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"In School Suspension" and "Isolation"

When I was in school in the USA we had "detention." This meant you were told to stay after school for an hour and sit in a room with others who were being punished. I never once thought of not going. I just did it because I was told to, like most young people who are quickly taught to be afraid of disobedience. And back then I didn't do much thinking about the school system and its forms of punishment for disobedience and non-conformity. I had no idea what a profound affect it was having on me and on others.

Back then “suspension” meant getting kicked out of school. I never heard of anything called “In school suspension” till a few years ago. Today I was thinking about why schools are using this form of punishment now instead of kicking someone out of school.

I remember a conversation I had once with a former teacher from England. She told me it was very difficult if not nearly impossible to kick a student out of school these days because they have found that the teenagers who are not in school cause all kinds of problems on the streets. She said there were instances of suspended students raping, stealing and I think she said even murdering while they were on the streets. Also, the parents don’t want the responsibility of watching their own sons and daughters. So everyone was complaining.

Basically everyone came to the conclusion that it is better to lock the young people up inside the schools than to let them roam around during the day. It is a little like locking them up in jail, but much easier.

I say it is much easier because there is very little effort or paperwork needed to punish someone inside a school as compared to inside a jail. Also, on a practical level, a student has almost no right to self-defense, has almost no right to legal representation in the form of a lawyer, has almost no rights to a trial and almost no rights to appeal the sentence to be punished. Perhaps theoretically these rights exist, but first of all they are probably dependent on the parent getting involved and it is not possible for a student to take any legal action alone. I don't believe there are any countries where a so called "minor" can seek his or her own legal representation. This is another form of age discrimination against those under some arbitrary age, typically 18 now around the world.

This leads us to another problem for the student. Many young people are unlikely to get support from their parents. The more they need it, the less likely they are to get it. And the lack of support is one of the reasons they are having troubles at school in the first place. It is a little hard to say which comes first, like the chicken and the egg but the two definitely are interconnected.

Instead of support at home a teenager is likely to hear something like “Well, you shouldn’t have done what you did. You deserve it so stop whining.” If a teenager starts to believe they deserve to be punished, they will start to also believe they don’t deserve good things in life. They eventually will believe they don’t even deserved to be loved. One of the biggest problems I have with helping suicidal teenagers is when they don’t feel deserving of help or even sympathy. They don’t realize when they are being abused and treated unjustly or unfairly. They have come to expect such treatment and have learned there is no point in trying to get help because no one is there to give it to them. This has serious and long lasting affects which I have written about on my pages about suicidal teens.

But getting back to the reasons not many teens receive any legal defense or representation when they are being punished. I said that one reason was the lack of support of the parents. Another reason is the sheer complexity and expense of trying to fight the school system legally. There simply aren’t many parents who have the time, energy, dedication to their teens and money to devote to fighting the school authorities. It is like the old expression “You can’t fight city hall.” Well, you can, but it is very very difficult, and the school administrators know it. School authorities may have the most unchecked power in society, with the possible exception of parents, who can do almost any amount of psychological damage to young people known as their children without anyone coming to the aid of the child or teen. If you look at my page on invalidation you will see that I call it one of the most serious forms of psychological abuse, yet there is nothing on that page which would be illegal in a court of law in any country I know of today.

So schools have wide ranging powers to punish students with this new, popular form of punishment called “In school suspension” or “Isolation”. Or more specifically I think it is fair to say that each individual teacher has wide ranging discretionary power to punish a student in many ways, one of which is “ISS” or “isolation” for whatever real or imagined offense a student might commit. If a teacher simply doesn’t like a student, for whatever reason, even because the student too often challenges the teacher on questions of fairness and justice, the teacher can find many reasons to send the student to ISS or isolation and there is precious little the student can do about it. If a teacher learns that a student has unsupportive parents, the teacher then has even more free reign to do what he or she wants. And the teachers who fill resentment towards other students with more contentious parents will take their resentment out on the unprotected and unsupported students. And no one can blame them for this really, because they are humans with human feelings and the school system is so poorly designed when it comes to human emotions that it seems fair to say it is an impossible situation in need of total revamping.

But let me return to the specific question of these forms of punishment.

Anyone who has studied psychological abuse, emotional abuse or mind control will know that one of the most common characteristics is isolating the person from their support group. In schools, this means taking them away from their friends. And this is exactly what the punishments of “ISS and “Isolation” accomplish. I have been in South America for two years now. I have mentioned these forms of punishment to several people in several countries here. So far, this is an unheard of thing here. When I was telling Laura about the conversation I had with Liz regarding being sent to “isolation” and explaining what it meant, Laura said it was like listening to something from a horror movie. She said it was hard to believe something like that existed for teenagers. She said she could only imagine what damage it would do to a sensitive person like herself.

When I have asked students around the world what they like most about schools, by far the most common answer is “seeing my friends.” So it is not hard to understand why school authorities have come up with this type of punishment.

I believe treating people this way, especially young people whose emotional brains are still developing, could be called inhumane, since it deprives people of their natural, and human, emotional needs. I believe this is especially inhumane to do to someone who is particularly sensitive and, even worse, is who is from an emotionally neglectful or abusive home. It brings to mind the laws against cruel and inhumane punishment. It is my hope that one day more people in the world will see things from this perspective and there will be a world movement replacing all forms of punishment with a culture of mutual respect within schools - respect which is earned by the educational authorities and not demanded, as I discuss in detail on my pages on respect.

It bothers me that in a country known around the world as the model of the best form of government in history, this type of punishment is so common and taken for granted. And it concerns me that this kind of "emotional or psychological punishment" could be spreading like some kind of cancer around the world. It is also a reminder that while it has been said that the streets are paved with gold in America, we must remember that all that glimmers is not gold.

S. Hein
Jujuy, Argentina
Feb 5, 2006


For more about emotional punishment see this page on Nigel Latta in New Zealand.

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Emotional Literacy
Invalidation | Hugs
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Letter from mother of an 8 year old who was locked alone in a room in school

In school suspension article by Nicole Norris