Is Harsh School Discipline Necessary? That’s Up for Debate

Every child should be able to dream big, yet we’re facing a discipline crisis in schools across the United States. Children should be placed on pathways to college and the careers of their dreams. Instead, too often they are pushed out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system through the use of overly harsh school disciplinary policies.

Minor misbehavior such as talking too loudly or violating a school dress code are frequently criminalized. For instance, a high school senior in Florida was expelled and arrested earlier this year for a science project gone wrong. While Kiera Wilmot’s case was dismissed, she still bears the stigma of an arrest record.

Instead of investing in children and fostering supportive environments where they can succeed, many school districts turn to suspensions, expulsions, and even arrests to deal with typical pre-adolescent and adolescent behavior. Such “zero tolerance” policies harm all students, but children of color, students with disabilities and students identifying as LGBT are especially affected. One suspension increases the risk a child will drop out of school, and one school-based arrest can wreak emotional havoc, not to mention derail a student’s job prospects or acceptance to college or the military.

As a pioneer in the movement to end the over-criminalization of youth, Advancement Project has long advocated for alternatives to harsh school disciplinary policies. From years of research, we understand what works in terms of creating safe, nurturing learning environments where students can succeed.

If it’s hard to conceptualize the many approaches to building nurturing learning environments, the above video makes the point vividly clear. It features an exceptional example of a creative school debate program—Baltimore Urban Debate League—that helps students develop meaningful interactions with adults in their schools in addition to finding their own voice and expressing themselves.

In the video, we meet Kaela, who once struggled building relationships with adults in school. After joining the program and winning two medals during her first debate, she flourishes into a great debater and student. Alternatives to harsh disciplinary policies help make the difference between whether students succeed or fail.

As the Baltimore Urban Debate League has shown, solutions exist. We just need to take the time to identify and implement alternatives that give students needed support—and the chance to dream big.

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Problems like these are to be found around the world. They are all similar and at the same time so different and unique. Make children believe in themselves and create self-confidence; that´s half way to dream big and maybe the creation of a big dream come true. It is good to watch positive news today....

When we treat children in a cruel and punative manner we suffer too, in that we make our world unnecessarily crueler which, in turn, makes our lives less peaceful.

I care deeply about this issue and support the advancement project.

It is AMAZING to see that when I quit school in 1957, the same problems are still going on today in 2013. With young kids today, it's problems at home, in the streets, and at school. The kids today have to realize they have a choice to be with the Negative kids or the positive kids before it is to late. Just like back then in the 50's, and today, the kids think they know everything, and they learn the had way by not listening to someone who knows!!!!!!!!!!

Seeing such acts especially in developed countries i,e usa is shame because what will others learn from ?. However letting students extremly free have also its own draw back because countries have a responsiblity to shape their citizen in a way their educational policy want to achieve but as my stand taking criminal measure on them is not correct.

What a wonderful video essay. We hear very little in the traditional media about the spiritual and psychic effects of the over-criminalization of our young people. We hear even less about these simple avenues towards advancement and, dare I say, perhaps even meaningful alternatives to punishment. For me, I was one of those kids who became literally detoured from misbehavior by being encouraged to join my high school debate team. Bravo on sharing this under-reported story!

As a National Board Certified Teacher that is trying to make a change in education, I have found that there are many educators both in the classroom and administration that, deep in their hearts, have personal issues of insecurity and therefore have control issues. It pains me to hear other teachers scream at a little boy who doesn't walk in a straight and quite line down the hall: "I'm done with you." How is that even allowed? But it happens every day across America. Adults need to get a grip on their own selves before they transfer their hatred onto innocent kids. Restoration Matters!!!

thank you for your work judith. there is never a place for harsh discipline, especially in our schools. my observations and thinking resonate with those of karen s. i had a teacher tell me she treated kindergarten children the way she did because that's how they would be treated on the the street so they had to get use to it. fear is rampant, frequently manifesting itself in violence of all sorts, just breeding more fear. the situation is complex. maria montessori knew: "...children behave badly because they live in conditions where their spirit cannot express itself". seems this is so true for many adults as well. the solution begins within each of us. each of us shifting our beliefs and our actions and becoming personally involved will make the difference.

In 2001 Harvard School of Education ran a conference that identified a huge number of children in US secondary schools had problems with visual processing; for children in care it was over 80%. In the UK I am working to prove that every child can be an effective learner

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