Shame can be educational

Shame can be used as well as abused, writes Julia Steiny

Hester Prynne’s big red “A” on her chest is perhaps America’s most famous example of controlling unwanted behavior by public shaming. . . . when parents, teachers or other authorities impose humiliating degrees of shame, the effort to curb bad behavior often backfires.  Overwhelmed by shame, the offender becomes proudly anti-social or defiant, like Hester.  Some seek the solace and company of other bad people — thus the power of gangs.

Conversely, self-esteem advocates talk as though bad feelings in general shouldn’t exist.  Every kid should get a trophy, a do-over, an “A,” no matter what their effort.  But without the adversity of failure, kids can’t be socialized.  They won’t learn to take responsibility or be accountable to their peers, parents and community.

Learning to tolerate and recover from shame starts in the family, says Australian criminologist John Braithwaite.  “Healthy families love their kids, but frown on unwanted behavior.” Children learn to control their impulses.

Parents who rely on humiliation to force the behavior they want tend to raise delinquents, he says. The “parents do all the work of controlling behavior.”

“Shame is like fire, a natural force that can serve either good or evil,” Steiny concludes.

Teacher lets kids mark faces of slow readers

An Idaho teacher let fourth-graders scribble with markers on the faces of classmates who didn’t meet reading goals, reports the Times-News.

The Declo teacher had let the class pick a reward for those who met Accelerated Reader goals. Instead, the class picked a punishment — no recess or a marked face — for those who fell short.

When Cindy Hurst’s 10-year-old son arrived home from school Nov. 5, his entire face, hairline to chin, was scribbled on in red marker — including his eyelids. He also had green, red and purple scribble marks over the red, and his face was scratched by a marker that had a rough edge.

“He was humiliated, he hung his head and wanted to go wash his face,” said Hurst. “He knows he’s a slow reader. Now he thinks he should be punished for it.”

Nine of 21 students didn’t meet their goals. Three chose to go without recess and six chose to have their faces marked.

Karla Christensen, whose daughter met her reading goal, defended teacher Summer Larsen.

Christensen said if her daughter had come home with similar marks, she would have felt it was a reflection on her own parenting for not making sure her daughter reached her goal.

“I think (Larsen)is just a very creative teacher who was trying to do something to motivate the students and it went astray,” Christensen said.

LeRoy Robinson, a grandfather of two of the marked-up students, said Larsen made a “poor choice and basically, it was bullying.” Children had to wear the marker all day and then found it wouldn’t wash off,  he said.

The teacher missed several days of school after the incident, but it’s not clear whether she was suspended.  A complaint has been filed with the professional ethics board.

KIPP = Nazi Germany?

In musing about democracy on Bridging Differences, Deborah Meier equates KIPP and other “no excuses” schools with Nazi Germany‘s schools.

What troubles me most about the KIPPs of the world are not issues of pedagogy or the public/private issue, but their “no excuses” ideology implemented by a code that rests on humiliating those less powerful than oneself and reinforcing a moral code that suggests that there’s a one-to-one connection between being good and not getting caught. It tries to create certainties in a field where it does not belong. . . . Life is never so simple that we can award points for “badness” on a fixed numerical scale of bad-to-good. As we once reminded colleagues, Nazi Germany had a successful school system—so what? I’d be fascinated to interview some KIPP graduates to learn how its work plays out in their lives.

KIPP schools don’t suspend students for misbehavior or send them out of class. Instead, they sit in a separate area with the school polo shirt inside out until they’ve apologized to their teacher and classmates and the apology has been accepted. I assume that’s what Meier means by humiliation.

The moral code that equates “being good and not getting caught” baffles me. What is she talking about?

Life is not simple, but surely it’s possible for teachers to award merit or demerit points to students for good or bad classroom behavior without turning into Nazis.

After all, very few schools try to operate as democracies.