Demerit System

A Call for Reform

Luke Stone ’20

As it currently stands, Woodberry’s primary punitive measure, the demerit system, is hardly ever punitive. Receiving demerits, a consequence that once threatened to not only take Saturday evening activities off the table for students, but also put persistent infringers on probation has now morphed into an afterthought for most students, regardless of the amounts of demerits that they have accumulated. The school needs to reform the demerit system because demerit work is not a punishment, because the demerit allocation is disproportional, and because reform will make students take demerits more seriously.

Demerit work is, quite simply, not a punishment. It is impossible to address reform of the demerit system without mentioning the existence of demerit work. The fundamental issue regarding demerit work is that it goes under the principle that all time is created equal, when in reality, it is not. Demerit work opportunities include, but are not limited to scorekeeping for sporting events, timekeeping for track meets, moving boxes for faculty members, or helping clean the infirmary or the chapel. Often, these tasks entail working and talking with classmates and friends in time that you wouldn’t be using more constructively, while demerit hall falls during the prime time on Saturday night to go on a trip to Tysons, go to a mixer, go to the Fir Tree, go hang out in someone else’s room, watch football in the commons room, or go play pickup in the Dick Gym. While two hours on Friday afternoon down at the track may be mathematically equal to two hours on Saturday night in Brown Lecture Hall, the time on Saturday night is considerably more important to students than the time in which the demerit work takes place. The demerit system needs reform because demerit work is not much of a punishment.

While some would say that demerit work is necessary to keep the school running, I strongly disagree because demerit work does not need to be demerit work. Woodberry students are almost always in the market for community service hours up until graduation, and the things that are now considered demerit work could very easily be converted into community service hours. Several weeks ago when the Bengal football team hosted Paul VI, Mr. Blundin needed demerit workers to work the first down markers. One of my classmates and I volunteered to do so for community service hours, so we worked alongside two other students who were working off demerits. The four of us talked the whole time with each other and it ended up being a somewhat enjoyable experience. While some extreme examples of demerit work can involve strenuous tasks, like helping Mr. Collier plant flowers, most demerit work is similar to my experience at the football game. Demerit work, if its goal is to be a punishment, should not be fun. If demerit work has a place in the school here, it should be reserved for tasks that regular students would not consider doing. Demerit work should not be something that students don’t mind and can live with easily.

Moreover, the demerit system requires significant reform because of the disproportionality in the amount of demerits for different offenses. While the math works out for being late to (or being absent) classes, the more subjective the offense is, the more perplexing the amount of demerits allocated becomes. In particular, the problem arises from sixth formers’ ability to stick kids. Now don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that seniors should be allowed to give demerits, I just don’t agree with the ambiguity of the terminology used to give them. For example, the standardized ten demerits given for “disrespect” could be for anything as foolish as simply talking back to a senior, or as serious as showing contempt or scorn for a faculty member. If a new boy says something like, “You’re not the boss of me,” somewhat facetiously to a senior, he should not be given ten demerits, because joking around like that is not as bad as ⅓ of a tobacco offense. The ambiguity and subjectivity attached to terms like, “disrespect,”  “poor judgment,” or “failure to do as directed” creates a disproportionality with demerits that ruins their credibility once associated with their issuance.

By far, the most important reason why the demerit system needs reform is to revamp its seriousness and weight. Right now, demerits are viewed as a laughing stock, regardless of the severity of the offense. While the new rule about two tobacco offenses being an automatic ticket to probation, the onus is now on the school to enforce that policy and strongly consider withholding invitations for students who are on demerit probation. While the seventy-five demerit rule is still in the Blue Book, and still exists, it is hardly ever enforced strictly enough. Yes, students who manage to nickel and dime their way to just over the threshold probably deserve mercy, but students who have proven to be consistent trouble makers with demerit totals in the nineties or in triple digits have shown a blatant disregard for the school, its philosophy, and its disciplinary system. That sort of apathy towards the school should not be rewarded with an invitation back for another year. Woodberry does not give four, three, or two year contracts by accepting students as New Boys, but, in theory, reevaluates students on a yearly basis to examine their place in the school. It is a disservice to students who were denied or wait-listed by Woodberry to have their spots being taken up by returning students who, through their actions, have shown that they simply do not care enough about being here to get their act together.

Woodberry needs to carefully examine and reform its demerit system because it is not effective and punitive enough. Demerit work, the most common way that students get demerits off their record, is not a punishment, the allocation of demerits is not proportional, and demerit probation is hardly ever enforced. If demerits are supposed to be taken seriously, serious change must happen, and happen soon.


