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Exile Has Its Place: A High School Principal Reflects on School Discipline

by T. Elijah Hawkes

Exile has its place. As an age-old human response to conflict, its potential value to the healthy maturation of students and the school community should not be discounted.

Exile or ostracism goes by various names in school. Students are told: Move your desk. Leave the classroom and wait in the hall. Go to the office. Go to detention. You’re suspended.

There are those in progressive education circles who dismiss suspension as a careless traditional response to a situation better addressed by counseling and alternative, restorative justice methods. Others aptly note that the power to suspend is often abused: used to push out students who might challenge us, thus furthering systemic neglect and mistreatment. If done right, however, suspension, or exile, can be the first step in a restorative process, and a meaningful and fair response to the violation of community values.

Sometimes Kids Just Needed to “Get Out”
At the James Baldwin School in New York City, we’ve just finished our fourth year. We’re under 300 students, mostly transfers from other high schools, majority black and Latino, residing in four City boroughs. It’s a vastly heterogeneous population in terms of academic past, scholastic sophistication, and ambition.

Last year I was working with a colleague who was new to the teaching profession and struggling to maintain a respectful climate in the classroom. Wrangling demons and darlings each day, sometimes not sure who was who, he was certain that sometimes kids needed to just “get out.” Students kept arriving at my office. So I met with the teacher to discuss what I first wrote him in a note:

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