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The term "Punishment Lite" is used by Alfie Kohn.
Below is a copy of Chapter 4, titled Punishment Lite: "Consequences" and Pseudochoice, of his book Beyond Discipline
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|Chapter 4 - Punishment
Lite: Consequences and Pseudochoice
A growing number of educators are in the market, quite literally, for alternatives to the coercive, traditional kind of discipline. They have misgivings about programs in which adults are essentially urged to assert their will over children, to wield rewards and punishments until students obey without question. Many of these educators have eagerly signed up for new classroom management programs that bill themselves as more modern and humane.
One of the central purposes of this book is to inquire whether these New Disciplines, with names like Cooperative Discipline and Discipline with Dignity, represent a real departure from what they claim to replace. Whether we are talking about their view of human nature (Chapter 1), their assumptions about where the fault lies when things go wrong in a classroom (Chapter 2) or what we are ultimately trying to achieve (Chapter 5), there is reason to believe that these programs are different only in degree, rather than in kind, from the more traditional approach.
Notwithstanding the rhetoric they employ, the New Disciplines suggest a subtler, somewhat nicer way by which we can continue to do things to childrenas distinct from working with them in a democratic environment to promote their social and moral development.
The first clue to the nature of the New Disciplines comes from the fact that many of these programs use rewards to control behavior.... A glance at any book with classroom management in the title will confirm the pervasiveness of this approach. xx need link to say who this is >Dreikurs, to his credit, offered an incisive analysis of the dangers of praise, recommending in its place a kind of non-evaluative feedback that he called encouragement (Dreikurs et al. 1982, pp. 108112; Dreikurs and Grey 1968, p. 57), although he sometimes seemed inconsistent on this point. Some of the books derived from Dreikurss work contain brief passages in which the idea of rewarding or praising children for being good is viewed with the appropriate skepticism (Nelsen 1987, p. 13; Albert 1989, p. 66).
Yet Cooperative Discipline, whose authors misgivings about rewards seem to be limited to the fact that children will keep demanding more of them, is peppered with Skinnerian gimmicks, such as handing out stars and stickers . . . [and] awards (Albert 1989, pp.102, 111), writing the names of well-behaved students on the chalk-board (p. 38), publicly praising someone whos on task in order to get another student to comply (Albert 1995, p. 44), and even pinning ribbons on children (Albert 1992a, p. 38).
Likewise, Discipline with Dignity, far from overlook[ing] the importance of positive reinforcement, as Canter (1988, p. 72) claims, fairly bubbles with enthusiasm about extrinsic inducements. These include a list of ten different classroom privileges [that] should be earned, not given, such as field trips, free time, being a hall monitor, and so on (Curwin and Mendler 1988, p. 56).
Also recommended: a merit/demerit system to encourage successful cooperationwhich, moreover, is turned into a competition so that only the table that most successfully worked together as a team gets a merit (p. 59) and exemptions from homework for good behavior (p. 78). Teachers are also urged to catch a student being good every few minutes and praise that child (p. 97)a very specific echo of Assertive Discipline (e.g., Canter and Canter 1992, p. 60). 3
The New Disciplines may depend on rewards, but their central claim is that, unlike their old-fashioned counterparts, they reject the use of punishment. Sometimes sounding for all the world like William Glasser, Thomas Gordon, or Haim Ginott, the purveyors of these programs eloquently denounce the practice of punishing children, declaring that it provokes hostility and antagonism (Albert 1989, p. 79) and a desire to get even very soon (Nelsen 1987, p. 67), that it is ineffective for long-term change (Curwin and Mendler 1988, p. 69) and outdated (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, p. 47).
So far, so good. But the programs influenced by Dreikurs present as an alternative to punishment the idea of imposing logical consequences on children when they do something wrong. Logical consequences are said by various writers to differ from punishment in any of three basic ways: They are (1) motivated by a desire to instruct, (2) reasonable and respectful in their application, and (3) related to the act of the wrongdoer.
