Today’s post may be a bit short; a fairly large number of Latin Family members have a “consequence for misbehavior” from Powers That Be that requires some extra preparation work from me and some extra time with the copier. The thing about it, of course, is that (in the cases where I know the specifics of the misbehavior) it’s not the first time … and it’s not the first time they’ve received This Particular Consequence. If we operated in a logical frame of reference in schools, that would probably tell us something. Maybe the consequence doesn’t seem as negative and aversive to the “bad, lazy students” who receive it as it does to the “good, diligent little workers” who grew up to be teachers and administrators imposing consequences. Or maybe the decision to do Whatever It Was wasn’t a logical, calculating decision at all; maybe X, Y, Z, and the others got caught up in the moment or were just focusing on the momentary pleasure of Whatever.
But for a whole lot of teachers, Powers That Be, and even parents I know, there’s no more logic involved in the punishment and discipline cycle than there probably was in the young person’s actions that prompted it. We “have to punish them,” we believe, because it will “set a precedent” or “make an example” or “show them” or “teach them a lesson.” Never mind the overwhelming evidence that punishments don’t work, and never mind the increasing body of evidence about the effectiveness of alternatives! Punishments and discipline are part of our mental and emotional pictures of what schools are supposed to be! So we keep them, and we keep using them, just like we keep using worksheets and textbooks and multiple-choice tests and everything else that “just belongs” in our mental and emotional pictures.
“It’s working,” Ms. X said to me the other day, “so why change?” And yet Ms. X is constantly complaining about the students for whom “it” (or a particular aspect of “it”) isn’t working at all. She blames laziness and technology and bad parenting and society … but if Ms. X were running a restaurant and customers stopped coming, would she blame them? Or would she take a hard look at the food, the service, the atmosphere, and the pricing? Would she, just possibly, call a former customer or two and find out where they were going instead, and why?
If you’re building and sustaining a learning community, those are important questions to ask when it’s clear that a significant number of community members are actively or passively dissatisfied. But if you’re running a giant factory, and if you think you’re the only factory in town, maybe it’s less important. Still, as I prepare to go and print out the paper-based equivalent of what we’ll be doing today in each class, I wonder about the logic and the emotion behind trying the same thing over and over, but expecting magically different results. Maybe X, Y, Z, and the rest will have a breakthrough today; maybe they’ll enjoy a quiet space and self-directed time to complete their ever-growing piles of missing assignments. Or maybe Ms. Q, who will be with them today, will work the magic she’s sometimes able to work.
I wonder what other new insights and discoveries await on this busy day!