In his article, “Discipline or Punish? Some Suggestions for School Policy and Teacher Practice,” Yang provides a comparative analysis of the words “discipline” and “punishment” in the context of how it affects student education. Having conducted his own study across three California schools, he points to evidence that the disciplinary action of classroom removal occurs most frequently in minority males. He continues, based on this information, to show the negative scholastic impact class removal as a corrective action has on this particular demographic. He further goes on to offer a suggestion of how to incorporate discipline as praxis, but admits the recommendation is not complete, stressing that “schools can and should function as disciplined spaces that nonetheless reflect the realities” (60) of the students.
While Yang offers some startling evidence as to the link between classroom removal as punishment and its negative impact on test scores, he fails to include the Caucasian student demographic. As his points progress, he seems to not give his “at risk” demographic their full credit for improvement. He cites another work in reference to a language barrier between Caucasian middle-class students and African-American urban students. While a seemingly minor point in Yang’s discussion, this allusion stands out for me. In class discussions pertaining to racial identity during my undergraduate work, African American urban classmates voluntarily admitted that the language used among their “own kind” was different from the language they spoke to the world outside of their inner circles. Language, by nature, has a formal aspect and an informal aspect, both of which are used by everyone who speaks a language (e.g., the Japanese use of infinitive verbs in casual instances and the more polite conjugation for professional settings, or the use of slang among friends as opposed to a more formalized speech to a parental/authoritarian figure). In this instance, Yang’s argument that “engagement is highly context-specific” (54) sells his discussed demographic short.
Yang offers a diagram of “structure and engagement as the interactive bases for classroom practice,” (54) which is similar to the corporate training outline for Situational Leadership. However, I find Yang’s diagram of structure and engagement limited and confining with respect to teaching the students. Furthermore, Yang does not address the issue of intelligence, whether single or multiple. While his concept appears sound, his ideal “Classroom X” (55) is built on the understanding of the student from a more ethnic perspective instead of a more generalized idea of a student. While it does treat upon the student as an individual, it seems to create more of a cultural barrier than aid in classroom management.
Yang concludes his article by providing the end to an anecdote from his first time disciplining a student. In the end, while the student enjoyed his class, the tension emerged from the student’s belief that the disruption could have been resolved in the classroom. Yang also admits, “this was the best advice given to me around classroom management” (60), but fails to link the anecdote’s relevance to his requirement for teacher-student ethnic understanding or to his model of how an ideal classroom necessarily operates. He offers a persuasive argument that a school’s Zero Tolerance discipline policy creates a less effective school than one with more individual-centered policies in place, but cannot provide a complete, working paradigm.
Yang, K. Wayne (2009, Septemer). Discipline or Punish? Some suggestions for school policy and teacher practice. Language Arts 87(1) 49-61.