Before examining each of these criteria more closely, its instructive to observe that even the people who have built their careers on the ostensible benefits of logical consequences sometimes acknowledge that what they are proposing can be pretty tough to distinguish from old-fashioned punishment. The authors of one discipline guide for parents (Dinkmeyer and McKay 1989, p. 85) admit that the line between punishment and logical consequences is thin at times.
Another writer (Albert 1989, p. 79) concedes that, after all, the message in both cases is essentially the same: when you do this, then [that] will happen.
And Dreikurs himself (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, p. 58) observed at one point that tone of voice alone often distinguishes one from the other.
Another reason to question the distinction between punishment and logical consequences is supplied (inadvertently) by Assertive Discipline. In this program, the names of disobedient children are conspicuously recordedand, later, checked offon a clipboard.4 This is quite simply a threat, since further misbehavior brings down on the childs head a variety of punishments, which have already been listed on the wall in order of severity. Whats interesting for our purposes is that Canter explicitly disavows the label of punishment, preferring to refer to forcible isolation, a disapproving note to the childs parents, and a trip to the principals office asyou guessed itconsequences (Canter and Canter 1992, p. 82).
Thomas Gordon, who devised the influential approach to working with children known as Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), was forced to conclude that Dreikurss concept of logical consequences is . . . nothing less than a euphemism for external control by punishment; its another act of punitive discipline (Gordon 1989, pp. 3132).
|But lets look more closely
at the claim that there really is a difference between
logical consequences and punishment. Many teachers and
principals have signed up for New Discipline programs
precisely because they have been promised a nonpunitive
technique for getting student compliance.
First, users of Discipline with Dignity are informed that the recipient of a logical consequence may feel lousy, but that theres an instructional intent to making him feel that way (Curwin and Mendler 1991, Part 2; also see 1988, p. 71). The problem here, of course, is that any punishment, regardless of its severity or negative effects, can be rationalized in exactly the same manner.
Presumably, many of the more than three million American children [who] are physically abused each year in the name of discipline (Lewin 1995) are told that punishment is necessary to teach them a lesson or is for their own good.
(See also this note about parents who kill their own children and say they were just "disciplining" them.)
Dreikurs offers a different version of this criterion, specifying the nature of the instructional intent. Whereas punishments underscor he authority of the adult doing the punishing, logical consequences are supposed to be geared to preserving the social order more generally, so that children learn to respect the established rules (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, pp. 7172). Apart from the remarkable conservatism of Dreikurss world view, there is not much reason to think that the distinction here will mean much to the average student. The teacher is the representative of the social order, the person who imposes a "consequence" for failing to respect the established rule. It is difficult to imagine that anyone will feel less put off by being made to undergo something unpleasant just because the teachers goal has broader social ramifications.
The second set of criteria for defining logical consequences concerns their lack of harshness. The person who invokes them should be friendly and avoid scolding or judging (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, pp. 74, 77, 128); she should act in a respectful fashion and make sure the consequence itself is reasonable (Nelsen 1987, p. 73; also see Albert 1989, p. 79). Thus, if a student tips his chair back, it is supposedly a logical consequence for him to be forced to stand for the rest of the period (Albert 1989, p. 78)
Is this more reasonable than making him stand for, say, the rest of the week? Unquestionably. It is also more reasonable to paddle a child than to shoot him, but this does not offer much of an argument for paddling. Likewise, is it more respectful if we announce in a matter-of-fact tone that the student will be forced to stand up, as opposed to screaming this at him? No doubtbut again, the nature of what we are doing remains pretty much the same. A punishment does not change its essential nature merely because it is less harsh or invoked in a softer tone of voice. Someone who wants to know whether a given intervention is punitive can find the answer not in a book on discipline but in the childs face.
Imagine the face, for example, of the 2nd grade student who Dreikurs tells us is guilty of talking out of turn, squirming, and so on and who is ordered not only to leave the room but to spend time back in a kindergarten class.
Dreikurs approves of this response so long as it does not seem arbitrary: to ensure that it is a consequence rather than a punishment, the teacher need only strike the right tone by saying that she wonders whether he is ready to continue in second grade and suggesting that it might be better for [him] to try and go back to kindergarten for a while (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, pp. 14344). If there is a difference between doing this to a child and engaging in old-fashioned punishment, it is at best a quantitative rather than a qualitative difference. What Dreikurs and his followers are selling is Punishment Lite.
