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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Column: Mentorship for students

There’s a thing with schools about suspension and expulsion. Oftentimes, these penalties are their go-to punishments. Schools don’t realize, however, that these punishments are ineffective.

The problem is that many of the chronic trouble-making students place no value on school access. They don’t want to be there. Telling them that they’ll be suspended or expelled for breaking rules is meaningless.

Schools need to find a new way of doing things that adjusts or corrects a student’s behavior instead of just throwing them out.

Suspensions and expulsions are very shortsighted methods. The students that get expelled end up without a high school diploma, or are let back into school after a year. In the former case, they will have greater difficulty finding jobs and may end up impoverished, taking away from society and the economy when they could instead be productive, contributing citizens. In the latter case, they return to school, most likely unchanged, and continue to hamper the education of their fellow students.

Instead of suspension and expulsion, which I believe do more harm than good, I advocate school-administered character development.

Now, before somebody yells, “Big Brother is watching,” yes, this is indeed a slippery slope that could potentially slide into a nightmare of Orwellian propaganda and doublethink. But I think there is a very good reason why this needs to happen.

Students who continuously break rules and disrespect their instructors have a negative impact upon their fellow students. The actions of these students contribute to a more unsafe school environment. They waste the time of their teachers, and they negatively affect the learning experiences of their peers.

Oftentimes, behavioral issues seem to stem from a lack of parental guidance, as well as overexposure to media and peers. However, pointing a finger at parents and asking them to pick up the ball hasn’t helped.

There is a gap in responsibility that must be closed. If parents are not taking responsibility for the development of their child’s character, then the school should.

Ideally, school-administered character development would take the form of hired or voluntary adults acting as mentors. If this is not viable, an alternative can also be older, well-behaved students.

These mentors would be assigned troubled students, preferably one-on-one, or at least, one at a time. They would be the role models of their students, teaching them how to behave and what is right or wrong.

If the mentor is successful, their student will no longer be disruptive in class and will be able to focus and understand the material in class better. As an added benefit, the student will have a helpful, supportive adult from whom they can seek advice from.

In order for this to work, however, the mentor will need a strong bond with their student. To facilitate this, the pair should meet at least every other day, weekends included. This way, the mentor can become familiar with the student’s personality, issues and environment, allowing the mentor to assist the student in their difficulties.

I can already hear screams of horror. This system infringes completely on the personal life and privacy of the student and impugns upon the authority of the parents, as well as their familial bonds. In a way, it’s a merging of a student’s personal life with the public.

But is that such a bad thing in cases such as these? Without guidance, troubled children could easily slip into the multitude of the lost, becoming part of a growing horde of human beings in terrible circumstances. But that doesn’t have to happen. These people can be saved before they fall through the cracks in society.

Simply hosting character development classes won’t cut it. Neither will having regular teachers overseeing their development; teachers will be much too busy with academic material.

To actually affect the character of a person, interaction must occur on a personal level, in a way that appeals to the person’s wants, needs and fears. Many troubled students come from broken families, or are neglected or outright abused. However, this isn’t something that’s directly fixable on a government level. Attempts to address these issues have thus far had limited effect. A mentorship program or system can step in and reverse, or at least limit, the damage to these children and adolescents. For that reason, I propose mentorship, at the very least, as something to consider.

Tell DERRICK LEU your thoughts about the viability or alternatives of a mentorship program at derleu@ucdavis.edu.

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