Sunday, July 3, 2011

Two Things I Dislike In Our Educational System

Actually, there are many things we could do to improve our educational system and make it better.  I've mentioned some of them in previous blogs.  Most of them are things I think we SHOULD do for our kids, beginning with early childhood to high school and perhaps higher education as well.  But there are two items that I think should be eliminated.  

One of those items is spankings.  Recently in a local newspaper a letter to the editor said that much of the problems with education could be solved if we would just return to spanking the kids when they misbehaved.  It was from a woman and I believe it was sincere.  It had the element that what was good in her day would be good today.  And when a child misbehaved in her day, they were punished by having to bend over to endure a number of wacks with a paddle.  "Grab your ankles."  

My bias stems from the fact that I don't remember my mother or dad ever paddling or striking me.  A "talking to" was more scary then a paddling.  And there were other punishments to enforce the rules of our, no dessert for two days (the ultimate punishment in our house as mom was a great cook) or I had to stay in my room.  Boring.     But, no swatting or hitting.  So I guess I grew up with this bias taught to me.

But I have felt the paddle in the fraternity house as a pledge.  It hurts and it is humiliating. Some guys seem to want to prove their manhood by showing how much they can endure.  So much for brains.

My first introduction to paddling in the schools was my first year as a fifth grade teacher.  I had already spent a year as a music teacher and I had not uncounted any discipline problems.  Why would kids want to cause troubles when they are singing, dancing or playing their instruments.  Getting them to stop was my biggest problem.  "Hey, class is over--put your instruments away!"  But in fifth grade, there are many opportunities for a child to goof off and in some instances, even though I might have cautioned them on their behavior, they continue the negative action.  

I was still new to the profession of teaching and I tried several things first.  Have the student sit at my desk but that resembled rewarding the kid for his actions.  Keeping him/her in for recess wasn't that sever and it also meant that I had to stay in the classroom as well.  However, it was doable.  Girls mostly didn't like this punishment....perhaps because they couldn't talk to their friends.  I would not add homework to the kid in question for punishment--that seemed to be adding a negative connotation from the bad behavior to learning.  I didn't think that was a smart move.

But one time I had a boy just not paying attention, talking out of turn, being defiant, hassling other children in the classroom and when possible ignoring rules and my instructions.  I remember in this episode I moved his desk next to the door away from others but he kept making faces when I turned my back and continued to disrupt the class the best way he knew how.  My patience wore thin.

As a relatively new teacher I had been told on several occasions that if I were to have a discipline problem to bring that student to the principal's office.  On this occasion I did just that.  The principal was a big man, probably over six feet tall, very imposing and I thought he would just talk to the child and get his attention.  But that is not what happened.  

When the young student and I were ushered into the office, I explain that my young charge was not behaving in a positive way, explained what his actions had been and what actions I was expecting of him.  The principal asked the student if this was true and a slight nod returned the affirmative.  Then the principal closed his door and from the back of it took down this rather large paddle, told the student to bend over and he delivered at least ten hits to the student's behind--hard enough to lift the student off the floor.  This I noticed.  I was aghast.  I hadn't wanted this--I wanted the principal to talk to the student.

We left the principal's office and I think both of us were least my eyes were wet.  My kid was sobbing and we walked around the school for awhile while both of us regained some control.  I think my student realized what I was doing.  The rest of the day went off without further problems.....except the scene has never left my mind.   I NEVER took a student to the principal's office for discipline after that episode.  NEVER!

First, we're the adults--we ought to be smarter then the students.  If pain is the only way to get their attention, something is wrong.  I shortly learned another technique that I used to satisfaction--indeed, my kids use to remark that they hated it when I did this dastardly deed.  New teachers--pay attention to this technique.

First, you NEVER discipline a child in front of another.  In fact, as far as I am concerned you NEVER discipline an adult in front of others.  Go to a private room, an office, someplace away from the class.  Both of you sit in a chair facing each other.  Then you take the child's (adult's) hands in yours and you talk to them.  Go over what has just happened and explain what the correct behavior was desired.  By taking the other's hands, it is hard, almost impossible,  for that person to look away.  You "HOLD THEIR ATTENTION-EYEBALL TO EYEBALL."  It is like getting a direct link to their brain.  I normally ended by saying something to this effect, "Do you know now what we need to do?"  And then, "I still think you are a very important person in my life."  Positive ending.  Notice I said "WE need to do?  What I'm trying to tell my young charge is that we're going to get through this together.

With adults, it may not be discipline that you want to accomplish but rather the importance of the message.  My wife and I have used this technique for years when we needed to say something important.  

But I would never spank a child--or a fraternity brother for that matter. I have never seen pain to cause a behavior change for the positive.

As I said, I never took a child before that principal (or any principal) ever again. 

The second educational policy that should be eliminated is "RANKINGS."  Who is number one, who is the best, what student is better then all the others?  There may be times when a generalization of who is the largest university in the state or what roads have the most accidents are probably valuable.  But my indignation is when we say this child/student is the best in this classroom.  

I quickly learned that if you say, Charlie or Charlene is the very best at doing their spelling words, I would then have thirty-four other children who were not the best.  To a lot of kids they could care less, but for several who were really trying to know they had been bested, it hurts.  They would like to be up on that pedestal too.  It's alright if a number of kids do well and you mentioned that but singling out one person as the best leaves a lot of others with lesser feelings.

There is a philosophical saying that seems to fit this subject.  I have used it before--it is one that guides my thinking.  "There is no nobility in being superior to someone else--true nobility is being superior to who you were yesterday."  It was this thinking that I tried to impose on my students----from the music classes I taught to elementary to high school to college...getting students to say to themselves, "I'm better then I was yesterday."  I would not single out someone as being the best.  It's a hard road to follow.  I know, I keep trying.

Two items I would like to see eliminated from educational systems--paddling and rankings.  They do not have a positive effect in education or society for that matter.

Yes, I've had some top teachers but all of my teachers have my thanks for doing what they did to help me.  They all deserve a pat on the back and a sincere thank you for a good job.

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