For decades, detention — holding students in a room under the supervision of a staff member — has been used as the primary means of discipline in many schools around the country.
Unsurprisingly, the typical detention does not replicate the same bad kid vibes seen in a stereotypical high school movie. Rather, there is no music, talking or sleeping allowed while students are serving out their “punishment.”
Essentially, detention has transitioned to become so mundane that it does not effectively resolve problematic behavior. Rather, schools should consider the unique circumstances of their students and find alternative solutions.
In the past, a lack of neurological research made detention a more effective option when compared to the old “stick-and-slap” approach. Realistically, detention has accomplished nothing more than withholding students from activities (e.g going home, spending time with friends, athletics).
Comparable to a time out, typical school detention seeks to punish students using extreme boredom.
Although this straightforward strategy is convenient for school teachers and administrators, it wastes more time than it is worth.
Most students who attend Saturday school detentions are facing punishment for absenteeism or tardiness. Generally, the same students are tardy, and with a significantly negative relationship between academic success and bad attendance, it would make sense for detentions to include tutoring services or academic counseling.
But all schools have done is add the lack of academic help to the list of detention woes. In fact, students who are angry about being punished could cause more problems for teachers and schools as a whole. It is no surprise that the same people keep getting punished over the course of their student life.
On the other hand, detention is not fun for teachers either.
At Glen A. Wilson High School, sign-ups to be a detention supervisor are strictly voluntary. With lesson planning and a dozen more extracurricular jobs at the end of the day, supervising after-school detention is not high on a teacher’s list of priorities.
As a result, students can be left alone in a classroom for an hour. If this is not the epitome of a completely useless excuse for schools to say that they are responding to the problem without doing anything effective, then be my guest and stare at a wall for two hours.
Despite its popularity among teachers and administrators, very little academic research has actually been conducted on its effectiveness. A search for the terms “detention” in academic databases results in pop-ups of juvenile detention centers. Of these articles, only a handful attempt to study the effects of detention on later occurrences of problem behavior.
Thus, without research, we cannot say that detention categorizes as an effective means to problem-solve. However, what schools do have is an able student body that has clearly reflected how useless the current approach to detention is.
For many, teachers included, there is the issue of transportation.
Students who take the school bus have to miss it in order to attend an after school detention. When parents have work or other duties, students must find alternative means to get home. This mindset encourages many students to just skip the detention altogether. However, this just leads to more detention slips in the face of an uncontrollable situation.
Moreover, if a student regularly receives detention but does not show a decrease in problem behavior, then an alternative consequence should be given in place of detention.
School leaders are finding that changing how detention works may improve outcomes—as will broader, proactive disciplinary approaches that can reveal strained relationships with teachers or may identify underlying problems with students’ emotional health, academic skills, and home life. It goes without saying that the current approach to detention has worked for some, just not for the majority.
Although school is not meant to replicate an academic prison, detention sure makes it seem that way. It is crucial that students understand why they are being punished.
The emphasis should not be on punishment but on changing the students’ attitudes towards their studies.
Detention has the potential to be a useful learning tool, schools just need to take it one step further by considering everyone’s views.