- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

A friend of mine happened to be looking in on her fourth-grade son’s class one day when he talked back to his teacher. She confined him to their house for a week and made him write a one-page, single-spaced letter of apology. He actually had to write three because his mom required that the letter sound sincere and contain no spelling or grammatical errors. Now, that’s my kind of mom.

The teacher called to thank my friend but also mentioned that the school district doesn’t allow teachers to have children write letters of apology to other children they have wronged. Seems a child might feel “punished” and “humiliated” by having to write such an epistle. Furthermore, boys don’t like to write, and the feeling is that using writing as a punishment will cause boys to hate it even more.

Funny; I’m a writer, I think of writing as recreation, yet on several occasions when I was a child, I was required to write a letter of apology to someone.

In “The Conspiracy of Ignorance: The Failure of American Public Schools,” author Martin L. Gross points out that the typical teacher is trained, in college and through later “in-service” seminars she must attend, in “dubious educational psychology.” The above anecdote is a prime example of such brainwashing.

Even though “positive discipline” — rewarding good behavior and all but ignoring bad behavior — has proved to be bankrupt, most public schools still embrace it.

However, the problem is not just one of teacher training. Administrators who know positive discipline doesn’t work require that it be used to the exclusion of punishment for the simple reason that it keeps parents off their backs and, by extension, lawyers out of their offices.

So, even teachers who know that misbehavior is best dealt with by punishing the culprit are prohibited from using punishment because of the outraged parent and/or litigation factor. In the final analysis, the problem is not teachers, their trainers or their administrators. The problem is parents who become apoplectic when their immaculate children are punished at school for anything.

Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, when a child misbehaved in school, he faced the possibility of being punished by four people on four separate occasions: first his teacher; then the principal; third, his mother when the child arrived home; and finally, the most dreaded punisher of all, his father.

In those days, when a teacher called a parent and reported misbehavior, the parent accepted the teacher’s version of the story pretty much without question.

In many cases, the child was not even allowed to offer up a defense. I’m a member of that generation, and if statistics are any indicator, this was anything but bad for us.

Since the mid-1960s, when the parenting tide in America began to turn away from traditionalism toward psychological correctness, every indicator of positive mental health in children has declined, and significantly so.

As permissiveness took root and blossomed, parents became more concerned about their children’s self-esteem than their children’s behavior. Supposedly “liberated” moms went to work, came home feeling guilty and began letting their children walk all over them. Dads let themselves be brainwashed into believing that traditional fatherhood was bad and became “sensitive” dads who substituted talk for discipline.

Otherwise rational adults began thinking children had “rights.” Schools began purveying “therapeutic” education, which means education that makes a child feel good even if he isn’t learning anything of value. In no time at all, as my mother would put it, “everything went to [a certain very hot, underground place] in a handbasket.”

Personally, I think it’s time every parent in America wrote his or her child’s teacher a note of apology. That would, after all, be a fitting way to begin this new school year.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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