I believe it is wrong. To contrive
some sort of conceptual link between the punishment and
the crime may be satisfying to the adult, but in most
cases it probably makes very little difference to the
child. The childs (understandable) anger and desire
to retaliate come from the fact that someone is
deliberately making her suffer. That person is relying on
power, forcing her to do something she doesnt want
to do or preventing her from doing something she likes.
The issue here is not the specific features of the
coercive action so much as the coercion itself: You
didnt do what I wanted, so now Im going to
make something unpleasant happen to you. This power
play invariably enrages the person who is being
discomfited, in part because she is forced to confront
her helplessness to do anything about it. We would not
expect her anger to vanish just because of modest
modifications in the implementation.
Now consider the following examples of logical consequences commended to us by Dreikurs and some of the New Discipline practitioners, and ask whether they would not meet any reasonable definition of punishment:
If a child leaves his toys lying around at home, his mother is advised to hide them and, when asked, lie to the child by saying, Im sorry. I put them somewhere, but I dont remember right now.
Instead of sitting quietly, two 1st graders are using their hands to rehearse a dance they will be performing later. The teacher makes them come to the front of the room and tells them they must demonstrate the dance to the rest of the class. Though the children were obviously embarrassed, it was a result of their own action and not a result of any arbitrary judgment by the teacher, we are told (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, pp. 142143)
A kindergarten girl who has bitten other children is required to wear a sign that reads I bite people. This consequence, we are told, shows ingenuity . . . and also courage (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, p. 169).
If a student makes a spitball, the teacher should force him to make 500 more spitballs so that his throat becomes increasingly parched (Albert 1989, p. 34).
For various infractions, students are to be prevented from going to the library or from eating lunch in the cafeteria, told to sit in the principals area, forced to miss a class field trip, or required to write an essay on how they intend to stop breaking this rule (Curwin and Mendler 1988, pp. 72, 81).
If students have been noisy, the teacher should give an unannounced test with the most difficult questions she can think of. When the papers are returned, there should be as many low marks as are possible to give, though the results are not placed in the grade book (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, p. 135).
Children who do not comply with the teachers wishes are isolated in a time-out area so they will experience a few uncomfortable moments. More such moments are added for repeat offenders (Albert 1989, p. 77). However, the place where children are forced to sit by themselves can be made less punitive by calling it the happy bench (Nelsen, Lott, and Glenn 1993, p. 124).
Each student who violates a rule [must] write his own name on the blackboardor, in another approach, must have his name written there by an elected class sheriff who is responsible for keeping the behavioral records (Curwin and Mendler 1988, p. 76). If a student has been disturbing the class, the teacher should discuss the situation with the class to evoke group pressure that will make him change his behavioror alternatively, wait for a peaceful moment and then facetiously say to the student, in front of everyone, Youve been quiet for some time, wouldnt you like to say something? (Dreikurs et al. 1982, p. 124, 132). 8
These are only a few examples of the scores of suggestions offered by the New Discipline theorists; still others appear in books intended for parents. Even though many, if not all, would seem to be indistinguishable from punishmentsand in some cases, rather cruel oneswe are reassured that we have done nothing more in each instance than to impose a logical consequence. In essence, the New Disciplines give us permission to punish with impunity, in Marilyn Watsons apt phrase; they relieve us of a bad conscience and of the need to think about real alternatives to the paradigm of control.
Take another look at the case against punishing people xx get these pages (pp. 24 30 of Kohn's book): The punisher is only controlling the behavioror trying to do sorather than influencing the person who behaves. (SH or addressng the feelings or trying to identify, understand and fill the unmet emotional needs)
Temporary compliance will be
purchased at the cost of making the student even angrier,
and therefore making the problem worse in the long run.
The relationship between the punisher and the punished is
Attention is focused on avoiding the punishment, not on the action and on how one is personally affected, not on the way others feel or what is the right thing to do.
