I grew up in Glendale Heights, Illinois. I was a child of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The subdivision we lived in was newly built when my parents bought their house in 1973 or 1974 (I’m not sure). The school they built in the neighborhood opened when I was in 1st grade (Black Hawk Elementary School).
Very quickly our class earned a reputation. It wasn’t a good one. We were the most difficult class the teachers (many of them quite experienced) had ever had. That reputation was pretty accurate and it followed us throughout our elementary school years.
While I don’t remember everything our teachers tried to gain compliance, I am certain that they tried everything the could think of. Eventually, we were disciplined as a group. This meant that we would, as an entire class, lose privileges. I remember losing Art (which I think we had once a week) and extra recesses. I am not certain what other things we lost as a group. However, I can tell you that the “group punishments” were ineffective.
As a teacher, I can see that my childhood teachers were attempting to use peer pressure to “help” the kids who were causing trouble, behave. I use this technique at times in my own classroom. And it can be effective. As I remember it, it wasn’t effective with my class. I admit that my memories of the events of my childhood are fuzzy and may be skewed, however, I do remember feeling frustrated and powerless because I was one of the “good” kids.
This is my memory (with some collaboration from my mom) of an event that occurred when I was in 4th grade.
I was a “walker,” which meant that I walked home to have lunch (remember this was the 1970’s). Students that rode the bus had lunch and recess and “walkers” went home. Lunch/Recess was an hour. My house was one of the farthest houses from the school and while I don’t remember if I was “late” that day, I do remember I was the last one to line up to go into the building after recess.
Apparently, my class (actually the entire 4th grade) was in rare form and had been difficult for the entire hour. When I say this, I mean that the “bad” kids were being exceptionally difficult. I wasn’t there when the major infraction occurred and to this day, I have no idea what it was. But the consequences were that we were going to lose Art and we were to sit and write sentences for the entire afternoon as punishment.
I was mad. I remember trying to discuss with my teacher that it wasn’t fair that I missed Art because I wasn’t even there when the class got in trouble. I don’t remember the response, but I had to sit and write with my classmates. I wrote about a page of sentences becoming more and more upset as I wrote. I then began to write a letter to the teachers and the principal about why “group” punishment wasn’t fair. It hadn’t worked in the past with our class and therefore it would continue to lead to consequences for the entire class. The thing was that the “good” kids were the ones who cared about those consequences and the “bad” kids could have cared less, so the “good” kids were being punished for things they didn’t do and didn’t have any control over.
I believe I wrote 3-4 pages regarding the punishment. Then I got out of my seat to turn my sentences in. Of course, we weren’t supposed to get out of our seats and we were supposed to continue writing for the entire afternoon. I was sent back to my seat and told to continue writing. I went back to my seat, but I didn’t write anymore. A little later I went again to turn in my sentences and this time I told the teacher I wasn’t writing anymore. I don’t remember the response, but I do remember sitting with my head down on my desk for the remainder of the day.
When school let out, I immediately went home and told my mom what had happened. I told her that instead of writing sentences, I wrote about why the punishment was unfair. I told my mom that I was tired of being punished for things that I didn’t do and that the teachers should be smart enough to see that after years of doing the same thing, it didn’t work. My mom agreed.
Just a bit of background information – my mom was a P.E. teacher at a High School in a well-to-do New York area. She stopped teaching when I was born and never went back to it. She was the PTA president for years and was extremely involved in our school. She knew the kids in my class, my teachers and she understood educational theories.
There was a PTA meeting that night, so after dinner my mom went to the school. At the end of the meeting, she was confronted by the 4th grade teachers. The told her what I did. Of course, she already knew and she defended my actions. The teachers told her that it wasn’t acceptable, especially since I turned my paper in and stopped writing sentences before the end of the day. My mother again pointed out that I was right.
The 4th grade teachers decided that my actions, that is not writing sentences all afternoon, could not go unrecognized. They told my mother that I was to report to the principal’s office instead of going to class the following day.
Our principal was a grandfatherly man. He had known me since first grade and he knew my mother well. He was soft-spoken and smiled often. I don’t remember being afraid of him, at all. He put me in a conference room in the office and told me that I needed to write 100 more sentences and then I could go to class. My mother knew that was what they were going to require me to do and she told me. I told her that I wasn’t going to write the sentences. I was right and nothing was going to change the fact that the teachers were not. My mother, in my memory, told me that I should do what I needed to do. But she also reminded me to be respectful.
I remember telling the principal that I was not going to write the sentences. I remember telling him that it wasn’t fair and that “group” punishment didn’t work and that to continue using it only punished the “good” kids. And I remember being left in the conference room. Every so often someone would come in to see if I had written the sentences. Every time I told them I hadn’t. Eventually, they called my mom. She came in to talk to me and told me that I had made my point and I needed to write the sentences. I remember talking with my mom and making sure that we would not be punished as a class for things the entire (or even majority) of the class didn’t do. Then, I pulled the completed sentences out of my folder and showed them to my mom.
I had written the sentences when I was first put into the conference room, I just didn’t tell anyone. I remember my mom laughing and going to get the principal. He came in and the three of us had a chat. I wanted the principal to tell me that he would not allow the teachers to continue with discipline that wasn’t working. And he told me he would make sure that it didn’t happen again (and it didn’t for my class or my brother’s class). Then I handed him the completed sentences. My mom told him that I had written them hours ago. He laughed. I stayed in the office the rest of the day. I also got a gumball from the principal’s gumball lamp. It was a good day.
My parents (my guess is that my dad was out-of-town for work as he often was during my growing-up years) encouraged me (and my brother) to stand-up for what I believed in. They supported my right to have my own opinion. We often had loud discussions regarding issues (the loud part being that, if someone didn’t understand or agree with your opinion, you continue raising your voice so they would “get” it) during dinner. I learned the art of arguing and presenting a point effectively. Furthermore, I had the confidence to stand-up for what I felt was right.
Thanks Mom and Dad! We may disagree on a lot of things, but you taught me to think for myself and the world would be a boring place if everyone agreed.
Look for more stories regarding events in my childhood and standing-up for myself…