In “How Strict is Too Strict?”, writer Sarah Carr reports on the development and growth of so-called no-excuses discipline in charter schools located in the New Orleans, Louisiana area. In a well-rounded piece, Carr describes no-excuses discipline as being a behavioral approach that instills a great degree of character education. How this is achieved is by school staff paying attention to the smallest of infractions, from dress and on to the manner by which students walk the hallways or even raise their hands to recite an answer to a problem (Carr). In other words, it is a manner by which education is dispensed by micromanaging student behaviors. The no-excuses disciplinary approach also appears to pay strict adherence to education standards established by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), however the article does not state the reasons for this albeit Carr does mention a pressing need to bring test scores up in accordance with NCLB or face the potential of closure.
The no-excuses disciplinary approach is non-judicious and arbitrary in the ways by which students are treated for school infractions. Carr reports that students tended to be suspended for a day for even the most minor issues pertaining to such things as dress code. Primarily focusing on African American students prior to reaching high school, adherents continue to argue that a no-excuses disciplinary approach is a most effective, if not the most effective, means of instilling discipline within African American students so that they enter high school and devote their energies and focus into reaching college upon graduation (Carr). The no-excuse disciplinary approach is as much pedagogical critique as it is alternative to progressive approaches to education, considering their record in low-income school districts appears to be quite dismal in the eyes of reformists. As a result, no-excuses discipline appears to be at the polar-opposite end of the education spectrum where even the smallest of infractions, no matter how trivial they may seem, are immediately addressed by using punitive measures.
The following provides a point-counterpoint narrative between the Carr article and educator Paul Barnwell’s “Reducing Student-Behavior Problems: Notes from a High School Teacher”. Be Friendly, Not a Friend: It seems as if this axiom has been taken to the extreme by proponents of no-excuses discipline in that the article conveys a teacher approach that is neither warm nor engaging. It would also appear that a strict focus on behavior spares teachers from engaging with their students in constructive ways; to show interest in student extra-curricular pursuits both during and after school. As Barnwell points out many students do not have appropriate adult role models or mentors, and argues that teachers fill this deficiency while at school by showing support and encouragement. Engagement as Prevention: It appears that the primary focus of a no-excuses approach is on preventing adverse behaviors, and as was mention by Carr had a tendency of disrupting student education through a high rate of suspensions. Barnwell believes in using various approaches to engage students through classroom management and daily lesson planning. He provides a number of constructive approaches that even address the needs of students who have behavioral problems and male students who are inclined to get restless during the classroom period.
Creating the Right Conditions: Carr points out that there has been a degree of concerns expressed regarding the high rate of suspensions using a no-excuses approach. In fact, so much so that administrators have at least taken preliminary steps to confront the issue through constructive dialogue with students and programmatic change. Barnwell questions the overuse of disciplinary approaches from the standpoint of being a distraction and harmful to student progress. It also appears that changes have occurred in terms of faculty development, where staff meetings focused upon behavior management have now shifted to issues related to curriculum and teacher development. Developing Empathy: One of the primary elements missing from the story by Carr is any expression of empathy by the proponents of no-excuses discipline. Barnwell advocates social-emotional learning and restorative justice as keys to develop effective classroom and behavioral management approaches that also instill a sense of civic responsibility and empathy within student-transgressors. Utilizing both approaches is quite dynamic and moves away from the strict-authoritarian approach of no-excuses discipline which tends to view students in a relatively one-dimensional manner.
As Carr indicates toward the end of her article, no-excuses discipline seems either to discount typical adolescent behaviors or wishes to extinguish it entirely. There does not appear to be a middle-ground, or any consideration paid in that regard. Student behavior will always be a pressing issue and challenge for educators, but the question remains what will they do? It would seem that a more dynamic approach which has been detailed by Barnwell would be the more rational of the two. A no-excuses disciplinary approach seems fitting for the more punitive confines of juvenile lock-up facilities, although even then an approach resorting to such measure should be questioned in terms of its validity and productivity. As Barnwell describes restorative justice it provides students with the opportunity to make restitution for adverse behaviors and to develop skills related to empathy. Thus, instances where adverse behaviors have led to school infractions or other detrimental outcomes become teachable moments for both student and teacher. This approach is part of the larger social-emotional learning construct which is said to be quite instructive and beneficial to all involved, including the student, teacher and even parents. It would seem that in a day and age when relationships between adults and young people, in many cases, become increasingly caustic, an education approach that is increasingly authoritarian only serves to widen a rift that serves as a barrier for students while in school.
- Barnwell, Paul. “Reducing Student-Behavior Problems: Notes From a High School Teacher.” Education Week Teacher. Editorial Projects in Education, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
- Carr, Sarah. “How Strict Is Too Strict?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 17 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.