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I started this book with a discussion of games because games are interesting and important. However, we must analyze the problem of discipline deeper than the level of games. Games are made up of moves, and the moves of a game are usually offenses by the student and punishments by the teacher. It should also be remembered that not all discipline problems occur in the context of games. In a well-run class there may be very few games, but discipline problems will still occur. There are any number of situations and circumstances that lead to momentary conflicts between students and teacher. For these reasons it is worthwhile to look closely at “crimes and punishments.”
It may seem pessimistic to approach teaching from this perspective. It could be argued that teachers would do better to examine their teaching methods if they want to eliminate discipline problems. It might also be argued that the positive reinforcement of reward should be used instead of the negative reinforcement of punishment. There is some merit to these arguments, but there are also very good reasons why punishment remains a regular part of teaching.
Teachers are decent people, not tyrants, and they are quite willing to look to themselves as a cause of discipline problems. At times this is productive. It can lead a teacher to improve his methods and skills. At other times, such a self-examination can only be described as neurotic. A teacher who chastises himself while his class goes wild is doing no one a favor. Discipline problems occur not because teachers are evil, and not because students are evil, but simply because teachers and students necessarily have very different goals. One very important goal of students is ego expansion. This is not surprising. Should we expect students not to assert their identities? Should we expect them not to strive to become persons in their own right? Should we ask them to mindlessly accept everything we say? Furthermore, students have a multitude of mundane and transient goals that seem very important to them at the moment. Again this is not surprising. Their goals may seem petty and shortsighted to us, but should we expect them with their limited experience to value things that we have come to value only through a much larger experience?
Strong forces are at work in the classroom. A student’s view of the. world and of his identity lead him to pursue his own goals. Society’s certainty that the young must be educated - that his ego expansion by aggression must be curbed, and that he must acquire a vast store of knowledge of which he cannot know the value - is also a strong force. Such strong forces are bound to result in occasional conflicts. If we accept the fact that strong forces are in operation, then it does not seem illogical that strong methods must be used in dealing with these problems. Punishment is a strong force, but are there not also strong positive forces that can be used by a teacher in response to misbehavior?
Yes, there are strong positive forces available to the teacher, but unfortunately I know of no positive force, short of bribery or appeasement, that has immediate effect. Positive forces tend to be long-range forces. A good example consistently set by a teacher is a positive force, and it is a strong force, but it is not an immediate force. A fair and honest teacher who cares about his students will be respected by them for the rest of their lives, but not on the first day of class. On the first day of class, and for many days thereafter, students are much more concerned with their short-term self-interest. They are concerned with playing, with telling jokes, with shooting spitballs, with watching clouds go by, and with a thousand other momentary concerns.
Another strong positive force is the satisfaction of accomplishment that comes from learning. A teacher can provide for this satisfaction of accomplishment simply by teaching well. But again good teaching methods are not relevant in the short run. They cannot be counted on to extricate a teacher from a game or other discipline problems. Only punishment, in one form or another, has both the strength and immediacy to effectively combat most discipline problems. Therefore, I will first classify and describe some different offenses and punishments, and then I will offer some observations and implications that I think are important.
Offenses can be classified into four general categories: first, honest mistakes; second, offenses of aggressive ego expansion; third, offenses for material gain; and fourth, pseudo-offenses.
Honest mistakes are the easiest type of offense for the teacher to handle. An example of an honest mistake offense would be that of Johnny getting up to sharpen his pencil without being aware that there is a rule that says students are not to leave their seats without permission. The correction is simple - just tell Johnny about the rule and tell him to observe it in the future. There is no need for punishment, and most teachers automatically know this. There are times, however, when the teacher may decide to apply a sanction just to help the student to remember the rule or to convince him that it is important and will be enforced. There are also times, such as when the class has made the rule, that failure to apply the prescribed sanction would be seen as favoritism. However, these situations are the exceptions, not the rules.
The biggest problem with honest mistake offenses is knowing how to identify them. It is not uncommon for a student to be gaming and claiming “ignorance of the law” as an excuse. In this case the “honest mistake” is in reality an offense of aggressive ego expansion and should be treated as such.
