some schools that have very lax, freeform systems, like Montessori schools or Waldorf schools, where students have a lot more freedom to do stuff. When I see a school trying something new or experimenting, I tend to think, ‘More power to them. Give it a shot, and let’s see how it works.'”
‘Probably No One Best Way’
McShane says, like education itself, choice of classroom discipline policy should be left up to parents.
“In many ways, it’s the same animating force as school choice, which is to say that there’s probably no one best way to do this,” McShane said. “We need to experiment and try different stuff to see what happens. One of the things that makes school choice a superior way of dealing with this is that students are able to actively choose their environment and teachers and administrators all actively, affirmatively [choose] to participate in that school. Now, unfortunately, doing stuff like this in schools where students might be geographically assigned to attend, they don’t have as much say. Maybe that child wouldn’t thrive in that particular environment, and if they had the choice, they would go somewhere else.”
Discouraging Parent Involvement
Michael Schaus, communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, says the real problem Carver and other public schools face is not involving parents enough in their children’s educations.
“The initial troubles Carver Elementary were facing wasn’t a product of too few yoga classes or too few ‘safe spaces’; it was a product of the government’s monopoly on education,” Schaus said. “While it might be nice to see Carver Elementary attempt some sort of innovation, in the end, mindfulness yoga simply isn’t going to be able to address the root of the problem in public education. That’s because at its core, the problem isn’t so-called ‘school climate,’ it’s that the system is designed to distance parents from their child’s education.
“We should be doing the inverse,” Schaus said. “We should be doing everything we can to encourage more parental involvement in their child’s educational career. After all, involved parents are always far better equipped to mentor and coach their children through behavior issues than a bureaucratic school system.”
Choice as Solution
Schaus says giving parents educational choice will do wonders for solving disciplinary and other problems children face.
“The first step should be giving parents more choice when it comes to their child’s education,” Schaus said. “That freedom to choose their children’s educational path will not only facilitate, but it will encourage parents to become more involved. I suspect that most people would be amazed at how much of a difference parents can make when they are given the opportunity.”
Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.