With the onset of the new year, the Oklahoma legislature’s at it again, and the results are about what you’d expect. Senator Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee) proposed Senate Bill 911, which would fine parents for the misbehavior of their children in school.
According to Sharp, the loss of corporal punishment as an option for teachers has led to some of the worst behaved students the school system has ever seen. Setting aside the fact that numerous psychological studies have shown that corporal punishment is not effective and can lead to mental health issues and criminal activity later on in life, it’s still questionable whether a fine system would be a valid form of punishment for students.
Sharp seems to believe that once students understand that their behavior will affect their parents, they will immediately cease causing problems. He also seems to believe that punishing parents for their children’s behavior may cause their parents to resort to the corporal punishment he is not allowed to use.
While I can absolutely get on board with Sharp’s aims to get parents more involved with their children’s education and to find ways to discipline students without taking them out of the classroom, I’m not sure a fine system is the best way to accomplish these goals.
It seems counterintuitive to use a fine system to both get parents involved and to discipline students. By punishing the parents, rather than the children, the system even further separates students from their behavior and the consequences of their actions. This takes part of the responsibility off of the student by undermining a school’s ability to discipline a student without going through the family.
The bill would also allow “judges” to require community service or counseling instead of a fine. Honestly, this seems like a better option and it should be the default rather than an exception. Community service or counseling is a response that directly affects a student, and is more likely to get that student involved with the ramifications of their own behavior, especially if the community service is done for their own school. Counseling is also a way to get parents involved with their children’s behavioral issues and education. These two options are also way less likely to disproportionately affect poorer students the way a fine system would.
While Senate Bill 911 ultimately draws attention to the growing problem of discipline and parent disinterest in education, the proposed solution would not solve these problems in an effective way. Solutions need to engage parents in their children’s education, not just the punishment, and get students involved with their school community and the issues their own actions cause.