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Punishment in Schools

Jordan Riak recently sent out an editorial about beating people in schools, aka "corporal punishment for disobedient students." His editorial makes some excellent points. I want to add something, however. It is not just physical abuse that damages people, it is also the psychological abuse from other forms of punishment. One in particular which seems to be growing in use is what is euphemistically called "in school suspension." For anyone not familiar with this term, this is where a school will lock a person up in solitary confinement within the school. (Jordan has also posted an interview with Alice Miller who has written about these rooms, sometimes called "hot boxes.")

Recently I got an email from a parent whose 8 year old was punished by being locked into one such isolation room.

The email says things very well. I will just add that to deprive a human being of their need for social contact is what I would call "cruel and inhumane punishment." Teenagers in several countries that I know of are isolated from their friends as a way of punishment. One school, Silverbrook Middle School in Wisconsin, calls a form of this punishment "lunch restriction." This school also uses solitary confinement in a room when a teenager does not conform. For "lunch restriction," a teen is not allowed to sit with her friends at lunch time. She sits at a table alone. One friend of mine was punished in with this isolation treatment for four days. When she tries to talk to her friends in class she is punished or threatened. W hen she tries to talk to them in between classes she is also punished or threatened. When she tries to talk to them after school, her father complains that she is late when he comes to pick her up. So the best time to talk to her friends is lunch time. When this need for social connection was stolen from her and her vice principal walked by and saw the look on her face, he said "Smile, Sarah, You are enjoying this." She responded,."No I am not. Why would I enjoy being punished?" He then said smugly, "This isn't punishment, it is a consequence."

Teens need social contact. To deprive them of it is not just a deprivation of a human "right." It is more basic than that. It is a deprivation of a basic human need. Then to tell someone to enjoy it and then invalidate them when they call it the punishment that it is, is merely more psychological abuse. This is a little like telling a girl to smile when she is being raped because "she is enjoying it", and then telling her it is not rape, it is making love.

S. Hein
June 14, 2003

See also "In school suspension" by Nicole Norris

Solitary Confinement for an 8 year old - A letter from Isabel Christophersen, California

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