In the mathematics of life, two wrongs have never made a right. And throwing more wrongs into the pot doesn't change the outcome.
A classic example appears in the widely publicized local incident recently in Jordan School District. The incident concerned a 15-year-old student who urinated on the floor of a school room. He was sternly disciplined by a substitute teacher who literally mopped the floor with the youth when the boy refused to take care of the mess.The student's action was wrong unless there were clearly extenuating circumstances that no one has come forth to explain. According to his principal, the student had a lunch period shortly before the unfortunate incident. Lunchtime and other breaks provide an opportunity to take care of bathroom needs.
The teacher's approach to discipline was wrong. He himself acknowledged he had lost his temper and overreacted. He was removed from the list of substitutes who may teach in the Jordan District.
While the teacher lost his part-time job, the student reportedly has become a hero among his peers.
And that leaves everyone wondering whether justice was served. What SHOULD have been done?
My concern is not with one incident, but the larger problem of school discipline.
The teacher involved in this particular case has received some support from other educators who are fed up with the lack of discipline in schools. Teachers are expected to tolerate behavior in children whose parents would not accept the same behavior in their homes, they say.
Or, they complain, they are expected to deal with students who simply have never been taught the meaning of self-discipline.
To test the validity of my own reaction, I did a mini, highly unscientific, survey among my peers at the Deseret News, concentrating on those who have teenagers or who lately had teenagers.
Without exception, they said the youth involved deserved punishment. Suggestions ranged from a stern lecture on "what is and is not acceptable behavior," to demanding that the youth clean up the puddle immediately and leave school.
About half my friends said the punishment in this case exceeded the crime. Three said it was appropriate and that the teacher should be re-instated.
Without exception, our small group said they would not have tolerated a 15-year-old urinating on the floor in their home without administering discipline. Two said that knowledge of a medical or psychological problem would temper their decision regarding the severity of punishment.
There was more division among our group of 10 about whether the teacher should have acted immediately without involving the principal or parents.
Five said the teacher was justified in administering discipline on the spot especially if, as reported, the youth refused to respond to first requests to clean up his puddle. Three said the principal or parents should have been involved before any action was taken. Two were ambivalent.
Most parents give lip service to the idea, but experience a dichotomy when it is their own child who has been found guilty of school infractions.
The laxity in schools is part of an American social phenomenon. Various groups have stridently demanded their "rights" since World War II, and the attitude has filtered down to adolescents.
For several decades, courts confirmed what students claimed to be their "rights" to free speech and activity.
In the past few years, however, there seems to be a reversal in the pendulum's swing. Courts have put dampers on unlimited free speech in student newspapers and have upheld the right of officials to search student property if they have "reasonable suspicion" laws are being violated.
Society must decide where a student's freedom ends and society's rights begin.
Until then, teachers are stuck in a no-man's land between their convictions that discipline is not only necessary to, but an integral part of, education and the ubiquitous lawsuit waiting in the wings another wrong that doesn't add up to right.