By Marian Searby and Chloe Colligan
Ever since our childhood years punishments have been used as a method to better oneself, and teach us when an act is wrong. The severity of a punishment should fit the crime, yet who is the judge and jury for this? Who is to say what the punishment should be? The choice is left up to the parents, and every parent differs in this. To some, an act is intolerable, to others it was a mistake. The problem is that this punishment/reward system that we are trained to appeal to is one that shapes our behavior throughout our entire life. Just like dogs we were given treats like ice cream when our behavior is good, and early bedtimes or no TV when we break the rules. This is an almost inhumane way to be treated, but overtime we adapt and begin responding to these outcomes. But in reality how effective can this system really be?
In middle school at HB, we advanced to getting red flags when misbehaving and green flags when doing something kind. Is this really how children should be brought up? Only being decent when under a microscope waiting for a positive response from those who watch over us? Albert Einstein once said “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” This quote could not be more accurate. We are conditioned from a young age to uphold rules not for the greater good, but because it serves to help ourselves. What act becomes selfless when looking at it through this perspective? At this time, kids are getting rewards for volunteering, or a recommendation for a college application because they gave food to the homeless. The need for these rewards is what creates seriously flawed individuals. When looking at punishments the same type of philosophy can be applied. It encourages people to be “normal”. It creates a right way and a wrong way to go through life, which while necessary can also prevent any sort of out of the box thinking.
In order to see how effective our current punishment system at HB, is we sent out a survey to all the students. In it we found that out of the 139 people who answered, 22.3% had received at least one detention their high school years. We then asked the reason for them, and 9% of those answers included dress code violations. The majority of the other answers listed things liked “skipping class for a protest”, “unexcused tardys (sic)”, or “missing a detention for a game or other important event, and receiving another one”. The last question we asked was how many detentions each person has had. Out of 32 responses more than 40% said they have had at least two or three detentions.
Here is a list of things you could get a detention for: skipping class, being late to school, being out of dress code, eating food in an area you are not supposed to, being late to class, cheating, talking back to a teacher, and the list goes on. Yet, some of these violations seem more intense and serious than other ones. You may find yourself in a detention with someone who cheated, while your reason for being there is that you were late to school three times.
Overall, the system of punishments and rewards is a serious problem in our society. In saying this, we are not saying that no one should be punished ever, but we are calling for reform. Yes, they provide an incentive to be on time to school or to be in dress code, but it also causes a tremendous amount of stress for adolescents. Somedays you just have a bad day. All your pants with zippers and pockets are in the wash and you have no choice but to wear leggings or your sister woke up 5 minutes before you are supposed to leave so now you are late. It does not allow for any off days or slip ups. That being said, there are people who are repeat offenders so it is hard for teachers to be able to decipher the difference between I am just having a terrible day and I just didn’t feel like putting on pants with a zipper and pockets. The inverse of this, the reward aspect, of people being rewarded for doing good things provides a similar conflict. Should we reward people for doing good things when that is the expectation? In middle school I was rewarded a green flag for being kind to someone others may not have been the nicest to. There is no easy way to reform this system. Yet, we believe if people give people the benefit of the doubt and teach them that doing good things for your community and the people around you is an expectation.
Below are the results from our poll: