Image courtesy of Brandon’s Useless Knowledge
Many countries around the world still use punishment, even corporal punishment, as a common classroom management technique. This has wide repercussions not only in the classroom, but within society as a whole.
The underlying idea is this – if you punish a child (or adult for that matter) they will be deterred from doing the same thing again because they don’t want to be punished.
Well, if you ask me, that’s a pretty wrongheaded way to go about it. It’s an overly simplistic behavorist model of both learning and morality, i.e. if you shock the dog, it won’t bark any more.
This is wrongheaded for two reasons. 1) It makes the assumption that humans are basically evil and need to be programmed to make the right choices (does anyone else see the influence of Christian thought on this one?). I, for one, don’t feel such assumptions are productive. 2) It also removes reflection and empathy from the process of human interaction. Instead, deliquents are isolated and punished, supposedley so they can “think about what they’ve done”, but we all know that that never happens. Something more along the lines of “boy, do I hate that teacher. You just wait till I get you back!“. Rather than initiating a dialogue and engaging with the class/society, people are being told what to do, how to behave, and are being removed from group.
What do punishments actually teach anybody? They primarily teach the sacred priniciple of “don’t get caught”. Punishment, instead of modifying behavior (which is the proposed goal), simply teaches people that they need to be smarter about doing the wrong thing. In effect, if you can get away with it, then it’s not a problem. This is why students simply find better and better ways to cheat or why you realize the dog is still drinking out of the toilet bowl every time you leave the house.
What we really want is reflection and internalization of moral principles. You shouldn’t cheat because it’s the wrong thing to do and it can have a negative impact on your learning, not because you’re afraid the teacher will give you an F if they catch you.
The other really big problem with punishment is that it builds up resentment and a negative classroom environment. How many students have you met coming out of detention that were reformed or forgiving towards the authority that put them there? How many ex-cons come out of prison a new person and with no grudges against the cops, the system, the government? The entire set of assumptions systems of punishment are based on are simply ridiculous.
Instead we want to create a classroom and society where people are taught to behave the right way because they want to and because they believe it’s the right thing to do. The next few posts will explore alternatives to punishment in the classroom.
What are your thoughts on punishment in the classroom or more widely within society as a whole?