Every one of these arguments applies to the use of so-called logical consequences. Consider the last point. The Discipline with Dignity program says we should be concerned with developing an internal orientation in students by asking them, What do you think will happen if you do this [bad thing] again? (Curwin and Mendler 1991, Part 2). In practice, that usually means What do you think will happen to you? The video for this program shows us successful applications of this question, in which students predict that they will get in trouble. The likely result of this strategy, however, is less an internal locus of control (as contrasted with being at the mercy of unpredictable forces) than a focus on self (rather than on others).
Do logical consequences work? One is naturally suspicious of unfalsifiable claims of success, such as this one: Truly appropriate consequences will have a beneficial effect on students whether they let on or not (Albert 1989, p. 82). But what Dreikurs observes about punishment can just as well be said of consequences: the fact that the results were good does not make it a correct procedure (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, pp. 164165). Leaving a small child to cry himself to sleep can force him to learn how to console himself, but the emotional cost may be high. Likewise, even if a consequence did succeed in eliminating a misbehaviorwhich is by no means a likely outcomewe may have reason to doubt its wisdom.
|More of the Same
Apart from the suggestions labeled as logical consequences, the New Disciplines offer a variety of other techniques for dealing with students who dont act the way we want. Once again, they bear a striking similarity to old-fashioned punishment. Its not surprising, for example, that someone who cheerfully tells us to become more authoritarian would recommend that when a student objects to something we say, we should just keep repeating our original request . . . like a broken record (McDaniel 1982, p. 247).
But it may be surprising that a program called Cooperative Discipline, which claims to support a democratic, self-esteem-enhancing classroom, would offer exactly the same advice (Albert 1989, p. 75; also see Cline and Fay 1990, p. 83).
Of course, to say the same thing to (or
at) a student over and over is to ignore what the student
has to say. That advice is consistent with
Dreikurss suggestion that we should make a point of
paying no attention to any student who does something
negative Dreikurs et al. 1982, pp.
3437). And in case that doesnt work, we
should play tit for tat: If a student has interrupted
you, just wait until the next time he starts to answer a
question and then cut him off abruptly and talk to
someone else (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, pp. 148 149).
One may be struck by how childish these responses are, or
perhaps how likely they are to backfire in light of how
they make students feel. But most of all, one is struck
by how little they differ from the traditional punitive
The consensus seemed to be that sending
someone away and forcing him to sit by himself does
nothing to resolve whatever the problem was. It
cannot give a child new standards of behavior,
insight into how ones actions affect others, or
strategies for coping with an uncomfortable or painful
situation, as Lilian Katz (1985, p. 3) has
observed. The adult is not asking, Why have you . .
. ? or even saying, Heres why you might
. . . She is simply telling the child, Do it
my way or leave.
Yes, its true that exiling a
disruptive child can make everyone else feel better, at
least for a while. But this means that time out acts as
a wedge that pushes persons into opposite
directions. Some are feeling relieved at the same time
that another person is feeling oppressed (Lovett
1985, p. 16).
For a child, however, it is even worse, since she may come to believe that there is something so wrong with her that she has to be removed from society. And Vivian Paley (1992, p. 95) adds that such feelings ultimately reverberate through the classroom:
Let me be clear that there is nothing objectionable about having a safe, comfortable place where a child can go to calm down or just be alone for a few minutes. Thats a terrific ideaso good, in fact, that adults can set a powerful example by taking some time by themselves to cool off when they feel angry. Children should be given this option, and when emotions are running high, they can be gently (and, if possible, privately) reminded that it exists. What Katz and Paley and the rest of us are talking about, though, is a situation where the child is ordered to leave the group, where, in the words of one fervent proponent, it is a direction, not a negotiation (Charney 1991, p. 95). In practice, that means its a punishmentand for many children, a remarkably hurtful one.
