Where is the Line Between Disciplining Students and Over-Punishing Them?

For centuries, a Catholic education has often been viewed as a coveted symbol of faith and regard.  Sacred Heart Academy strives to meet and excel past the standards of Catholic values, as well as the school mission statement, which explains the determination to “promote the growth of the whole person in a caring environment that encourages personal integrity, compassion, justice and sense of responsibility to self, to others and to the needs of society.”  Most can agree SHA surpasses expectations following this quote, helping produce strong women who go on to accomplish what they strive for.  Questioning the significance of this statement begins when looking at methods for punishment used for current students.  At what point does intense, well-intentioned disciplining following Catholic morals turn into a cycle of one-sided punishment causing feelings of injustice in students?  Both sides are valid with strong arguments, and it is important to explore as much information as possible

Both sides are represented below:

Disciplining is Necessary

While studying this controversial topic, it is important to remember the circumstances that apply to the situation.  All students or the families of students at Sacred Heart Academy decided on a Catholic education, most likely having gotten familiar with the school.  Many people from the incoming classes spend a day at SHA as a shadow, attend the open house, or visit for an interview.  It is common for students to have siblings or other family members who attended Sacred Heart before, and recommend it highly for the type of student that it helps form.  All of these factors contribute to the first point: that students and parents are aware of and are paying for an education with a rigorous curriculum and college-prep-style courses.

There is a uniform in place, as well as a code of conduct given to the students.  When a student breaks the bigger rules, it would be irresponsible for the administration not to handle the situation properly.  Arguing against enforcement of rules is illogical and immature, and SHA is preparing students for the real world through this approach.  As a college preparatory school, administration is expected to follow through with exactly what they claim to do, as not doing this would be untrue to what SHA strives to teach students.  Furthermore, the punishments administered by the school are nothing too severe, ranging from detention to taking privileges away for a period of time.  These results of breaking the rules are generous in comparison to how a workplace environment or apartment complex would handle rule breaking from a young adult.  These methods of disciplining attempt to create more respectful and determined students by working to give a glimpse at consequences of the real world, without putting students in such a harmfully realistic situation.  Sacred Heart’s website promises to “provide guidance to live independently”, this being set forth by revealing that students must not step out of line when working to become a respectful and responsible adult.  When signing up for SHA, families are well aware of the difficult and motivating environment, with disciplining being an important part of this.

There Must be a Balance

With the knowledge that the school cannot allow students to run wild without rules, there is still a valid argument against the manner in which punishment is delivered.  However, some feel it is difficult to express the discomfort they feel while striving to try their hardest because of the lack of genuine communication between the general needs of the students and the administration. Some fear standing up for themselves knowing they are only to be reprimanded for having a different opinion, which gets frustrating.  An anonymous student admits when questioned that, “it just sometimes feels like a never ending cycle where we will make huge strides academically, but are only looked at disapprovingly for wearing our socks lower than they are supposed to be.”  It is hard to make an argument against punishment for uniform violations, because they are part of the school community and stated in the code of conduct.  However, when considering the true purpose of the uniform, for everyone to look the same and make no one feel lesser, it seems logical to be able to overlook minor infractions as long as they are not causing feelings of inferiority in other students.

Another example of causes of injustice is the tone of voice used by some in response to disrespect from students.  After recent class meetings, there was a plethora of confusion from students over why respect is expected while they themselves feel they are hardly given the same.  No student believes they should not be punished at all, but many have ideas for other ways situations can be approached.  The whole class should not be punished for a few people’s violation of the rules. The ones who should be punished are the ones who do break the rules.  Usually, students do not break small rules in a malicious way, and when feeling as if they are publicly letting their class down, they may change their ways.  When trying to make a group of people feel unified by collectively removing privileges, it can divide them further when trying to find the culprit, considering the majority of them did not break any rules.  With a different approach, students at SHA can feel secure and respected while keeping motivation to remain obedient to the code of conduct.

This article originally appeared in The Alethea.