March 2018 Print

Punishment at School

by SSPX Sisters

“So, Vivien comes home from school with lines to do because he was talking too much. Last week, Jean, the eldest, was already deprived of a special outing, and yesterday, Amelie’s pencil sharpener was confiscated by Sister because she was playing with it in class. Still, they’re good children! I know how to raise them after all! It’s always mine that are punished. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are being picked on, but really…” And there is mom, all upset.

When a child comes home from school with a punishment, the first thing to do is not to be surprised. All children are born with the stain of original sin, and so, notwithstanding their baptism, they all have a tendency to prefer laziness to work, ease to effort, dissipation to obedience. Even with the best education in the world, each one is inclined towards evil. Even as adults we are still the same, as St. Paul already complained. The surprising thing would be a child who never got into mischief, never had bad grades and was never reprimanded!

Obviously, the parents would prefer their child to be always the top of the class and to come home every evening with their backpack full of good grades, but we must be realistic.

Occupational Hazard

The fact remains that certain children are punished more frequently than others. Some children have a more difficult temperament than others: more fidgety, more noisy, more antagonistic, more talkative, and so their escapades are more disturbing to the class. These children won’t necessarily end up as delinquents later on, but in the meantime they greatly test the patience of their teachers. Of all his misdemeanors, Monsignor Prosper Augouard, nicknamed “bishop to the cannibals,” was punished many times for his insolence; he didn’t turn out so badly. As one young primary school pupil said to his classmate to console him for being reprimanded, “Don’t worry, it’s an occupational hazard” (true story!).

Still, the punishment needs to bring about the reform of the culprit. For that reason, the most useful thing is to follow the direction of the teacher who gave the punishment.

“My poor darling, you’ve been disciplined again. It really isn’t fair. The teacher doesn’t understand you—he doesn’t know how to handle you. You won’t be doing this punishment, it’s much too long anyway. I’ll write a note excusing you.” If his mother reacts in this way, the miscreant will certainly take advantage of the bargain: “I act up and thanks to Mom, I escape the worst and we carry on as before—it’s really quite funny.” But if on the other hand he hears: “What? You’ve been disciplined again? I’m ashamed of you!”—it isn’t often that his father puts on his big voice but when he does it’s all the more intimidating—the wrongdoing becomes much less attractive, even more so because dad has decided to deprive him of dessert this evening, just when it was chocolate mousse. That night, the miscreant takes stock: the teacher’s punishment, his father’s dressing down and going without dessert—the prank was actually pretty costly…and so the child calms down for a week or so.

When a teacher asks for the punishment or the zero-graded work to be signed by the parents, it is a way of alerting them: there is a problem and it won’t be resolved by shutting our eyes so as not to see it. The best thing to do is to ask for a meeting with the teacher in order to find a solution together.

Hypothetical Injustice

But then Louis comes home from school with a huge punishment: a long and very tedious piece of supplementary work. He is up in arms: “You see, Mom, it’s not fair. The whole class was disciplined and I had nothing to do with it. The others were behind it all. It’s just not fair.” Children are very quick to sense justice and injustice and a punishment which seems to them unfair is sure to wound them deeply. What should be said to Louis? Ask him to recount what happened and see whether in fact, objectively speaking, he isn’t in some way responsible. “The others started the misbehavior, but didn’t you also gain by it just a little? No? So you are less guilty than the ringleaders but you aren’t completely blameless. Even if the punishment is a little strong for you personally, you’re an equal member of the class. I’m not scolding you, because you haven’t done very much wrong, but you have to do the punishment anyway. Come on, it’s not so bad! This one will serve for all the other times when you might have deserved it but weren’t found out.”

Thomas is grown up now. He remembers the tomfoolery of his childhood and the monumental punishments they merited. It’s not necessarily a bad memory. Those punishments helped him to become a man.