A Different Approach to High School Detention

Last night, while having dinner with the folks, they told me what a friend of theirs faced when he was given detention. He was given a difficult problem and told detention would end when he found the correct answer. Now we agreed the problem he said he was given, calculate 17 to the 17th power or some such was unrealistically difficult and he has been known to exaggerate when telling stories. This also would have been 40 or 50 years ago. Still, it struck me as a better and more productive approach to detention than merely having kids sit in a room for x number of hours.

Let me throw out some disclaimers. First, I don’t have kids and I’m not involved with the school board, so I have almost no realistic say in such matters. Second, I never got detention when I was a kid. Third, I’m a nerd who get bored easily. Being given a problem to solve would be much more fun than sitting and doing nothing.

With that out of the way, giving a child a problem to solve or a task to accomplish and telling him that detention will end when he finishes seems to be a reasonable approach to me. I’m assuming the problem is appropriate to the child’s age and abilities and that the child has access to the resources to solve the problem. It would require more work on the school’s and teachers’ parts, though.

What do you think?

Well, it seems a little inappropriate for kids who are naturally very bright and have no problem completing their schoolwork, but are in detention for being disruptive in class or disrespectful to teachers.

Otherwise… well, would it work if it wasn’t across the board, but only for certain students or ones who are in detention for certain reasons??

Am I the only one who thought the problem was fairly straightforward? Sure, the answer will be arbitrarily large, God knows, but there’s nothing tricky about the solution.

For the OP…I have no problem with attempts at creatire detention. I think it would be better than the endless sitting in a chair not doing anything detention.

Similarly, it’s pretty hard on the kid who has a learning disability and is in detention for not turning in his math homework.

Siege did say that it was geared toward the kid’s ability; if you can really do that, then it might have merit. On the other hand, I think a lot of detentionistas require students to bring their homework to work on during detention.


Isn’t this basically the same thing as asking the kid to write out “I will not release gila monsters into the teacher’s lounge” five hundred times, but with more carrying of digits?

Well, and also with the actual practice of math skills.

Me, I think it should be more along service lines. What’s dentention for (besides getting the “bad” kids out of the teacher’s hair)? It’s given because the student has taken up the classroom’s time. So that student should give time back, if not to that particular classroom, then to the school. Scrub floors, clean chalkboards, polish Quidditch statues, grade papers (for another class, obviously), reshelf library books, pick up trash outside, empty wastepaper baskets - there’s endless repetitive, boring or backbreaking tasks that need to be done at all schools. I say make dententioners the servants of the janitors. Put 'em to work!

Hmmmm… Whenever I got detention in school, we were given busywork – we had to write out several pages of rules from the Student Code of Conduct. If we hadn’t finished writing the specified text by the time detention ended, we got another day of detention.

That work well enough, I think – certainly, having to do all that pointless writing was mighty unpleasant, and the prospect of having to do it again was a pretty good motivator to not be late for class, which was the most common reason for being assigned detention.

Hey, it works at West Point.

(I’m currently reading Absolutely American, so the general topics of education and discipline have been on my mind.)

I have no clue whether this is true or not, but the stereotypical school punishment in the 50’s seems to have been “Write a thousand-word essay on the life cycle of the tapeworm”. After it’s handed in, the teacher rips up the essay before the child’s eyes, thus demonstrating that the only purpose it served was punishment.

I never got detention in middle school or high school, but I don’t recall that it was ever used as a punishment for poor performance or for failing to turn in work. As I recall, three infractions = one detention. Infractions were handed out for standard misbehavior: late to class, failure to shut up, throwing paperwads, cheating on quizzes. As the kids who did such stuff probably didn’t see sitting in a room doing nothing as much worse than sitting in class, I didn’t see much point to the whole business.

Here’s one suggestion: instead of using detention to do nothing or for pointless busywork, assign something that might put a few of the studen’ts brain cells into action (but probably not). Something like, You stay in detention until you’ve written out an explanation of what you intend to do once you leave high school, and what you’re doing to prepare for that future right now. As I said, it’s probably a waste of time in most cases, but it might do some good in a few.

