Posts Tagged punishment

Can Schools Teach What Kids Don’t Learn At Home?

Published by EducationNews.org — Kids are often switching between two different value systems — the middle-class values of school and whatever their culture is at home.

teacher

Back in the early 1990s, Margaret Thorsborne was among the original group of Australians exploring restorative justice and its applications.  Eminent criminologist John Braithwaite was among them.  At this point, her international experience in workplaces, communities and schools has made her something of a rock star in the field, so she gave the keynote at the recent Skidmore College Restorative Practices Symposium.

She started as a high school biology teacher in a school on the east coast of Australia.  Then, as she put it in her charming Aussie way, she “went sideways” into school counseling.  It was there, in the course of honing counseling skills, that she discovered “the Restoration stuff.  It grabbed me by the throat.”

She began her address with an adaptation of a John Herner quote:

If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we… punish?

It is completely weird when you think about it.

Both parents and teachers teach their children how to do things by having kids repeat and practice what they’re trying to learn.  Thorsborne says that somehow it has gotten into our DNA that that when it comes to behavior, having a child suffer will be the deterrent to future misdeeds.  “I’ve discovered that schools are the same all over the world.  There’s always the worry that if kids don’t experience consequences, the sky will fall.”

Rules are “dreadfully important,” of course. 

But breaking a rule is not like getting a math problem wrong, because broken social rules have an adverse effect on the people around the child, on the classroom, friends or family.  But social rules aren’t universal.  Each neighborhood, faith-based community and family develops a culture with values from which rules emerge.

And that’s the rub for schools, according to Thorsborne: those cultures vary enormously.  In fact, more often than not, modern kids are switching between two radically different value systems — the distinctly middle-class values of school and whatever the culture is at home.  “Kids aren’t lining up for anything at home.”  Similarly, they aren’t sitting still for longer than 20 minutes.  Adolescents who swear a blue streak likely live in a home or among friends where such language is normal.  A kid’s non-school world has a wealth of norms, which they learn by imitation.  The chasm between the expectations of home and school can be huge.

Schools, on the other hand, are very articulate about their rules and consequences, setting them forth in lengthy handbooks, as if that settles the matter.  Posters that adorn hallways and classrooms trumpet values that are usually about “respect, responsibility and achievement.”  But, Thorsborne says, “a value is of no value to anyone unless you can see its value in others’ behavior.  They need to see the value in the adult behavior.  You can’t expect to see a behavior you haven’t taught.”

“This business is really about relationship management.”

Relationships shape kids’ values.  “Kids can’t do things right because we said it once or they read our minds.  They need focused repetition,” guided by caring adults, “to understand how to behave appropriately according to their social context.”

Thorsborne suggests that an effective way of shaping school-appropriate behavior is to bring the parents in and brainstorm with them about responding to behavior issues.  If their child has been bullied, teased or pushed, what would they like to happen?  Often those answers are harsh.  Okay, but what if their child is the person doing the harm, as the thief, instigator or aggressor?  Suddenly the adults want understanding, empathy, and a stronger emphasis on getting to the motivation for unwanted behavior.  No one wants their own child humiliated, ostracized, or hurt.  They want compassionate responses — unless the offender is someone else’s kid.

What matters most to kids is that they have a sense of belonging and that people care about them.  Thornsborne says, “A wee chat with the kid will probably nudge the child back on the path of righteousness.  But not if the kid doesn’t care about you.”  Probably the biggest problem with punishment is how deeply it alienates and shuts children down at home as well as at school.

As such — and I thought this was brilliant — she urges that we quit thinking about “behavior systems,” and think instead about “relationship systems.”  A narrow focus on an individual kid’s behavior essentially blames the kid and leaves out all other factors and people.  Unless problematic relationships are restored, among peers and teachers alike, teaching and learning will surely be undermined.  Too often we have student behavior systems which leave the adults’ behavior entirely out of the equation.  So the kid never feels invited into the fold.  That just won’t work among modern kids.

