The Scarlett Letter, The Crucible, and Restorative Discipline

Image result for restorative disciplineSeptember 26, 2018

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 navigate my role as principal, I continuously check every decision against my two questions. Discipline is 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 at any point in a child’s school career the latter can be a challenge at any given moment. When students stumble, Ms. Harrison, Sr. Negron and I work diligently to restore them to our SkyView family. None of them deserve 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.

We work to find the why of each child’s choice. If students get into a fight, before we begin the discipline process, we require a written explanation of why. When students cheat, we first look at their grades in the class for which they cheated. More often than not, it appears that the choice to cheat masks the fear of failure. When students use colorful language, we chronicle their day together-from the time they woke up to the moment they swore. There is always a trigger.

This process never replaces discipline or consequences. Discipline always follows. Often, with great impact. Cheating results in zeros and mandatory time working with a teacher for extra help. Fights results in a suspension. It also provides the guilty the opportunity to serve each other for a day. The list continues. But with every discipline encounter, we work to restore the student or students to the realization that they matter! No. Matter. What. We work to help them find the why of their choice. We want them to separate their choice from who they are as a person.

Why is this the process I expect us to follow? First, I want students to find hope even when they stumble. Second, I never want us to sit in judgment of another because we fail too.  Finally, I never, ever want their wrong choices to define them, EVER.

So, as we continue to navigate our journey together, know that when your child stumbles we will follow the same process. We 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