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The Discipline Method Debate - Speak Softly or Carry a Big Stick?

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As you try to tame the craze that the end of the year brings, teachers may be considering new behavior plans and discipline methods in their classrooms. Does your include a big stick? 

Last spring, Newsweek published a story about a principal who turned his school around by instituting “paddling” for disruptive students. 

With the permission of parents, students who commit “major offenses” are sent to principal David Nixon’s office at John C Calhoun Elementary in South Carolina. There, he calmly explains WHY they are being punished to directly correlate their behavior with their resulting punishment before giving them three licks.

The idea behind this disciplne method is to make punishment more immediate and effective without taking children away from valuable instruction time through suspension. Since Nixon first put the paddle to work, student behavior and achievement have improved dramatically, going from a chaotic environment that drove teachers and students away to Palmetto award-winning.

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This success in the short-term doesn’t mean that the practice is any less controversial or that Nixon himself wants to do it.

"If I could burn that paddle in my stove," Nixon says, "I would. This is the worst part of my job." Full story

Nixon’s methodology makes me wonder: Is our too-soft society the reason for discipline problems in school? Or, in desperation, are we willing to trade in the long-term message of anti-violence for a quick fix in schools?

I recently heard an episode of NPR’s “This American Life” ran a story about Baby School that teaches parents that corporal punishment sends the wrong message to children.

It told the stories of young, underprivileged parents who attend “Baby School” to learn about parenting. Parents are taught to speak more to children while they were young, to use positive words and to NOT use violence as a behavior deterrent.

These parents didn’t know why their children were hitting other kids. Turns out, they learned it from their spankings. They learned from those parents that the only way to change someone’s behavior is through violence.

Instead, Baby School teaches to explain what children did wrong (even before they can talk) and punish them another non-violent way. Full story

In light of NPR’s story, I wonder if Nixon is reinforcing a lesson of violence his students may have also encountered at home – especially considering that parents are given the choice of granting spanking permission.

The question remains: will the paddle solve our school’s problems? And if it does, is it worth it?