Monday, October 09, 2006

Children Left Behind

October 9

Several years ago there was a letter to the editor of the Mobile Press Register from a youngster defending a teacher's right to corporal punishment of misbehaving children. I was so appalled that I wrote an article that ran as a column in the paper under the banner "Your Word," which was a free local opinion space at that time.

The premise of my article was that a better educational system has been here, literally, in this place, all the time, if only people would give it a chance. The last sentence, referring to the unfortunate boy who felt students at school deserved all the spankings they could get was, "Every child is worth the effort, even those who have already been damaged by a system that celebrates authority."

This was written before the catastrophe of the Bush administration's educational policy called "No Child Left Behind." This policy focuses on the children who are bringing down the curve of those test scores and clearly ignores the middle- and upper-range intelligences who could benefit by teacher attention and special projects. The latter students are simply given more books and expected to educate themselves by reading more.

In the "Your Word" piece in 1999 I wrote, "Today we all but worship test scores. We reward children for memorizing the answers that will assure passing grades." Today I would have said, "the answers that raise the grades of the class as a whole and the teacher's reputation."

Some people's brains are wired for test-taking. They can scan a chapter in a textbook and spot the points that will be on a test, memorize the list, and score high. They have always been the teachers' darlings, and of course they usually are very intelligent people, but the test itself only says so much about them: they were able to memorize and retain and regurgitate a great deal on a certain subject on a certain day. They were the "A" students, and they grew up loving the system.

Others may have had many talents, and even greater reasoning ability. None of these things can be measured by any test. This is the reason that Marietta Johnson suggested that the system do away with tests and concentrate instead on teaching the children. "But how will we know if they've learned anything?" people cried. "How will we measure?"

There is no doubt that even if she came on the scene tomorrow, Mrs. Johnson would be ahead of her time. Her answer to that was simple. "All grading, marking, and promotion tend to develop double motives...The whole question becomes what are are needs of the body, the mind and the spirit? The new education is committed to answer these questions. In the measure that the institution provides activities and exercises which tend to bring about a sound, accomplished, beautiful body, an intelligent, sympathetic mind, and a sweet, sincere spirit, it is educational. In the measure that it does not, it is not educational -- no matter how informational it may be."

The "No Child Left Behind" program clearly leaves all children behind. The idea that more testing, more "benchmarking," more stress on children and teachers alike is not working. What is needed most of all is common sense about the nature of children.

Children are born learning, and their learning should not be equated with their answers on test devised by adults in a research facility somewhere. Their learning should be a natural part of their life, without measure, without fear of failure, without competition, learning for its own sake and with its own reward.

When you see children happy at school, it is because they are safe, they are respected, and they are really learning. It will take an organic approach to education to provide this to all. As we have learned in Fairhope, it works.

12 comments:

Bert Bananas said...

Alas, once again we part ways in how we are atuned to the world.

I attended grammar school back when the threat of writing a note to my parents really had impact. And corporeal punishment was allowed, but I didn't get a whack until I was a senior and it was more a situational morality play than punishment.

I believe that the threat of corporeal punishment is an important ingrediant in raising citizens who are good at getting along with each other. I don't believe in something often referred to as the basic decency of mankind. In fact, I believe the opposite. I see it as a positive that little kids learn about adverse consequences for improper actions. I love the thought of them (as I did) staring wide-eyed as a class mate gets one, two or three swats with a frat board. When you mention about how kids are born to learn, this is one heck of a lesson.

Corporeal punishment only really works on prepubescent humans, little people who have every reason to be concerned about what adults (big people) can do to them. So the kids in 6th through 12th grades, color them lost. Except, of course, for those kids with parents who taught them this lesson. Where do you think the majority of the good kids come from, anyway?

When corporeal punishment is an easily seen (and accepted) consequence of an improper CHOICE (no paddling for spilling the milk or making an honest mistake) I believe it is a very effective tool.

Anyway, I know all the arguments against it. Spare me from the argument about how it would be abused... Taking all that into consideration it remains my belief that the only way to save public schooling in America is to reinstitute corporeal punishment beginning next year with 1st graders and letting it follow them on a year by year basis until they are seniors in high school, and corporeal punishment is then back in all the grades.

Will it happen? Oh, sure.

Finding Fair Hope said...

An interesting take on the world, bananas, from someone I would think more easygoing and carefree. It doesn't attack the basic premise of Organic Education, so I'm not going to argue with it...except it seems to presume that kids are born with the innate need to be whacked upside the head when an adult sees fit. I'm sure my readers will provide an interesting reaction with comments.

Bert Bananas said...

"...except it seems to presume that kids are born with the innate need to be whacked upside the head when an adult sees fit."

