The Pain Test, V

As I mentioned yesterday, great comments from readers have moved this week’s posts in unexpected directions.  When I drafted Monday’s post, I expected a day of introduction, a day on connections between pain-punishment and schools’ tendency to encourage extrinsic motivation and external locus of control, and … what then?  I didn’t see that much to say about pain and punishment.

“Plans,” said President Eisenhower, “are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

As Debbie pointed out in a G+ comment, “when you start peeling back the layers, you find a whole lot of factors.”  Here are a few.

Bernardo noted that “kids prefer negative attention (e.g., shouting) to being ignored.”  Maybe my formerly-unpleasant students wanted attention. Did it seem I was ignoring them by giving them a “hard” assignment? Had they been ignored, dismissed, and disrespected at home or in their first-period classes?

Rachel pointed out the structural issues in school and society that contribute to pain and stress:

There are only so many jobs that allow upward mobility, and many more people than those jobs can provide for.  An education is a ticket to those jobs only while it is a scarce commodity–but it’s not scarce anymore.  So if education is no longer a means for filtering but has become the all-inclusive force that we pretend it always has been, there needs to be a change in its purpose.

Were my students feeling the stress of clashing purposes? I’ve addressed that issue  here and in my special EdStartup blog.  But we haven’t discussed it in class yet.  It’s too tender for me, too tender for them, too early in the year.  Once we know and trust each other deeply, we’ll be able to address such issues.  It seems that Monday helped a lot with trust-building!  But the first reporting period was coming to an end, and someone probably said something about “bad grades” or “being lazy” or “applying yourself” or “you won’t get into college if you ….”

What’s up with factory-model schools and threats?  Pain and punishment are built into the structure of 20th-century schools, but threats are even more foundational.  They work almost as well as actual punishment, but there’s so much less paperwork and effort involved.

(Well, actually threats don’t work all that well – but neither do punishments.  So I guess my statement is true after all.)

Bernardo made excellent points here about how natural consequences are better than threats, anger, and punishment.  Schools love the idea of consequences, but we twist it around a bit with “logical” consequences that don’t seem logical to anyone else.  “You skipped class,” we say, “so we’ll pull you out of class to punish you.  That should teach you a lesson!”

(True story: I once taught at a school where the penalty for tardiness was severe, but there wasn’t a penalty for unexcused absences.  So students who were running late would just skip school.  It took a few years for us to figure out how to fix the problem!)

Laura had a great book recommendation that I will pursue, Drew proposed a “service-oriented” alternative to the factory paradigm that really intrigues me, and Debbie followed up on the metaphor of pain-punishment cycle as addiction:

This is my interpretation of an addiction: When “whatever” becomes the norm, the body adjusts to this and the resulting chemical levels in the body become the status quo. When you reduce the “whatever” the chemicals get out of whack and the body craves more of the “whatever” to achieve the status quo balance again.
Again with the early childhood perspective, I have often thought that when a fetus is developed in the body of a woman who is habitually stressed/angry then the chemicals that her body produces must pass on to the babe in some form. This heightened level of anxiety chemicals might have an effect on the personality of the child…

Maybe my students craved a pain-punishment fix because it’s status quo for them!

We could spend a week – or more – exploring each of these ideas! So I need guidance from you.

Which of these angles on pain and punishment do you find most intriguing?  Or, as new reader anarbitraryauthor suggested in this comment, should we explore  teaching-learning ecosystems not based on pain and punishment? Or would you like more about how my classes are using the Tres Columnae Project materials?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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Published in: on September 28, 2012 at 10:11 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. Wow! We really did cover the gamut this week, didn’t we, Justin? You have here summarized in many ways the “paradigm shift” that my wife and I have made in dealing with our three children.

    Several years ago when there was a lot of anger, resentment, and chaos in our home, we were introduced to a new approach toward parenting called “Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control,” developed by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post. It is not a parenting system or method, rather it is a new way to look at how we react instead of taking proactive steps as parents (or teachers). Since then we have also been introduced to Jane Nelson’s “Positive Discipline” which also looks at things from a proactive rather than a reactive perspective.

    It is absolutely correct to state that kids crave attention, whether negative or positive, so if they aren’t receiving positive feedback, they will react to see if they can get a negative reaction from whomever is in control. (Heck, even adults will do this!)

    I have also learned that threats, punishments, and so-called logical consequences don’t work. That’s not to say that truly logical consequences don’t exist–they do–but anything that is imposed by an authority figure is not a truly logical consequence. When something is imposed, it is a punishment.

    Finally, in answer to your question regarding further exploration of ideas, I think there are two logical progressions:

    We might begin by examining, as anarbitraryauthor suggests, “teaching-learning ecosystems not based on pain and punishment,” and proceed by “[learning] more about how [your] classes are using the Tres Columnae Project materials”!

    Thanks for mentioning my proposal that our system should be reframed into a new service-oriented model of education. I don’t yet have a firm grasp on exactly what that would be or how it would be accomplished, so I may continue to explore that idea.

  2. @Drew, Thanks for the references to “Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control” and to “Positive Discipline.” I’ll plan to take a look at them and at the related book that @Laura recommended on G+ the other day.

    I love your point about consequences. Natural consequences (“I wasn’t here, so I missed something important and I need to find a way to get that”) work really well, but they take some time. So schools, in our impatience, try to come up with “logical” ones that are just punishments with another name. Great example today: one of my students was feeling awful last Friday, but decided to try to come to school anyway. Having been sick, he was a few minutes late – so he got a “logical consequence” of after-school detention for being sick???

    I want to re-read your post on service-oriented education because I think it dovetails with my idea of the Joyful Learning Community. Have you read any of my posts about that model?


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