Offenses of aggressive ego expansion form the bulk of discipline problems. When ego expansion is properly channeled it causes little trouble. This is ego expansion by merit. But when not properly channeled, ego expansion takes place by aggression. Fighting among students is an example of aggressive ego expansion, as is obstinacy, throwing paper wads, shooting rubber bands, willful disobedience, willful discourtesy, and so on. Anything that can be labeled as the “natural cussedness of people” goes in this category.
I will subdivide offenses of aggressive ego expansion into two parts, rule violations and ritual offenses. Rule violations are relatively simple, though they can be complicated when worked into the context of games. Ritual offenses are not so simple, however. Ritual offenses are concerned with courtesy and protocol. They are harder to deal with because we do not have the “ritual order” clearly in mind as we do the “legal order.” For this reason I will devote a separate chapter to ritual offenses.
Many offenses are motivated by retaliation, not sheer cussedness. Thus Jim, whom I described in the previous chapter, was constantly getting into trouble which others had started. For convenience I will classify retaliatory offenses as offenses of aggressive ego expansion, though I will admit the two can be quite different. The goal of retaliation is ego maintenance rather than ego expansion. Offenses motivated by retaliation are usually rule violations and usually must be dealt with in the same way as offenses of aggressive ego expansion. Occasionally retaliation may be classified as a pseudo-offense if the victim of another’s aggression shows admirable restraint in his retaliation.
A third category of offenses is offenses for material gain. Theft from a classmate would be a good example of this. In an offense of this third type the offender does not want to have a clash of wills. He does not want to show his autonomy, prowess, courage, or status. He only wants something that is of material advantage to him. This is not to say that face or status is never involved in an offense for material gain. When a student cheats on a test he wants the material gain of a higher test score. This goal would give him a bit of status. Since he is not seeking status in approved ways, his actions could be interpreted as aggressive ego expansion. However, I will classify it as an offense for material gain, simply because the offender does not want to take part in a contest of wills.
Offenses for material gain can be subdivided into offenses of commission and offenses of omission. Stealing or cheating would be offenses of commission. Failure to do something that one is supposed to do would be an offense of omission. Offenses of commission are normally deliberate and relatively well thought out. Offenses of omission are normally haphazard, the results of neglect or lack of effort. Offenses of omission are usually not hard to deal with individually, but sometimes they can be overwhelming by sheer numbers.
The fourth category of offenses, pseudo-offenses, are offenses that occur with extenuating circumstances. Sometimes, for example, I have frustrated a whole class by giving an assignment that was just beyond their means. Failure to complete such an assignment would be a pseudo-offense. Pseudo-offenses are usually the result of inconsistencies or poor logistics on the part of the teacher. The teacher’s job is to tell his students what to do, but this is no mean task. It is not uncommon for a conscientious teacher to discover that he told the class one thing one day and something else the next. This can lead to problems, and it is easy for the teacher to jump to the conclusion that the students are just being contrary. Closer analysis may reveal that the students are not at all to blame. A pseudo-offense differs from an honest mistake in the complexity of its cause. An honest mistake is easily corrected by simply giving the appropriate instruction. A pseudo-offense may have more complex causes and no simple solution.
Socially awkward situations can sometimes result in pseudo-offenses. I remember one situation when four or five senior girls had volunteered to help in some school activity, and this resulted in their taking their lunch hour at an earlier time than usual. Much to their dismay they found they were faced with the prospect of sharing the lunchroom with fifth and sixth graders. No one objected when they sat down at the teacher’s table, though of course that would be technically against the rules. I have had similar awkward situations in music classes when I had one or two older students in a class of a larger number of junior high students. Their age and status gave them a few special privileges which were technically out of bounds, but this seemed to be accepted, even expected, by the younger students
Thus the classification of offenses as it now stands is:
Type I: Honest mistakes
Type II: Offenses of aggressive ego expansion
A. Rule violations
B. Ritual offenses
Type III: Offenses for material gain
A. Offenses of omission
B. Offenses of commission
Type IV: Pseudo-offenses
Before going on to a classification of punishments, I will present a number of examples of offenses that I have encountered and show how they fit into the above classification. It will become quickly apparent that there is some overlap in the categories, and that the classification of any given offense depends on factors that are not immediately visible.
