The Scarlett Letter, The Crucible, and Restorative Discipline

Image result for restorative discipline May 25, 2017

Dear Families,

I first read the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne my junior year of high school in my AP English class. I distinctly remember the feeling of outrage I had over The Scarlet Letter. I remember at one point marching into the kitchen, slamming the book on the counter, and passionately expressing to my mother that the townspeople of the Massachusetts Colony were hypocrites. We spent the better part of an hour debating the fact that the townspeople sitting in judgment of Hester Prynne deserved the scarlet letter H. Ok, I ranted. She nodded occasionally. I questioned her attention a few times. She nodded silently. I continued my tirade of indignation over the town’s treatment of Hester.  In the end, I challenged their very integrity.

Later that same year, we read The Crucible. You can guess my reaction to the system used to determine whether or not one was a witch in the town of Salem. Consider the style of dress during this time in our nation’s history.  Now, contemplate the cause and effect relationship of being thrown into the lake fully clothed. If you wear 25 pounds of clothing dry, I have very little confidence in your ability to float. Thus, you find yourself drowned at the bottom of the lake. But, good news. You aren’t identified as a witch. If you somehow manage to float, you’re labeled a witch and hanged. Lose, lose.

You may question my decision to reference literature that emerged from the Puritan society. You may wonder why this week’s topic even approaches this type of discussion. I believe each has a common theme. Each brings to light significant wrongs committed by individuals within a society. Wrongs, that I believe, we would argue require significant consequence. However, when further examined, each also challenges the hypocrisy of the society as it sat in judgment of the individuals. Neither provides restoration.

As I navigated my first year as principal, I continuously checked every decision against my two questions. Discipline was not an exception to this process. In my mind, safety extends beyond physical safety. It includes emotional and social safety as well. I realize that in middle school the latter can be a challenge at any given moment. Even when students stumbled, I worked diligently to restore them to our SkyView Middle School family. None of them deserved a Scarlet Letter, of any kind. Why? At any given moment, it could be my child or your child wearing that letter for any number of reasons.

I worked to find the why of their choice. If students got into a fight, before we began the discipline process, I required a written explanation of why. When students cheated, I first looked at their grades in the class for which they cheated. More often than not, it appeared that the choice to cheat masked fear of failure. When students used colorful language, I asked them to chronicle their day for me from the time they woke up to the moment they swore. There was always a trigger.

This process never took the place of discipline. Discipline always followed. Often, with great impact. Cheating resulted in zeros and mandatory time working with a teacher for extra help. Fights resulted in a suspension. It also provided the guilty the opportunity to serve each other for a day. The list continues. But with every discipline encounter, I worked to restore the student or students to the realization that they mattered! No. Matter. What. I worked to help them find the why of their choice. I wanted them to separate their choice from who they are as a person. Why? First, I wanted them to find hope even when they stumbled. Second, I never wanted to sit in judgment of another because I fail too.  Finally, I never, ever wanted their wrong choices to define them, EVER.

So, as we continue to navigate our middle school journey together, know that when your child stumbles I will follow the same process. I will never assign a scarlet letter to any of them. Nor, will I allow them to assign scarlet letters to each other. We will navigate our wrong choices with grace, ownership, and, most importantly, restoration. All of us.

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley



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