Detentions: are they the right way to deal with problems?

Being detained at school to do homework for an hour after school does nothing to tackle the root cause of a problem.

It%E2%80%99s+time+for+disciplinary+philosophy+to+change+and+for+school+officials+to+start+using+punishments+that+work+instead+of+using+detention+as+a+catch-all+punishment+for+even+the+most+minor+infractions+of+school+rules.
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Detentions: are they the right way to deal with problems?

It’s time for disciplinary philosophy to change and for school officials to start using punishments that work instead of using detention as a catch-all punishment for even the most minor infractions of school rules.

It’s time for disciplinary philosophy to change and for school officials to start using punishments that work instead of using detention as a catch-all punishment for even the most minor infractions of school rules.

Tana Ososki

It’s time for disciplinary philosophy to change and for school officials to start using punishments that work instead of using detention as a catch-all punishment for even the most minor infractions of school rules.

Tana Ososki

Tana Ososki

It’s time for disciplinary philosophy to change and for school officials to start using punishments that work instead of using detention as a catch-all punishment for even the most minor infractions of school rules.

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How do we learn to pay for our mistakes, to become better people? How do we right a wrongful deed and learn from our slip-ups? There is not a single concrete answer to this problem to point to, but the vast majority of high schools in the United States, including ours, seem to answer this question with an oversimplified, overused answer: detention. 

Detentions can be effective in certain situations, but at the end of the day, a detention never fixes the root cause of a problem, causes oftentimes significant disruption in a student’s life and thus should not be the go-to punishment handed to students.

. Did the administrator who gave the detention consider all the factors involved in the student’s “wrongful” action? What if the student was stuck in traffic?”

Picture, for example, the following situation. A student arrives to advisory late too many times and is given a detention. The student reports to their assigned detention location and spends the duration of their detention doing homework. Theoretically, this should deter the student from being late to school again. This is not a very extreme example, and in theory, shows how detentions should work.

However, even in this small scale example, many questions arise. Did the administrator who gave the detection consider all the factors involved in the student’s “wrongful” action? What if the student was stuck in traffic? What if they themselves were not the reason they were late to school, and perhaps a sibling made them late? At this level, these questions may be unnecessary, and if the student really truly was just being lazy, detentions could prove effective.

But at the same time, problems also arise when detentions are given as a punishment to combat even bigger issues. If a student, for example, disrespects a teacher, will the detention be handled any differently? Chances are it will not. Being detained at school to do homework for an hour after school does nothing to tackle the root cause of a problem.

Administrators should look at all the forms of discipline they have available to them and decide which the student will benefit from more in the long run instead of automatically handing out detentions. In addition, those in charge of discipline should entertain the possibility of new ways of correcting behavior.

Detentions can also cause unnecessary stress and hardship. Often times, detentions will result in a student missing athletics events or practices and could complicate their lives logistically, as many students rely on their parents or a bus service to get to and from school. Although some may see this as an adequate punishment for a given action, no matter whether the student is in detention for wearing a hat in the hallway too many times or severely disrespecting a teacher, the consequence is the same. How is this a fair form of punishment? What does this tell students about how consequences to their actions will happen in the real world?  

At the very least, if schools decide detentions are necessary they could look into the possibility of having detentions over lunch or a free period to lessen the unnecessary impact it has on student’s life outside of school.

A study in 2010 found that, in high schools across the United States, detention was the single most used form of discipline among school administrators. The same study concluded that detention was, in the majority of cases, not effective as a long term solution for students who break the rules.

It’s been more than half a century since the idea of detention first took shape in high school, and with a few exceptions, it is clear that detention does not work and is not used effectively. Why do we still use, in fact, overuse, a system in our schools that is widely regarded as ineffective? It’s time for disciplinary philosophy to change and for school officials to start using punishments that work instead of using detention as a catch-all punishment for even the most minor infractions of school rules.

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