What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?
A recent article in Mother Jones explains that negative consequences and punishment just make bad behavior worse. The following link allows you to check out their explanations for yourself.
The article was a good read for me, thought-provoking, not reflecting my views in every detail, but overall very much reflecting the principles of choice theory. What follows are some of the key points the article makes, which may provide you a shortcut to hearing what the article has to say.
Chronic trouble-makers at school all too often become involved in the court system, which all too often leads to a lifetime of incarceration. The expression school-to-prison pipeline has become more common in the literature as data consistently exposes the connection between misbehavior at school and the criminal justice system later in life. This school to prison connection is especially significant with Hispanic and African American students. The article makes the point that “Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.” (In 2011-2012, records indicate that 130,000 students were expelled in the U.S., 7,000,000 were suspended; and 250,000 received some form of corporal punishment, even though only 25 of the 50 states still allow it.) The article emphasizes that external control responses to student misbehaviors may appear to gain momentary peace, but in the long run these strategies make the problem worse.
Consequences Have Consequences
Ed Deci’s research (Univ. of Rochester) has found that “teachers who aim to control students’ behavior, rather than helping them control it themselves, undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation – autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others.” (To a choice theorist that sounds like Freedom, Power, and Love & Belonging.)
Carol Dweck (Stanford) has “demonstrated that rewards-even gold stars-can erode children’s motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher things, rather than the intrinsic rewards for learning.”
Harshest Treatments for the Most Challenging
We consistently treat students as if they don’t want to behave when maybe it isn’t that at all. Maybe they don’t have the tools to take in a social setting and respond appropriately, or to be aware of their own emotions and manage them in a way that works for them and others. It turns out there is now an entire population of kids who are “overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. They have habituated to punishment.”
Focusing On the Real Problem, Rather Than Punishing
Talking with students and really listening to them, in fact, helping them to communicate what the real problem is can be incredibly meaningful in the life of that child. As our attention shifts from to “meeting a student’s needs to simply trying to control their behavior,” the results are tangible and profound.
The Goal Is Self-Control
Students can be taught to create a personal success plan for any of the challenges or misbehaviors at school. Their plan, then, isn’t something imposed on them by someone else, like a teacher, but instead is something they have thought through and developed. The teacher can be a resource during the process, but isn’t there to make the child do something.
Making Things Worse
Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as well as the founder of the non-profit Lives in the Balance, has been an advocate for students who misbehave to be treated differently. “Behaviorally challenging kids,” he says, “are still poorly understood and are still being treated in ways that are adversarial, reactive, punitive, unilateral, ineffective, and counterproductive. Not only are we not helping, we are going about doing things in ways that make things worse. Then what you have to show for it is a whole lot of alienated, hopeless, sometimes aggressive, sometimes violent kids.”
Greene was initially trained in the Skinner method of behavior modification, but his early work led him to question what he was trying to do.
Things Can Get Better
Brains are changeable. Students can learn new skills and tactics that affect their own behavior and motivation. Positive relationships are one of the key factors contributing to this kind of change. Prison guards at Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional facility in Portland, Maine, complained after receiving training in Greene’s methods, but they changed their minds as they attitudes change and recidivism rates plummet. One guard said later, “I wish we had done this sooner. I don’t have the bruises, my muscles aren’t strained from wrestling, and I really feel like accomplished something.”
Focus On the Difference You Can Make At School
Educators can be quick to blame the students’ homes for the students’ inability to perform at school. Greene points out that this focus is fruitless. What teachers can do is focus on the six hours they have students under their influence during the school day. Glasser would certainly agree with that! He learned from the girls at the Ventura School for troubled teenagers that their getting involved with the criminal system and eventually getting into prison wasn’t because of their poor homes. The girls explained that their homes might not have been that great, but they weren’t necessarily that terrible either. What got them on the road to real trouble, they said, was when they failed at school and then dropped out. That’s what put them on the streets, which then led to their collision with the juvenile court system.
So, what if everything you knew about disciplining kids was wrong? It’s possible to change. A growing number of educators are seeking more humane ways to work with students, especially those students who misbehave. The ship is turning as more schools pursue beliefs and strategies like those of Glasser’s Choice Theory and Greene’s Collaborative and Proactive Solutions. I’m glad you’re a part of the journey!
I’ve been in Bermuda since last Wednesday, and had the privilege of presenting choice theory concepts to the staff of the Bermuda Institute of Seventh-day Adventists, a 12 grade school on the island. It is an impressive operation, reminding me a little bit of the schools I visited in Beirut, Lebanon. They are a team of incredibly committed educators and I wish them the best as they begin the new school year on Monday! I hope to stay in touch with them in the future, this blogsite being one of the easy ways to do just that.
New copies of Soul Shapers are now being published by the Pacific Press, instead of the Review & Herald. The quick copies that were created for the recent Atlantic Union in-service sported a simpler cover (no graphic of a heart-shaped cookie cutter), yet I think the content of the book remains the same. Some of you were getting in touch with me because you were unable to find copies anywhere. Hopefully, that problem is solved now.