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Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2005

    Lots of great questions; few usable answers

    In Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, Alfie Kohn presents cogent criticism of the common strategies teachers use to control student behavior: rewards and punishment. Kohn made me question whether I ought to use such tactics, and made me hunger for a better way -- something not involving an insistence on control and compliance. Unfortunately, Beyond Discipline created a hunger without really satisfying it. ------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---- Kohn is right about rewards and penalties carrying a terrible price tag. They are both forms of manipulation, and leave little room for children to make authentic choices about what or how they will learn. Moreover, it is undoubtedly better for children to be motivated intrinsically to act kindly toward others, rather than just doing it to get praise and rewards and to avoid punishments. Getting compliance, in short, isn¿t much of an achievement. ---------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------- So, the next logical question is, if a teacher jettisons rewards, penalties, and insisting on compliance, what will she replace them with? Obviously, ¿doing nothing¿ or ¿letting the students do whatever they please¿ would be unacceptable. We have to replace rules and bribes and threats with something, but what? ----------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ------ Kohn claims that traditional discipline methods are founded on the assumption that children are selfish and sinister, ¿that children will act generously only when reinforced for doing so, that people are motivated exclusively by self-interest¿ (page 8). Indeed, this assumption may be held by many traditional discipline programs. However, I personally don¿t use rewards and penalties as a result of any such assumption. In fact, like Kohn, I believe that children have a natural tendency toward empathy and generally want to help others. I use rewards and punishments because of a different assumption: Children often don¿t know what¿s best for them. Responsible adults often need to tell children what to do, simply because children often lack proper judgment. Children aren¿t naturally cruel or selfish, but they do lack knowledge and maturity. Think about it: Given their choice, would most children eat nutritious meals three times a day, or junk food? Would most children study a wide variety of academic subjects (math, history, science, grammar, etc.,), or would they only study whatever suits their momentary fancy? Would most children wait until they were at an appropriate age and maturity level operate drive a car, or would they operate (potentially deadly) vehicles much too soon? ----------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ------ I have rules in my classroom because I know that children often lack the maturity and knowledge to make choices that will benefit them in the long term. So, I¿m not quite sold on the idea of getting rid of rules for children set by responsible adults. The students may have some input in the formation of the class rules, but ultimately it¿s the responsible adult who knows what¿s best for the students¿ long-term benefit, so it¿s not unreasonable for the adult in the classroom to veto any class rules that would not meet the students¿ needs (rules that are too vague to be understood, too punitive, too permissive, etc.) ----------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ------ What would Kohn use to replace rewards and consequences? In a very simplified form, he would replace them with: ----1) making ta

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