On my way home this morning I had a conversation with a neighbor about discipline in school versus discipline in the home. What became extremely apparent is that parents really are best suited for disciplining children. We know our children better than anyone else, including their teachers. Although teachers often care for our children, the structure of the school system doesn’t allow them to get to know our children as well as parents. Everything in the school system is designed for groups. Teachers can’t teach children based on individual needs, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. That doesn’t mean that the school system has no value; it just means that parents are that much more valuable.
The value of parents can not be overestimated when it comes to discipline. Consider the following story I heard today. My neighbor’s elementary age son watched a “family-friendly” comedy show where a specific skit has adults purchase a piano that is haunted. This haunted piano says things like “I’m going to kill you!” and it’s all played for laughs. Seeing this phrase in a comedic context, the young boy writes “I’m going to kill you” on a note and passes it to another student in the school. Naturally, and rightfully, the school acts immediately in disciplining the young man. From the school’s point of view, a serious threat has been leveled, and they must deal with it. The young boy was sent to the principal’s office and, with his mother in attendance, the principal talked about the seriousness of the situation. The mother, knowing where her son heard the phrase, attempts to explain that he meant no harm and that he must have thought he was being funny. The principal insists on disciplining the boy, taking recess privileges away while threatening suspension in the future for any other incidents. The mother, knowing that her son is intelligent enough to know that suspension would mean he could stay home from school (something the boy would love to do), hopes the principal avoids mentioning that possibility any further.
Who is right in this scenario? The school sees the entire situation very seriously, whereas the mother sees it as a harmless mistake based on a young boy’s misunderstanding of adult humor. I believe both are right. The school must protect all the children from any possible threats, real or imaginary. The mother knows her son, and knows where he gets his thoughts. She also knows how he responds and uses situations in his life. The school plays an important role in teaching and also in helping children learn behaviors appropriate for public life. Parents have the same responsibilities, but their personal knowledge of their kids’ personalities and proclivities qualify them best for empathy, understanding, and knowledge of how to best discipline their children.
Is this really profound or an out-of-this-world idea? Not necessarily, but it’s been on my mind today. Perhaps one thing we might learn from this situation is the importance of communication between parents and teachers. Parent-teacher conferences so often seem to be useless and one-sided. Teachers talk about their expectations and how students are doing in their classes. Perhaps parents should talk more about their children’s personalities, experiences, desires, strengths, weaknesses, etc. I suppose some parents might do this, but maybe it would be useful for teachers to be trained in asking more directed questions about students from their parents. This may also require such conversations to occur without the students present. For some reason, my children’s school has teacher conferences with parents and children present. I suppose at some point someone argued that parent-teacher conferences should include students. Maybe there is some value in that. Then again, maybe it was a mistake.