When children make the rules

Children make the rules at Innovations Academy, a K-8 charter school, reports Emily Alpert of Voices of San Diego. It’s called “positive discipline.”

Instead of adults laying down the law, Innovations has handed much of the power to the kids. Children at the school have confronted a classmate who was too loud during class. Middle schoolers brokered rules for when students can spin in rolling chairs. Third graders figured out how to share a single, coveted cardboard fort. And they agreed to stop teasing boys who were friends with girls.

. . . Punishments and rewards are frowned upon. Instead, the school seeks to help children right the wrongs they make, figure out why a student is misbehaving and how they can redirect their actions.

Some parents complained last year about “a lack of discipline” last year, prompting the school to add “class councils to mediate student complaints and disputes.” Third grade remains a problem because many students are new to the school.

Earlier this week in one classroom, third graders stood on desks, tossed paper idly and gabbed as the class tried to discuss an upcoming bake sale.

A girl in neon pink fishnets grew frustrated at the noise. “I think that everyone should be quiet because it’s my turn!” she exclaimed. “I’m waiting!”

“Positive discipline” is popular in theory, Alpert writes, but few schools go as far as Innovations Academy in letting kids make the rules.

Here’s a What Works Clearinghouse webinar on improving behavior in elementary classrooms.

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  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    Lord of the Flies!

  2. Are there any real grown-ups in this scenario? Situations like this only fuel the idea that schools are being run by clueless incompetents devoid of any common sense whatsoever.

  3. The danger is that too much time will be spent on these issues, to the benefit of children who actually enjoy all of this brainstorming and negotiating about behavior issues that are basically common sense. Other kids cringe when this sort of approach is taken.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Anybody remember “Summerhill”?
    That didn’t work, either.

  5. EB is probably understating the case. In terms of efficient use of the school day for academics (they are supposed to acquire an education, right?), this is probably at least minus 4 on a scale of 1-10. Why are third-graders wasting school time discussing how to share a cardboard fort?

  6. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Oh dear– it WAS third graders… my mind automatically edited that to “Three-year-olds” since learning to share a toy is a preschool skill!! :O

    Third graders should be working on spelling, history, and math, not playing in cardboard boxes!

  7. Well, it’s a charter. They’re leading the way for us public school teachers. I’ll be sure to pay attention to this *cutting-edge approach*.

    Summerhill is still operating.

  8. Mike Curtis says:

    Put the inmates in charge of the prison, put the patients in charge of the hospital…run away, and no longer worry about them. Isn’t this every parent’s fantasy?

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    So is the post office. So are most lousy schools.


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