July 18, 2024
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July 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” is an old proverb based loosely on what King Solomon advised: “One who spares his rod hates his child, but he who loves him, disciplines him in his youth.” (Mishle 13:24) Discipline has always been the domain of parents and teachers acting in loco parentis. Old-fashioned discipline at home as well as at school often involved an occasional frask, potch, opshmaysn or shmits. Knuckles may have been thwacked with a ruler and a cheek or ear may have been pinched or pulled. For many, this was a part of growing up. Clearly we are not advocating this today nor are we supporting belt buckle lashings or severe beatings. The Talmud advises us never to punish a child in anger. Yet, sometimes discipline is necessary.

At home as well as at school, finding the correct and most efficacious way to discipline a child is a challenge. In bygone days, the need for maintaining discipline in school was minimal since parents had the utmost respect for teachers, and children knew that disrespectful behavior would not be tolerated. If a child was disciplined in school it would be doubled when he/she came home. Some public school teachers today receive a paddle along with their school supplies in nineteen states where paddling is still legal. In many charedi and some Sephardic schools, corporal discipline is still administered.

Much has changed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Teachers do not always command the respect to which they are entitled. Students do not always automatically respond civilly to a teacher’s request for decorum in the classroom. Today’s teachers must earn their students’ respect, it is no longer automatic. It is not at all unusual for a teacher to be reprimanded by a parent for disciplining a child. It is not uncommon for a particularly obnoxious child to tell a teacher “You can’t tell me what to do, my father is on the board,” or “…my parents pay your salary.” The old joke that a child who misbehaved in school got punished at home but today if a child misbehaves it’s the teacher who is in trouble, is not so funny.

In addition to the entitlements demanded by many contemporary parents and by extension their children, teachers are very limited when it comes to discipline. If the tutorial authority and moral suasion of a teacher is not sufficient to contain a rambunctious child, there are few options available. A teacher may try positive reinforcement, send a student to the principal’s office, or send a note home, or call a parent. Problems arise when a child refuses to listen to a teacher and is openly defiant. It is difficult to forcefully remove a disruptive child from a classroom without risking a lawsuit.

Suspensions and ultimate removal of a child from a school are available after all else fails. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l ruled that if the class is constantly disrupted, the unruly child may be expelled. When class time is lost because of a disruptive child it is not just five minutes lost never to be regained, but it is five minutes times the number of students in the class who have lost precious learning time. Conferences with parents, counseling and other interventions should, of course, be tried first. Unfortunately, too often children are medicated or over medicated. [This topic will be a separate column.]

Setting limits starts at home. When parents forget how to be parents and try to be friends with their children it’s a recipe for disaster. Compounding this is the erroneous assumption that parents can “discuss” anything with their child. Being a parent means that a child knows who’s in charge. Too often, unfortunately, it is the child who controls the parents.

This change in today’s parents has many layers. Another aspect of much of contemporary parenting is their litigious nature. Parents actually believe that they know their child better than the teacher who spends much more qualitative time with their child. Do the math. The sheer hours of student-teacher interaction dwarfs the time parents actually spend interacting with their children. Parents will often refuse to acknowledge their child’s shortcomings. This makes disciplining children a very delicate art. It is also a sad fact of life that teachers can no longer give hugs to students, can no longer bounce them on their knees or hold them in their laps without risking a lawsuit. If a diaper needs to be changed or soiled clothes changed, two adults must be present.

We would like to believe that parents want the best for their children as do their teachers. A starting point would be for children to understand from their parents that the teachers are to be respected and obeyed. The key to any discipline protocol is consistency. If parents and teachers work together—that’s a good starting point.

Dr. Wallace Greene is a veteran educator and administrator. He was the principal of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, director of Jewish Educational Services for the UJA, and founder of the Sinai Schools. He is currently the executive director of the Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn.

By Wallace Greene

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