Sat | Oct 21, 2017

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Suspend suspensions

Published:Tuesday | October 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM

By far, the dumbest, laziest, most ineffective form of punishment meted out to students is suspension.

It's far too frequently dished out to 'bad students' as a consequence for actions school administrators deem inappropriate.

My problem with suspensions is threefold. One, they are used frivolously by some school officials. Every little offence can gain you a suspension nowadays. Two, most times, they don't impress upon the offending child what they did wrong, and they don't really encourage behaviour al change. And three, and this one irks me most, suspensions put children in harm's way.

The latest set of suspensions to have been made public were of students of St Catherine High School who shot that video of themselves doing 'The D challenge'. It's another one of those pop-culture fads from the US that kids see on the Internet. Even perceived wholesome girl-next-door celebrities have done the challenge, which calls for persons to drop rhymes detailing things they would do for their man's member. It's adult subject matter to which children have access. And pick up.

To be fair, I strongly doubt any of those who take the verbal challenge would actually carry out the things they rap about.

I think the punishment of suspension in this instance is overly harsh. In essence, they've suspended the children for using a curse word. That's detention-worthy at best. They've also suspended them for talking about adult sexual content, and then what's the punishment? To send them home for five whole days. Five whole days!

What do you think will happen? Empty house, working parents out during the day, children left unsupervised. Recipe for trouble.

I once went to a school in St Ann to give a talk, and the student population on the day was thin. When I enquired of the principal why, she told me they had suspended an entire class. A whole class of about 30 students. Why? Unruly conduct. They were incessantly talking, and had to be 'taught a lesson'.

Can you imagine the pandemonium that was happening at one of those children's houses on suspension day. The principal, in my opinion, just declared the suspension 'Official Offsite Class Party Day', sending the kids to get up to all manner of evil. I wouldn't be surprised if the devil found work for their hands.

Suspensions, especially when used willy-nilly, just don't work. I've heard of too many schools with cabinets and cabinets of suspension files, many with reoffending children. The bigger issue is our inability to administer appropriate punishment to our young people. It's a fundamental problem, both at home and in our schools.

 

EFFECTIVE ALTERNATIVES

 

The Ministry of Education removed corporal punishment from classrooms (and rightly so), but what they didn't do is aptly arm teachers and school administrators with effective alternatives.

Might I suggest some options that I have heard of that would be much safer and more effective. At Campion, suspensions are served at school. You wear a janitorial jumpsuit and do chores either during or after school. The humiliation of your friends seeing you in the oversized blue overalls alone is reason enough to not want to be in this position again.

St George's does something brilliant. Suspended students must volunteer at a charity. The students are supervised at an organisation in need of assistance. So it isn't some free-for-all holiday at home. The school can account for your whereabouts and you are put to do community service.

Missing from the suspension equation is often behavioural counselling. A chronic rule-breaker isn't dissuaded by a little time off. If the intention truly is to help turn around the child's life, there must be an element of behavioural counselling in the mix.

This insistence on punishment, by swatting a fly with a bazooka, is exactly what has got us where we are today. It's about time we suspend suspensions - at least until they serve a better purpose.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.