Yes, but it has to be a loving, competent adult.

John Sweden said...

“Anyway, I know all the arguments against it.”

No Bert it’s doubtful that you know any of the real arguments against it, otherwise you wouldn’t saying the things you are saying. I suspect the need to wise guy comment on this subject is because you were one of those wimps ("the “threat” of writing a note to my parents really had impact"…. oooh!scary) cowering in fear of authority, getting off, on your “wide-eyed”, still cherished view, of authoritative violence being directed against others. As you appear to be a spectator to real life and a terrorized, submissive, non-participant it is easy to understand how you would draw the wrong conclusions from those events. Some of us who were getting whacked regularly were learning quite a different set of lessons from the one’s you seemed to have gotten or imagined you got.

The major flaw in the argument that “corporeal punishment”…“is an very effective tool” is the, “easily seen (and accepted) consequence of an improper CHOICE”, part of your conclusion. The justification, even with most self-serving of explanations, for committing an act of violence against a person is never “easily seen” or “accepted”, by the person it is being done to, as justifiable “consequence of an improper choice”. You yourself blow-off and rationalize your getting whacked as being “more a situational morality play than punishment”. Even Jesus on the cross was begging, ”forgive them father for they know not what they do”. Even though he knew exactly why they had and needed to do what they did. To put a little science behind the fallacy of this argument; recent research has shown that the brain, particularly those areas associated perceiving the future consequence of one actions or choices, are not fully developed until one is in their mid-twenties or later. So you cannot hold one accountable or punish one for actions for which they physically and literally have no realistic ability to perceive or comprehend the consequences of.

“I believe that the threat of corporeal punishment is an important ingredient in raising citizens who are good at getting along with each other.”

Absolute nonsense, there are no basis fact anywhere to support this conclusion. Human beings are social animals they seek and need to live together in harmony and 99% of them do so without the threat of corporal punishment because the normal rewards, of positive relationships amongst people, are more than enough to sustain society. In fact, just to raise a good dog, much less a child, we have come to know and recognize that violence and the threats of violence are totally counter productive. (Isn’t that right Nellie?)

“I don't believe in something often referred to as the basic decency of mankind. In fact, I believe the opposite.”...”Yes, but it has to be a loving, competent adult.” These two statements not only cancel each other out the first is just ignorance of the true nature of mankind and as I pointed out above is not supported by the facts.

“I love the thought of them (as I did) staring wide-eyed as a classmate gets one, two or three swats with a frat board.” You need to take a long and hard look at this statement and your need to make it.

So I will leave it to you readers do we accept “I know all the arguments” Bert’s personalized version that “Whacking” is and essential ingredient and part of a good education which leads a mature loving adults…or do we accept Marietta Johnsson’s, a person who’s lifetime of engagement in the process of turning out thousands of decent human beings resulted in a theory of education, without violence, that after a hundreds years, still continues to be one of the best and influential progressive models for developing fully competent, creative, self- confident, mature and positively engaged members of civil Soceity.

I’ll go with experience and fact over wise guy rhetoric any day.

Bert Bananas said...

John, here is a translation of an old Saxon saying (translated from the original Saxophone): "Each person talks about the fair according to what he experienced there."

Even-Handed Hope does have me pegged. I am easy going and fun loving. Having experienced nothing but a good time in life, and having learned early about 'actions = consequences' I have no problem extolling the joys of discipline and corporeal punishment. My time at the fair has obviously been different than your time at the fair. Maybe if I'd been part of the "...Some of us who were getting whacked regularly..." I'd be you, and thus we'd be in complete agreement.

Getting down to the bedrock of your argument (in my opinion) we come to this: "As you appear to be a spectator to real life and a terrorized, submissive, non-participant it is easy to understand how you would draw the wrong conclusions."

Whether you are right or wrong is someting I'll leave to history and my biographers (see? ever the wise guy!). But I think your eagerness to make this deduction says more about you than it does me.

I don't think you really said anything useful in terms of my argument that at this stage of the American Experience the public school system would be improved for the middle & high achievers if corporeal punishment were reintroduced on a gradual basis, starting next year with 1st grade. Could it get any worse?

goldennib said...

This is hysterical entertainment.

As someone who grew up by getting hit with a wooden spoon when I annoyed my mother, I can tell you that hitting me made me stubborn and I always did what I wanted. My brother on the other hand, avoided pain by making my mother laugh. I do not believe in hitting children.

But, John, where on earth you got the idea that children can not or do not understand consequences, I don't know. My daughter began understanding the consequences of her behavior at the age of three, as I taught her, because all actions have consequences. Are we not to hold people accountable until they are 25?

