Story by John Klingler '18
“Form I, stay behind after chapel”. Every STA veteran understands exactly what those words mean: someone did something wrong. However, being new to the school in Form I, I was just puzzled. Why would they want all of us to stay behind? What had we all done? After sitting through chapel with sweaty palms and white knuckles, I watched as every other form filed out of the chapel and bounded off to their next class until only our grade and some teachers were left. We were dead silent; the boys around me seemed to know what was going on, but I still didn’t have a clue. In great detail, Reverend Patton-Graham outlined exactly what had happened. On a recent field trip to a farm, students had been disrespectful; they hadn’t listened to the farm supervisors. Furthermore, on the bus-ride home, the same students had thrown farm produce out of the bus windows. Nobody was injured, and no property was damaged (they had mostly just thrown radishes and cucumbers toward the ground while the bus was stationary), but the behavior was unacceptable nonetheless. In a calm, measured voice, the Reverend outlined our punishment: we would not play on the little field for the next three weeks, and our recess time would be converted into study hall. Additionally, she said, anyone who was involved in any of the aforementioned activities would turn themselves in and be subject to further punishment.
As we marched out of the chapel, I was furious. I had nothing to do with any of it; I was respectful to the farm attendants and took my cucumber home to eat for dinner. Yet, even though my hands were clean, I would be deprived of recess. That meant no time on the little field, no football, and no Sam’s Bar. To my seventh-grade self, this seemed cruel and unfair. I complained in great detail to a friend, outlining exactly why I thought this whole situation was unjust. He smiled a little bit, and responded “You just don’t get it, you didn’t mess up, but we messed up. And now we are being punished”. It took a while for those words to sink in, certainly longer than our three-week punishment, but eventually I understood what he was saying.
Throughout my time at STA, our entire grade has been punished, in ways both large and small, for the actions of a few. While it may seem unjust or unfair at first, I have grown to realize that I actually like group punishment. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like to be punished, but I do like that teachers at STA seem to hold everyone accountable for things that they didn’t even have a part in. Here's why:
1) Group Punishment Leads to Self-Policing
It makes sense; when students know that everyone will be punished for the actions of a couple people, they will naturally strive to make sure that nobody does anything that could get everyone in trouble. This happens a lot at STA. For example, in Lower School, we made sure that everyone was back from recess by the time class started because we knew that if people were late, recess would be taken away. Or, for instance, if a teacher does not show up to lunch we all make sure that the table is clean anyway because we know that everyone could get in trouble for a dirty table. Now, like all things, there exists room for improvement in this area, especially in regard to larger cultural issues (fodder for a wholly different article), but the idea of self-policing makes the school a better, friendlier, and cleaner place to be.
2) Group Punishment Encourages Turning Yourself In
At STA, a large part of our discipline system exists because people turn themselves in. It sounds like an idealistic thing to strive for, but it actually happens more often than you think. Whether it’s for small things, like taking an extra dessert at lunch or leaving a mess in the glass box, or bigger things, like serious discipline violations, people do actually turn themselves in. They do so, I believe, not out of guilt (though that may play a role) but instead because they feel obliged to “take a bullet” for the grade. If nobody steps forward about, say, trashing the Marriott Hall study room, everyone will get in trouble for it. This motivates the culprits (in this instance, myself included - I forgot to clean up my Kit-Kat wrapper) to ‘fess up. Because people turn themselves in, the discipline process for smaller infractions becomes significantly easier and fairer.
3) Group Punishment Creates Community
It might sound cliche, but I think that it’s true. As my friend implied back in Form I, group punishment creates a sense of the intangible “we”, as opposed to the concrete “me” and “them”. It forces students to realize that, for better or worse, we’re in it together. It makes people realize, more broadly, that another person’s issues are not his alone, but should be addressed by everyone in the community. So, just like when someone’s about to mess up, when someone is having a bad day or feels like it’s all just too much, it is everyone’s job to pick them back up, to make them feel better. And finally, group punishment creates the opposite as well: group successes. As every STA student knows, “When one is honored, all are honored”, when someone achieves success, we all share in the accomplishment, just as we all share in someone’s mistake. In short, it means that we’re together through thick and thin.
So, as the school year starts up, I hope that nobody is punished. But, if you find yourself “doing the time” for someone else’s “crime”, remember that punishment is not about retribution, it’s about cultivating a larger sense of community.