Example 1: James is tipping back in his chair. He’s not bothering anyone at the moment, but I have a rule against it. I tell him to keep his chair on the floor. He first looks at me for a second, then looks around for a second, and then slowly obeys.
This is a rule violation for the purpose of aggressive ego expansion;- and it is also a classic example of lining.
Example 2: Frank didn’t do his homework.
Failure to do an assignment is normally an offense of omission for material gain, type IIIA. The material gain for Frank was that of simply getting out of the assignment. This is a very narrow perspective of gain, of course. We would much prefer that Frank count knowledge as a gain, but that is not a realistic expectation. The offense might be just an honest mistake if Frank had been absent and didn’t know about the assignment. It is also very possible that Frank is just trying to lock horns with the teacher; then the offense would be of type IIA.
Example 3: I just chastised Jack for not paying attention. He mumbled something under his breath.
This example is of type IIB, a ritual offense for aggressive ego expansion. It is a ritual offense in that Jack is refusing to courteously accept my authority and status.
Example 4: While going over the day’s lesson I ask Evan how to do problem sixteen. He nonchalantly replies “I don’t know” and chuckles. “Have you been listening?” I ask. He replies “sure!” but looks at his neighbors and grins.
This is again an offense of type IIB. The only difference between this example and example 3 is that Evan is on the offensive while Jack is on the defensive.
Example 5: Jerry wants to argue that his test was marked wrong.
If Jerry has a good case, then this is no offense at all or, at most, a pseudo-offense. It is quite possible that Jerry has no case but just wants to play a game of debate. In this instance, he may be engaging in an offense of aggressive ego expansion, or he may just want the material gain of a few more points. The outcome of this discussion can be very important if his grade is right on the borderline.
Example 6: After class I notice tiny bits of paper strewn thickly in the aisle.
This is clearly a rule violation for the purpose of aggressive ego expansion. The offender has the hedge of anonymity; or he might be brazen enough to be playing a game of “No rule against that.” However, this sort of behavior might be a good sign that the teacher is not doing a competent job. This offense indicates boredom on the part of the student. Students should be too busy to be bored.
Example 7: Donnie never takes his eyes off me. I suspect he’s gaming.
This may not be an offense at all. Maybe Donnie is so engrossed in what I’m saying that he’s not aware that he is staring with an intensity that is not normal. Young children will hold an unbroken stare when listening, but by the time they get to the middle years of school their patterns of eye contact change. Eye contact becomes intermittent, not continuous. Continued staring for minutes at a time is simply not the adult pattern in our society. In this particular case I suspected Donnie was gaming because he games every day. If he is gaming, then his goal is to get me to comment on his staring. If I do, he will indignantly reply, “Now what did I do? I’ve just been listening to what you were saying.” This puts me on the defensive and the game is on. If this is what Donnie has in mind, then he is engaging in a ritual offense of aggressive ego expansion, type IIB. This game is easy to avoid however, simply by not taking his bait. If he is ignored for ten minutes he will give up his effort.
Example 8: Apparently I left the music office door unlocked. I come in Monday morning and find that the nylon strings on a guitar have been cut. There was a junior class party Saturday in the cafeteria which adjoins the music office.
Pure vandalism, as in this example, with the protection of anonymity, is a rule violation for aggressive ego expansion, type IIA.
Example 9: Joan can’t stop giggling. I can’t even remember what it was that got her started.
It’s not too uncommon for a student to get so wrapped up in the humor of some situation that he or she simply can’t stop giggling. There is no disrespect or aggression meant. When a giggle is meant for disrespect it is plainly artificial, not prolonged, and it is accompanied by expressions of ridicule. I would classify Joan’s giggling as a pseudo-offense. The best cure for uncontrollable giggling, in my experience, is to tell the student to go out in the hallway until her giggling stops.
Example 10: Jeanna giggles at one of my statements. I didn’t mean to make a joke.
This is a ritual offense, type IIB. Jeanna’s giggle was short and directed at what I just said. Jeanna and I had been scrapping for some time. By her giggle she meant to imply that what I said was worthy of ridicule, and she meant to invite her friends to join in this ridicule.
Example 11: Henry is whispering something to Jim. They’re both supposed to be listening to me.
