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22 November 2004: Duct Tape and Other Disciplinary Measures (1 of 3)

I recently heard a morning radio show discussing school discipline as it relates to duct tape. I was baffled by the connection, and so I went straight to Google to find out what all the fuss was about. I was shocked to find so many articles (about 10,000) in response to my search for "duct tape student discipline." Most articles were discussing one of two incidents, summarized below.

On September 18, 2001, WKRN News 2 in Nashville reported that a high school freshman in his keyboarding class had is mouth duct-taped shut by his teacher. The teacher was a 28-year veteran with a completely clean disciplinary record. The student was 14,on medication for ADD and high blood pressure, and admittedly "rambunctious." According to the article, "Corporal punishment is allowed in Maury County schools, but physical contact cannot be abusive or cause mental anguish."

On September 23 of this year, reported that duct tape was used to overcome a middle school dress code violation in Dunlap, Indiana. According to the report, the 12-year-old student's underwear was showing above the waistband of his pants, though it was hidden underneath his untucked shirt. When his teacher sent him to the Vice Principal, she asked the student to tuck in his shirt, then duct-taped his waist three times around to hold up his pants and sent him back to class. The boy's father expressed the concern that his son would be mocked by his classmates as a result of the incident.

23 November 2004: Duct Tape and Other Disciplinary Measures (2 of 3)

So, the discussion on the radio ensued. Where the disciplinarians out of line? Most people (in my observation, and in the poll on say no. It seems that parents spend so much of their time expecting teachers and administrators to control their students' behavior that the public is willing to validate these instances of discipline. Teachers do what they have to do. If the students were following the rules, these things wouldn't have happened. These are the arguments in favor of duct tape.

I think there are two perspectives that might illuminate the situations a bit. First, the humanist. Imagine yourself back in middle school. Do you remember how fragile your self esteem was? Do you remember how important it was to look right and act in ways that will garner peer approval? It is as if your very existence hinges on these two things. And nothing could crush your image faster than being embarrassed by an adult.

Could anyone argue that the adults in these examples didn't think that their actions would result in humiliation of their students? Is it possible that it didn't cross their minds? Or, is it more likely that their "this will teach them," attitude was couning on it? Is it possible that these adults were fully aware of the power of peer relationships to their students, and that they were manipulating these peer relationships to their own ends? Embarass that kid for sagging his pants today, and he'll wear a belt to school tomorrow--who cares what other consequences may be?

24 November 2004: Duct Tape and Other Disciplinary Measures (3 of 3)

Now, I don't want to sound unsympathetic to teachers who lose their patience. I only want to point out that there are exactly ZERO educational theorists who condone embarrassment as an acceptable way to manage students. In fact, it is exactly the opposite in most strategies. Teach students to be accepting and accepted. In this way, they will feel connected and responsible. I am surprised that this idea is obviously as foreign to parents as it is to many educators.

So, beyond that mushy humanist perspective, there are a few questions that need to be asked by the critical theorist. This is not ivory tower pontificating, just a few practical points that I think are worth consideration. Is it necessary for students to remain silent and/or seated during a keyboarding class? Is it acceptable for students' underwear to be hidden under their shirts, or will they learn better if it is hidden by their pants? Is an energetic student necessarily showing disrespect? Are current fashion trends preventing meaningful learning? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, you won't find duct tape doing anything in my classroom except holding the carpet down.

25 November 2004: Happy Thanksgiving!

Inside Teaching will return with a new article on Monday, November 29.

26 November 2004: Enjoy Your Weekend!

Inside Teaching will return with a new article on Monday, November 29.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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