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Throwing a snowball, an untucked shirt, blurting out in class, or even chewing gum all meant one thing from fifth to eighth grade at the Collegiate School: a demerit. Depending on whom you ask, a demerit can either be a life-ending penalty or just another funny story to tell your friends. Demerits can be given by any teacher, and there is no limit to how many teacher can give at a time. More serious offenses can lead to multiple, but the usual number is one. For every demerit that a student receives over the span of a week, they are required to sit in a demerit study hall after school for an hour. The demerit study hall is similar to a homework detention (missing three homework assignments in one course), but you are not allowed to do any work. During a demerit study hall, you are left with your own thoughts and nothing to distract you, which is a heavy burden for a young, fragile mind. Often moderated by the most strict and intimidating members of the Middle School teaching staff, the penalty focuses more on deterring students with intimidation rather than actually strict punishment.
The system worked for the vast majority of students, myself included. I received my first demerit in fifth grade and was left in shambles. My crime was speaking out of turn three times in former music teacher Lisa Pennington’s choir class during a movie. My demerit was one of the first received by anyone in my grade and the first that I had seen with my own eyes. I was terrified. Immediately after the word “demerit” left Pennington’s mouth, I was inconsolable. Tears flew from my eyes, and I was traumatized. For the rest of the day, I was a nervous wreck, unable to believe the atrocity that I thought I had committed. I was so shaken by the event that I never received a demerit again. The system worked on me. I received one demerit and never acted out again.
For others, however, the punishment was less intimidating. Like me, the average student receives less than five demerits in their lifetime. However, certain students tend to attract more trouble. The Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effects are often caused by 20% of the causes, can be applied to demerits. It is not exact, but 20% of the students commonly account for 80% of the demerits. Homework detentions work the same way, according to Middle School history teacher David Fuller; homework detentions attract a lot of the same names.
Each teacher has a different opinion on what warrants a demerit’s deliverance. Some teachers have a reputation for giving demerits, such as Middle School science teacher Paul Lupini, who, according to Kevin Cross (‘17) “gives more demerits than A’s.” To some teachers a demerit may be a last resort, but to others it carries less weight.
A musical demerit, as instituted by some teachers, is when a teacher puts a demerit on the desk of the first student that acts inappropriately. The next student to act out is then transferred the demerit. The process repeats until the end of the class, and the last person with the demerit on their desk receives it. This practice is moderately funny to some students, yet it can be effective.
Featured image courtesy of longandfoster.com.