At the high school where I teach detention is somewhat a joke. The max time is 50 minutes and most kids just sit there and space out. The kids that earn detention are usually the ones that don’t and won’t do their homework, so it’s completely wasted time. An effort to make the time productive by putting the kids to work cleaning up around campus was met by a threat of a lawsuit from the parent of an oft-dententioned student. The parent felt it was demeaning to have students do “janitorial work”. Of course, the administration wussed-out and the plan was dropped. So much for teaching personal resonsibility to your children :rolleyes:

When I was in high school in the 60’s, we had several teachers who actually graded those essays. A rebellious friend wrote his essays so well that he got a couple of A’s on them.

The essays weren’t graded as extra credit - but they were averaged in with the regular homework.

As for the problem itself, it sounds a lot like what we called “check problems” in 5th grade math, when we had to calculate a number to N and then divide the total back to the original number (showing all work). It was a typical way to check multiplication and long division.

My high school had Saturday School for people who kept getting detentions, assuming they would hate giving up Saturday rather than their afternoons. The stupid part was that they weren’t allowed to do homeowrk, read a book or ANYTHING. They had to sit there quietly for several hours, and that was it.

I only know about this because my mom was an administrator and would work Saturday school for extra money and would complain about being bored out of her mind, and she at least got to bring a magazine.

17[sup]17[/sup]? Rather a trivial problem. For what age child was this?

We had to do homework when we were in detention. I had art homework to do. Well, the teacher didn’t consider that “real” homework so I was assigned an additional detention. I beat the rap, but not before getting into a major scene with the principal.

That said, what do you do with a kid who has no clue about math-y stuff (that would be me)? I don’t think the punishment is fair.

We had to do homework when we were in detention. I had art homework to do. Well, the teacher didn’t consider that “real” homework so I was assigned an additional detention. I beat the rap, but not before getting into a major scene with the principal.

That said, what do you do with a kid who has no clue about math-y stuff (that would be me)? I don’t think the punishment is fair.

Using pen and paper, I got as far as 17^8, which equals 6,975,757,441. So all I have to do is square that, then multiply by 17 one more time.

I haven’t read the thread past this point so someone may have mentioned this already but I don’t think this would ever work. Up here in BC, if this policy was put in place there would be an instant strike. The work you describe is usually done by a well-paid member of a powerful labour union who makes good money to do these tasks. Take it away from them and they will respond immediately, with enough force to grind the education system to a screeching halt.

I agree it’s a great idea, but there’s no way it would fly here.

The kid would be let out once he solved the problem, or the time was up. The teacher was giving the kid a chance to do something to get out early.

Clever, that.

At my high school, if you got caught goofing off at lunch you had to clean tables afterwards. It was called “lunch detention” and in some cases you might have to serve it for a few lunches. It happened to me once and while it was a pain in the ass, it forced me to talk with the lunch cleanup people, a grungy bunch of older burnout types. The average student does not interact with these people and in fact their presence is vaguely disconcerting to many kids - but I talked to the head lunch janitor for a few hours while doing chores and got a whole window into the life of a 55-year old man who cleans up kids’ trash for a living (he told me that he won $50,000 in the lottery and it instantly disappeared into paying off bills.) It was an interesting day.

I’m all in favor of janitorial detention as long as it forces the kids to work alongside the custodial staff, so they can understand that they are people with lives and not some kind of servant-machines that exist at the behest of the students.


You’re right, of course. If nothing else, I’d bet the janitorial Union wouldn’t let anyone not in the union to janitorial work in the building.

But, like **Argent **says, it seems to me that it would be great to get the troublemakers in contact with the grunge and sweat contingent. Janitors do very hard, but very respectable work. For some students, it would be a deterrent and might stop them from getting future detentions. (More of a deterrent than an hour of navel gazing or busy work, anyway.) For others, a possible career path.

It’s obviously the sort of plan that would take hard work and foresight to implement, including contract talks with the janitors, rewrites to the student handbook and policies, and perhaps even parental permission for a few years until the community accepted it as normal. In the meantime, there’s a dozen other more pressing issues on the principal’s plate, so something like this would never see the light of day. It’s a shame we’ve created a system that makes it so hard to do right by kids and so easy to just warehouse them for an hour after school.

Makes me once again consider homeschooling. Didn’t that used to be something only crazy people did? :smiley: