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Letter: Alarmed and Saddened

To the Editor:

I participated in the public hearing on school discipline last week and was alarmed and deeply saddened to view the document Students Rights and Responsibilities for K-12, which lists pages and pages of all the “bad” behavior a student could possibly have, and the consequences for each violation. The really big consequence is for marijuana use, which merits immediate 10-day suspension and a referral for consideration of expulsion on the first violation.

While the striving for clean, unbiased, and even-handed treatment of each specific offense is certainly well intentioned, the approach falls short of educational best practices. Schools have begun to move beyond a focus on “discipline” to a focus on “pedagogy.”

Pedagogy comes from the Greek words “paidos” which means “child,” and “ago” which means “lead”— to have a “pedagogy” rather than a “punishment policy” means to lead the child somewhere — its aims to develop the humanity of the student in addition to developing cognitive skills.

We live in an increasingly diverse world made up of people from many religions and cultures. The religious values and cultural glue that bound members of community in the past can become scrambled these days. Behaviors of the “very different” among us can alarm. However, one leader, Stephen Covey, has a proven track record in applying his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People approach to professional development within major global corporations around the world with good effect. His approach is currently being brought to school systems including the public schools in Potomac, Md.

Schools where Stephen Covey’s educational approach as described in The Leader in Me – How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time has been applied have had a tremendous reduction in school incidents, and a tremendous increase in remarkable performance and accomplishments by students.

Working from the virtues we wish to inculcate, rather than the vices to be punished, will go a long way toward creating the positive spirit of community that so many children, parents, and educators long for. The proposed encouragement of personal leadership as defined in “The Leader in Me” program engages school administrators, teachers, parents and students in a united purpose of cultivating the virtues of leadership, integrity and compassionate character in each individual child. Such a shift in focus would transform the spirit of community in our public schools. I would like to see the contract document between school and student be an inspirational document that celebrates the school community and defines the child’s leadership role in being a valued contributing member.

Kathleen J. Murphy

Great Falls