Detention: A Formalized Timeout
Detention Thursday, 7:30 AM. This is the subject of the email that appeared after I refreshed my inbox on Tuesday after school. I had never gotten a detention before, and I couldn’t think of anything I had done to warrant a punishment of any kind, so I told myself the email must have been a fluke. I apprehensively opened the message with a soft click of my trackpad. The first two words, “Dear Porter,” indicated that this was in fact intentionally sent to me. The email explained that I had not completed “required advisory space cleaning duty.” What is that? I wondered. I went into my inbox and scrolled through more than a dozen emails trying to find an explanation. Finally, I found an email from Allison Bishop, Dean of Upper School Student Life and Leadership, reminding my advisory to clean up the commons during community. This is the only memorandum I received informing me of my responsibility to clean up, and because I didn’t see this message buried under many others, I had received a detention.
I made a mistake, and now I have to learn my lesson, I thought. Understandable. To learn the rules of detention, I referred to an attached document in the email. I skimmed through the document and learned the three things you cannot do in detention; talk, use electronic devices, or sleep. The one thing you can do in detention is “silently read or study.” I laughed. This so-called disciplinary action is one designed for a child; detention is simply a formalized timeout. Either sit and think about what you’ve done, or do school work. Though Packer’s administration may think that rudimentary disciplinary tactic may help us, their students, understand and respect their rules, in reality, it just makes us resent them.
Walking into Packer at 7:20 AM is not a pleasant experience. Sick and sleep deprived, I walked into the Upper School Office to see my peers slumped down in their chairs, just as frustrated as me. I looked at an eleventh-grade girl and asked what she had done to get a detention. “Nothing, I don’t want to talk about it,” responded Ella Spungen (‘19) with clear annoyance in her voice. I went around the room and asked everyone why they were being punished. Although I got many different answers with an array of emotions, all of the answers made it clear to me that all the students there had one common thread in their responses; they either didn’t understand what they had done or didn’t understand why they were being punished in this way. This experience further inspired me to write this editorial and affirmed how important it is to enstate alternative punishments. Although Ms. Bishop declined to comment, Tenth Grade Dean, Ali Iberraken, happily obliged.
She views detention as “a way to show students that we prioritize certain community norms.” When questioned further about the effectivity of detention, Ms. Iberraken asked “does [detention] give an opportunity for certain meaningful dialogue? No. Should it? Potentially, yeah.”
Ms. Iberraken agrees that detention may not be the most effective punishment, but it’s easy to enforce. She worries that implementing more meaningful punishments may increase the workload of Packer’s administration significantly. Despite truly sympathizing with Ms. Iberraken’s concerns, the extra amount of time and effort to figure out an effective system of punishment is crucial. Detention may be an effective deterrent, but is that all we strive to teach at Packer? If students don’t understand why they are being punished and conforming to rules they are told to follow yet don’t believe in, how will students think for themselves?
Even Ms. Iberraken, a member of Packer’s administration, is conflicted about the punishment, saying the reason Packer uses detention as a form of punishment is that “it’s easy, and I don’t quite mean that, but there is some truth to it.”
To accomplish Packer’s mission statement, which highlights our school’s desire to cultivate “empathetic, responsible, globally-minded individuals,” we need a committee of students to have a conversation with a group of administrators so that, collectively, we can come up with new punishments.
These punishments shouldn’t merely dissuade students from committing misdemeanors, but encourage learning, growth, and potentially even the chance for students to give back to the community. Rather than sitting in a silent room for 35 minutes, the administration should enforce more productive punishments. If one misses advisory cleanup, to enforce responsible conduct, maybe they could be accountable for an extra two days of cleaning. If another consistently shows up late to class, to enforce punctual behavior, maybe they could show up early to help the teacher prepare for their course. These are just suggestions, disciplinary actions that need to be honed with discussion and debate. I chose Packer as a school because I knew that most people in the community strive to follow the morals presented to them. Although this is true of most, some of us may not understand why it is important to uphold our norms. Thus, students and teachers alike should strive to help others understand why we hold these values close to our hearts. Rather than giving a meaningless punishment and taking the easy route out, let us follow the road less traveled and find meaningful punishments that encourage students to act with purpose and heart.