Finding Fair Hope said...

I didn't read into what John said that he didn't believe children could understand consequences, but rather that the natural consequences of an act that might annoy an adult would be physical violence. There are ways to point out consequences without using a ruler, a wooden spoon, or a hand. I was spanked regularly when a child but would not defend it. In retrospect it seems that the adult was releasing his (her) own tension by taking it out on me. I didn't hit my daughter, and she doesn't physically punish her two little boys, but they learn over and over the consequences of their misdeeds. As far as a school administering such punishment, it is the old question of what for? Bananas said that's where good kids come from, but I disagree. More "bad" kids come from backgrounds that include being defined as bad, and being punished physically for it, than good kids do.

goldennib said...

I do not believe that it is neccessary and I believe it is counterproductive to hit children (or anyone, in most cases) to learn and to socialize. But John did say that people are not physically or mentally capable of understanding or foreseeing the consequences of their actions, "To put a little science behind the fallacy of this argument; recent research has shown that the brain, particularly those areas associated perceiving the future consequence of one actions or choices, are not fully developed until one is in their mid-twenties or later. So you cannot hold one accountable or punish one for actions for which they physically and literally have no realistic ability to perceive or comprehend the consequences of."

Finding Fair Hope said...

John, you're on. Did you mean that little children are not capable of anticipating consequences and therefore should not be disciplined until the age of 20? I think I missed something here.

Bert Bananas said...

All this talk about adults hitting kids because the adults have problems is very depressing.

When I spanked my kids it was 'punishment.' The 'pain' was a consequence. As they were sobbing at the inignity of having been swatted I explained that what they'd done (never not done) is what earned them the uncomfortable consequence and all they had to do was think about possible consequences when they chose to do something they knew they shouldn't have.

And now that they are older, not one of them has robbed a bank a second time. See? It worked.

Of course, I am a darned good daddy; I'm probably more the exception than the rule.

John Sweden said...

I guess I’m on the spot here. “Nib”, you’re right. I did say what I said, and while it was pretty much on the extreme end the equation I’m not all that sure that I am incorrect in my deductions. We may, on the basis of these new findings, have to rethink our assumptions, not just on discipline, but a whole host of assumptions on adult child interactions along with many therapeutic and educational programs and interventions. Indeed the youth center in which I am working is now going through a total re-questioning and re-examination of the issue of “consequences” and their positive or negative effects based on this new research.

Now specifically to your question of children being able to recognize the consequences of their actions and therefore their need to be held accountable and face disciplinary action on your part. They may know and they may understand and even rationally express the consequences of particular action before or after an event, but this research suggests that at the moment the action occurs they have a severely diminished physical or mental capacity for putting these judgmental blocks or elements together in order to thwart the impulse.

This is not something new, we known and acted accordingly upon its effects for a long time. For example we do not prosecute 8 yr. olds for crimes the same way we prosecute a 16 yr. old or adults. Even in the law for adults the aspect of diminished capacity, due to momentary suspensions of rational understanding of judgment and consequences, such as mental illness, provoked rage, years of abuse, drugs, alcohol etc…etc..etc is accepted. This concept is even extended depending on the circumstance to pre-meditated cases. Actually one of the effects of this research could be the pushing the age of adult culpability up from 16 to 21.

The question becomes that knowing these, now physically verifiable facts of diminished brain capacity, what is the most effective method one would choose to shape a positive outcome in a child’s response to, for want of better word, “temptation” to mayhem? We KNOW from behavioral modification that positive reinforcement is a much more powerful shaper of permanent behavioral change than punishment. And to be more precise, and more relational to Marietta Johnsson educational viewpoint (eg Self-exploration, learning and random aspects of play), that random positive reinforcement is the most enduring and powerful method of learning of all.

Negative reinforcement we KNOW is not only non-effective in the long term (Remove the negative stimulus and the behavior returns) it also has many detrimental side effects such as, learned helplessness, anxiety, avoidance, resentment, anger and stress, to mention a few. You yourself Nibs pointed out that the spoon produced the unintended results of stubbornness. It was these lessons along with a deep abiding hate and life long challenge to authority that I was alluding to as the other lessons being learned by those on the receiving end. So knowing this, why would anyone choose to “whack” a child? I guess the answer to that is,

“I love the thought of them (as I did) staring wide-eyed as a classmate gets one, two or three swats with a frat board.”

goldennib said...

John, your points are well taken. And while I understand that a child has less or more impulse control at varying ages, the world is built in such a way that all actions have a reaction and I think children should be held accountable. Permissiveness is not an anecdote to beatings. I think children need parameters and structure. We have seen children left to their own devices, without supervision, become killers.