Thursday, July 09, 2015

"Children need love, especially when they do not deserve it." - Harold S. Hulbert

This is hard. And it's not just true with children.

Years ago I read a great article about the prison warden Dennis Luther, who's philosophy of running a prison came down to "an unconditional respect for the inmates as people." He said: "If you want people to behave responsibly, and treat you with respect, then you treat other people that way." Luther's philosophy worked, and worked really well (in the six years before the article was written, there were no escapes, no homicides, no sexual assaults, and no suicides). So why didn't warden Luther's way of running a prison become the model?

Because being able to look beyond carrot-and-stick methods of dealing with other people is the mark of thoughtful cultures, and the for-profit prison model has trumped thoughtfulness pretty badly in the prison world.

And the same is true in education. So it was with interest that I read Katherine Reynolds Lewis's "What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?" article for Mother Jones. "Negative consequences, timeouts, and punishment just make bad behavior worse. But a new approach really works."

OK, well, everybody likes to believe that acting thoughtfully is "new," and maybe you can't get people to read articles that say, "guess what, ideas about treating people thoughtfully that have existed for millenia actually do work better than beating them up." But the article is very good, and describes the temptations and the problems with behaviorist thinking:
Teachers who aim to control students' behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others.
My friend Jane Nelsen has been saying this kind of thing for decades as part of her Positive Discipline parenting books and work that she does. One of the most profound guidelines for my own life I heard from Jane: "control invites the very behavior you are looking to avoid."

So really, this isn't new. It's just hard. Carrots and sticks are shortcuts, time-savers, ways of avoiding being patient and understanding. But the truth is that they ultimately end up not being shortcuts, and they cost a lot of time to repair later, and they reflect more our inability to control our own behavior than anything else.

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