However, for teachers who remain
unconvinced that time out should be eliminated, I offer
these suggestions for minimizing the damage. First, use
time out only as a last resort, in extraordinary
situations. 9 Second, do everything in your power to make
it less punitive. The National Association for the
Education of Young Children (1986) offers the following
reasonable and important recommendations:
The last of these suggestions is particularly significant. If a teacher has established a time-out chairor, worse, a formula for the number of minutes a child must spend in itthen the results are likely to be no better than we would expect with any other technique designed to make children unhappy.
|Heads I Win, Tails You Lose
But consider for a moment the question of whether students should be allowed to make choices. In the abstract, almost everyone says yes. Even Lee Canter (1988, p. 72), citing Dreikurs, agrees that it is through choice that students learn about responsibility. But what exactly is meant by choice? Thats the question we need to ask anyone who claims to endorse the concept. In practice, the word may be misleading; it may be used to describe situations in which students actually have very little opportunity to make meaningful decisions.
What is described as a choice may, in any of three distinct ways, actually be a pseudochoice.
1. Obey or suffer.
Canter (quoted in Hill 1990, p. 75) elaborates as follows on his idea of letting students make decisions: The way you teach kids to be responsible is by telling them exactly what
is expected of them and then giving
them a choice as to whether they comply.
Consistent with a pattern we have already noticed, the philosophy and techniques of Assertive Discipline are echoed in the New Disciplines, notwithstanding the claims of the latter to be substantially different. If a child is late returning from recess, for example, Dreikurs suggests that in the future we give her a choice of returning with the others or standing by the teacher during recess until it is time to return to class (Dreikurs et al. 1982, p. 123).
But children may not even get to recess in the first place if teachers have offered them the sort of choice described in Discipline with Dignity. A student who for any reason has not completed a task on (the teachers) schedule is to be told, You can do your assignment now or during recess (Curwin and Mendler 1988, p. 15; also see Charney 1991, Collis and Dalton 1990). Remarkably, this is even commended to us as an illustration of letting students make decisions.
To begin with, notice that the options for the student have been gratuitously reduced to twoa practice that can sometimes be justified but ought not to be accepted without careful reflection. 10 On closer examination, though, these sorts of examples do not present children with a real choice at all. Typically no child wants to miss recess. The teacher is really saying, Finish your work now or Im going to take away something you likeor, in generic terms, Do what I tell you or Im going to punish you.
Wrapping this threat in the language of choice allows the teacher to camouflage a conventional use of coercion by pretending to offer the student a chance to decideor, in the sanitized language preferred by one proponent of this technique, the teacher is using choices . . . to elicit or motivate desired behaviors (Bluestein 1988, p. 149). The fact that these behaviors are desiredindeed, requiredby
someone else means that the putative chooser doesnt really have much choice at all. As soon as we say Either you do this for me or Ill do that to you, the child will feel trapped and hostile (Faber and Mazlish 1995, p. 90).
2. You punished yourself.
In a variation of this gambit that is a hallmark of Assertive Discipline, students are punished after disobeying the teachers command, but the punishment is presented as something they asked for: If they choose to behave in an inappropriate manner as determined unilaterally by the teacher, they will also choose to accept the negative consequences of that choice (Canter and Canter 1992, p. 169). Thus: You have chosen to sit by yourself at the table (p. 81); you will choose to have your parents called (p. 194); and so on.
Once again, the New Disciplines follow in lockstep. In Discipline with Dignity, we are encouraged to tell students who break the rules that they have chosen to go home for the rest of the day (Curwin and Mendler 1988, p. 15) or have chosen five minutes in Siberia (time-out area) (p. 107). In Cooperative Discipline, a child is likewise told that she has chosen to go to [time-out in] Mr. Jordans room (Albert 1989, p. 77). And in a book called Teaching Children to Care, we find the same thing: I see you are choosing to go to your time-out place (Charney 1991, p. 114). 11
Again, the appeal of this tactic is no mystery: it seems to relieve the teacher of responsibility for what he is about to do to the child. (Apparently, students not only always choose their own behavior, but also choose the teachers response! Teachers would seem to be exempt from the axiom that people are responsible for their own choices.)
SH - this reminds me of a man saying "My wife made me hit her because she made me so angry." We might also call this intellectual abuse because it confuses the recipient of the punishment. The relationship between cause and effect is turned around, similar to gaslighting.