So, as Thorsborne says, “This business is really about relationship management.”

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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Punishment is Not Accountability

Published by EducationNews.org — Being forced to think twice is how we change behavior and develop a conscience.

principal

Webster’s Dictionary defines accountability as “The state of being liable to answer for one’s conduct.”  Everyone needs to be able to give an account for their actions at times.  In fact, they should expect to do so when they misbehave or just make mistakes.  We owe it to each other to dig into our thinking and feelings to articulate our side of the story.  The details are critical to understanding what happened and what will make things right.

Listening to someone unpack their mistakes takes patience.  But unless they do, how on earth can they learn not to do it again?  Who knows what relevant information gets missed when we rush to judgment?

A terrific high-school principal makes a serious mistake.

A principal well-versed in Restorative Practices, whom we’ll call Mr. Draco, tells this story about himself.  A student complained that her cell phone was stolen from her backpack.  Insult to injury, she’d earned the money to buy the phone herself.

Her teacher had taken the class outside on a lovely day, so the girl described the spot where students had parked their backpacks when the theft occurred.

Draco and a Restorative Dean (of Discipline) went through the security tapes.  The video was grainy, but they identified the thief as a girl who was constantly in trouble.  School meant nothing to her.  Teachers were good and sick of her, and everyone’s kinder, gentler efforts had failed to date.  Frankly, Draco was relieved she’d finally done something they could kick up to the police, who might be able to scare her into more cooperative behavior.

But before calling the cops, Draco called the mom.  He assured both her and the girl that if the phone were returned, the consequences would not include police.  The girl denied the allegation.  Mom flew into a giant rage, hollering about how the school always targets her daughter, trumping up all sorts of nonsense.  Draco assured them this was not trumped up and that they could come the next day to see the tape for themselves.  If the girl brought the phone, they’d figure out an appropriate restitution.

Discipline conversations were held in the Dean’s office, which happened to have new video equipment with crisper images.  Just to be sure, they looked again and lo, they’d been dead wrong.  The real culprit was someone else, a “good” girl.  In effect, they’d profiled the accused.  She’s a bad kid; it looked like her; done deal.

Draco was so freaked he called the Restorative Coordinator for advice.

OMG.  He’d jumped to conclusions.  No two ways about it.  He took great pride in his close-but-honest relationships with the kids.  And here he was guilty of the same knee-jerk behavior he tries to curb among the kids.  The day had been fast-moving, distracting, busy.  Could there be legal repercussions against him or the school?  His reputation would be shot among the parents.  This was catastrophic.

The Coordinator let him vent and then suggested taking a deep breath.  What restorative practice is needed here?  When a kid has done something wrong, what should happen?  Ah!!  Yes!!  Draco would own up to what he’d done and be accountable.  Mom and daughter might still be hideous to him; they had a right to be mad.  But at least he could be big enough to confess his poor judgment.

“I was wrong” was the first thing he said when the daughter opened the door.  Luckily they didn’t slam it in his face.  Instead, they heard him out.  All but cringing, he gave an honest account of what happened and why he’d jumped to conclusions.  He and the girl had had many run-ins.  If Mom and the girl saw the image in the grainy video, they’d see it did look a lot like her.  So it wasn’t nuts, just wrong.

He worried that if that’s how he’s thinking about her, maybe others are, too.  Mom and girl were pleased and grateful for his explanation and for letting her off the hook.  This apology was deeply satisfying.  Most importantly, his confessional point of view helped the girl see her behavior in a new light.  For once, they could talk about how to get her on a better track.  All of them felt better.  His relationship with the girl, still no angel, improved a lot.

Accountability does not mean punishment.  It’s not about paying for the crime.  In fact, punishing requires little or nothing of the culprit.  And compared with typical punishments, giving a full account of your behavior can feel like full-on torture.  You’re seeing yourself through the eyes of others.  Sometimes it’s not pretty.  But being forced to think twice is how we change behavior and develop a conscience.  Punishment is a useless distraction from the real work.

 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.

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