Editorial: Collective punishments go too far

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AT TOWNSEND Harris High School and schools everywhere, sometimes groups of students are affected by the actions of individuals. The situation is familiar: someone messes up and everyone is punished. In certain cases, someone fails to do something and everyone misses an opportunity.

Take the following examples: students in physical education classes have done extra work when individuals failed to perform sufficiently (or misrepresented their work), grades of single students on assessments have been applied to entire classes, extra credit has been awarded based on perfect attendance during tests, or whole classes have faced consequences when individuals have had problems with homework or cheating.

Working with others is an important skill, one that teachers incorporate into assignments and policies. These collaborative efforts often succeed, and students learn to work better collectively. However, the above examples create unnecessary stress for students. Ill students may come to school to grant their class perfect attendance, even though they put themselves, their teacher, and their classmates at risk.

Sometimes, when teachers are aware of misbehavior occuring but do not know the culprit, large groups are given ultimatums until the guilty party comes forward. In such cases, if a student is wrongly accused of misbehavior in the process, it may lead to humiliation and harassment. By treating students as a collective in this matter, teachers and administrators instigate a witch hunt as students go against each other in an attempt to preserve their own academic standing.

Group punishments in scenarios such as this let the guilty get away without truly owning up to their actions. Since the guilty and innocent parties receive the same treatment, there is no true recognition of guilt, so it’s almost as if the entire class committed the crime. “Smoking out” the guilty person at this point seems almost redundant.

In the real world, where everything is supposedly harsher, group punishment is rarely employed. If a thief shoplifts from a store and gets away with it, the business owners don’t place the burden of finding the culprit on their customers; they simply move the most tempting items behind the counter. There is a difference between repercussions that a whole group must deal with as a result of individual acts and being punished as though you were guilty of those acts.

Teachers should increase precautions without risking the ramifications of group punishment. In the example of cheating on a test, appropriate inconveniences include retests, more intense proctoring, or the creation of multiple exams. In every situation with punitive means, there are always better, preventative measures that can be taken.

Although this entails more work for the teacher, there are very few preventative actions in a student’s arsenal. Beyond discouraging others from wrongdoing and not participating in misbehavior themselves, students can do very little in such situations.

Teachers must punish students for wrongdoing if the education system is to operate properly. Students should be held accountable for their actions, but those who played no part in the offense should be left alone.

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