The views expressed in this article do not, in any way, represent the views of the editorial board, our faculty adviser, Mr. Guldin, nor the opinion of The Oracle as a whole.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Javon Darrien ’19

Woodberry is built on tradition. Things such as Tie Cutting, Pep Rallies, or the Bonfire, remain at the school because of the history that surrounds them. While small changes come and go, there are systems, rules and experiences that are more or less the same for Woodberry Boys.  One of these systems is the Demerit System. Barring some modifications, generations of Woodberry boys have been under the same demerit system, and if it has worked all this time, why fix it? In other words, if the Demerit System accomplishes its goal of teaching accountability and discipline, then there is no reason to change it.

Speaking from experience, Woodberry is a busy place. There are countless things on the minds of students and faculty every moment of every day. Sometimes, it can be hard for a student to keep up with all of the different events and matters taking place in their daily life, so organization is vital. The Demerit System allows faculty to punish students for things such as being late to or missing a class, consultation, not keeping their room clean, using inappropriate language in a public space, and failure to dress neatly or to be properly groomed. Students will use these skills for the rest of their lives, and we can all agree that the Demerit System does a very good job of teaching them, so there is no reason to attempt to change it.  

The Demerit System also teaches the value of discipline.  Students can be “stuck” for a multitude of things, from being unprepared for class to failing to do as directed. When students commit these offenses, they run the risk of getting enough demerits to be placed in Demerit Hall. Demerit Hall runs on Saturday nights, which serves as a powerful deterrent to possible demerit offenders. In extreme cases, students with too many demerits are placed on probation and run the risk of not being invited back the following year. No one wants to be in that position. Demerits, depending on the offense, can also damage a student’s image. I am yet to meet somebody who enjoys seeing their name and fault displayed to the entire community. This system forces students to be disciplined. If the system is accomplishing one of its stated goals, then there is no reason to change it.

The Demerit system also reinforces the social hierarchy of Woodberry. Underclassmen are liable to receive demerits from Seniors. Woodberry is a school based on brotherhood, and as such, the brotherhood must be kept in place by certain tools. While only so often does a senior actually “stick” a fellow student, the mere existence of this power in the hands of seniors gives them leverage. Students need to be taught lessons from fellow students, as they are truly the best teachers for things outside the classroom. The Demerit System allows seniors to reinforce the social hierarchy that makes Woodberry what it is, and for that reason, it should not be changed.

Woodberry can be tough. There will be many ups and downs throughout a student’s experience. For a student to navigate these ups and downs, we need discipline, we need organization, and the Demerit System is adept at giving us that which we need, so there is no reason to change it.


The views expressed in this article do not, in any way, represent the views of the editorial board, our faculty adviser, Mr. Guldin, nor the opinion of The Oracle as a whole.

Categories: Opinion

3 replies »

  1. No matter what the demerit work, the taking away of free time is enough incentive for students to not want to get demerits and follow the rules, which is the point of a disciplinary system anyways. As far as harsher punishment goes, one of the things we learned on the IV Form expedition is that in life, it is important to make the best out of every situation. So, if your alarm didn’t go off, and you were late to your first class and now have demerits, making the best out of that situation would be finding demerit work, and doing it with enthusiasm instead of moping around dreading Saturday night’s D-Hall.

  2. The adversarial relationship that can emerge from a strictly rule-based demerit system is not worth the tradeoff that Mr. Stone seeks. Boys cherish their freedom and their self-respect, and a discipline system that fairly threatens those two values, works.

    A world of difference separates a boy who chooses community service from a boy who’s assigned a duty, even if their work looks the same. All work is not created equal, either. Consider, for example, a chain gang weed-whacking a ditch. Imagine you are driving by and see them in their orange jumpsuits. Then consider seeing the same task performed by community-service volunteers in hi-optic yellow vests. Even if you saw the yellow and the orange together in the ditch, I wager both you and they would see their work differently.

    And yet, both groups do get to be outside, and through their eyes see the same green landscape. If one of those groups stood outside whacking weeds, and the other sat inside looking through bars, the insiders would develop not only a vigorous resentment, but a culture of opposition to their guards and captors. Encouraging this “us and them” polarity in a school like ours seems unwarranted, especially when, as Mr. Harler says, most demerits are assigned for deviation from behaviors that hold our community together.

    That’s why I prefer demerit work to the hollow punishment of exile and confinement.

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