GSE Faculty Research

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Journal Article

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It is argued that current school disciplinary policies are ineffective instruments for delivering moral messages: they are poorly justified; fail to distinguish moral violations – violence, vandalism, deception – from conventional school-limited violations – attendance, dress codes, eating venues – leaving the impression that dress code violations and forgery are equivalent; conflate sanctions, including presumed punishments (detentions and suspensions), with other forms of corrections (conferences, positive and negative reinforcement) and apply them without distinction to moral and non-moral wrong-doing.

To be morally instructive school disciplinary codes should separate three types of infractions – moral, derivatively moral, and conventional. The derivatively moral includes rules that while not moral in isolation – eating outside the cafeteria – become imbued with moral attributes under particular interpretations; conventional wrongs have no moral valence but are rules designed for orderly school management. Sanctions, too, should be applied differentially according to category of infraction. Punishment, if used, is appropriate only for intentional moral wrong-doing, connected to acknowledgement of culpability, and conditional upon a clear articulation of the school's moral objectives that is persuasive to children and the community.


Postprint version. Published in The Journal of Moral Education, Volume 35, Issue 2, June 2006, pages 213-230.
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Date Posted: 07 January 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.