Even in cases where we really can state unconditionally that a child has chosen to do something badnotwithstanding the concerns about such sweeping statements raised in Chapter 2the child certainly does not choose to be punished for it. The teacher does that to him. In short, this is a fundamentally dishonest, not to mention manipulative, attribution. To the injury of punishment is added the insult of a kind of mind game whereby reality is redefined and 50 children are told, in effect, that they wanted to have something bad happen to them (see Crockenberg 1982, pp. 6570).
Youve chosen a time out is a lie: a truthful teacher would have to say, Ive chosen to isolate you.
3. Choose . . . and Suffer. In yet another version of pseudo- choice, children are allowed or even encouraged to make certain decisions specifically so they will suffer from their own poor judgment. This technique falls under the rubric of what Dreikurs called natural (as distinct from logical) consequences, which he defined somewhat circularly as the natural results of ill-advised acts (Dreikurs and Grey 1968, p. 63).
Of course, there is a kernel of truth here: many times, we do learn from the unpleasant results that follow from poor choices. If I leave my books too close to the edge of the desk, they may fall over; if I stay up late, Im probably going to be tired in the morning. However, letting a child experience the natural consequences of her action may not be particularly constructive, depending on her age, the nature of the action, and other factors. Many people like to point out, for example, that a child who constantly insults her peers will soon have few friends as a result. But to conclude that this will teach her to be a nicer person overlooks basic human psychologyspecifically, the reciprocal relation between perceptions and behaviors, and the way they can spiral out of control. The fact that others steer clear of this child may simply cement her disagreeable image of themor of herself.
Similarly, an aggressive child may eventually get his teeth knocked out by someone bigger than he is, but this will likely teach him the importance of making sure that he wins the next fight, not the futility (much less the immorality) of fighting. Lilian Katz (1984, p. 9) has observed that the school of hard knocks, although powerful, is likely to provide the wrong lessons to childrenand the same could be said about many natural consequences.
In a program called Discipline with Love and Logic, children arent merely allowed to live with the results of their actions; they are forced to make . . . decisions so that they will come to regret the bad ones (Cline and Fay 1990, p. 48). As a result, children dont get angry at us; they get angry at themselves (p. 78; also see Dreikurs et al. 1982, p. 118). The authors are quite clear about the intent: We want our kids to hurt from the inside out (Cline and Fay 1990, p. 91; emphasis in original). The sample dialogues offered in this manual suggest a smug satisfaction on the part of the adult who watches as children learn (read: suffer) from their own mistakes.
The salient questions here are these: What message do adults send when they deliberately allow something unpleasant to happen to a child even though they could have intervened? What conclusions does the child draw about how much the adult cares about him, or whether he is worth caring about, or how he should come to regard other people in general? Incredibly, the authors of Discipline with Love and Logic talk about the importance of empathy, even though precisely the opposite of empathic concern would seem to be communicated to a child by an adult following their prescription.
In conventional punishment, a child is at least left with a sense of self intact and the capacity to stand in opposition to the punisher. Not so with this insidious strategy, which tries to turn the child against herself. Any doubt about the lack of respect for children demonstrated by this approach is erased when the authors give us leave to ignore any objections that children may make to something we have done to them: Once you encounter resistance, youll know [the technique is] working (p. 103).
A caring adult wants to help children learn to make responsible decisions about the things that matter to themand to help them see the results of those decisions. That, however, is very different from what has become of the concept of choice in the New Discipline programs. Here, consequences are neither logical nor natural.
* * *
This chapter should not be taken to imply that there is nothing at all to recommend any of the New Discipline programsor that they are interchangeable with each other, or just as coercive as Assertive Discipline. For example, there is no mistaking the latter for most of Positive Discipline in the Classroom (Nelsen et al. 1993), whose central concern is to let students participate in decision making through the vehicle of class meetings.
The other programs, too, talk about phrasing requests respectfully, avoiding interventions that amount to public humiliations, and so on. Credit should be given for these and comparable features that are more humane than other approaches to classroom management.
But a careful reading of the New Disciplines compels the unhappy conclusion that, on balance, most of them are remarkably similar to the old-school approach in their methodsand, as we are about to see, their goals. These programs are merely packaged in such a way as to appeal to educators who are uncomfortable with the idea of using bribes and threats. The truth is what it has always been: a ruse is a ruse is a ruse.