This could be an honest mistake if Henry only wants to borrow a pencil and is unaware that he is transgressing. More likely he knows he is transgressing but still only wants the material gain of the pencil he is trying to borrow. In either of these two cases, a word will suffice to get their attention again. It is possible, however that they are whispering to aggravate me. This would make it an offense of aggressive ego expansion, type IIA. The type of offense will become quickly apparent in how they respond to correction. If Henry giggles and looks out the window when I ask him what the trouble is then he’s probably trying to start a little game of lining or baiting. This would definitely show the offense is of type IIA.
Example 12: Jane starts leisurely combing her hair during an individual study period. I tell her to put her comb away.
Most likely Jane is just more interested in her hairdo than in her algebra assignment. This would make it a minor offense for material gain, type IIIB. With some students, hair combing would be just one more way to aggravate me in a game of “No rule against that.” In such a case it would be an offense of type IIA again.
Example 13: Charlie enters the classroom two minutes late.
This is most likely a simple offense of omission for material gain, type IIIA. Playing in the hallway is more fun than doing classwork, so every second gained in the hallway is a material gain for the student. In this case a mild punishment will probably suffice to make the gain of a few seconds in the hallway unprofitable and solve the problem. However it is also quite possible that the offense is a purposeful attempt to be stubborn, a game of lining for aggressive ego expansion. If this is the case then stronger measures will be needed.
Example 14: During a test Johnny is looking suspiciously close to his neighbor’s paper.
This would be an offense of type IIIB, an offense of commission for material gain, if Johnny really wants to cheat and not be caught. There is also a very good chance that Johnny is gaming. My reason for thinking this is that in my experience those who only want to cheat don’t have much trouble in doing so. It is very hard to catch a person cheating in the act. I usually begin to suspect cheating only after the test is over and I am grading the papers. But if a student wants to play a game of lining, then his wandering eyes will be very evident.
Example 15: 1 see a spitball fly across the room.
This is another classic example of a rule violation for aggressive ego expansion, type IIA.
I will now turn to a discussion of punishments. The majority of offenses require a sanction of some sort. In a minority of cases a word or two of instruction is all that is called for, but in most cases something more substantial is needed. It should not be inferred that a teacher, after applying a sanction, can forget all about an offense. On the contrary, any offense should be given some careful thought by the teacher. Analysis and reflection on a problem may produce some way of preventing a repetition of the problem. But nearly always this analysis and reflection must come after, not before, an immediate punitive response. A teacher must know what punishments are available and how to make the best use of them.
I will classify sanctions on five levels. Unlike the classification of offenses, this classification is a hierarchy
Level I: Disapproval
Level II: Display of aggression
Level III: Attack on face
Level IV: Material sanctions
Level V: Physical punishment
Disapproval is a very commonly used sanction. It is a mild sanction, and when a class is under control, it is often the only sanction that is needed. Disapproval by itself contains no threat or aggression. An example of this sanction would be that of a teacher saying, “Johnny, I don’t think Henry likes it when you mark on his paper like that.” It’s possible that Johnny will read
a bit of threat or aggression into the teacher’s words; but it is also quite possible that he will not, but will still respond well to the expression of disapproval. Disapproval does not always have to be expressed to be effective. His simply knowing that parents and teachers would not approve of a certain action is often reason enough for the student not to perform that action. Students do have consciences, though it is sometimes tempting to think they don’t, and they do act on the dictates of their consciences.
A display of aggression, the second level of punishment, is another name for a scolding or a bawling out. It may appear at first that a display of aggression is the same as disapproval only expressed more strongly. However there is a difference, at least in a technical or analytic sense. Disapproval appeals to considerations of loyalty, fair play, honor, and duty. A display of aggression elicits confrontation inhibitions, as I discussed in the last chapter. Thus disapproval is basically positive while a display of aggression is basically negative. The distinction between the two is often blurred because students vary so widely in their susceptibility to aggressive displays. Some are so sensitive that the mildest reprimand is strongly felt. Others are so thick skinned that nothing seems to affect them. The distinction between disapproval and display of aggression is further blurred because they are commonly combined. The student may feel an appeal to his conscience at the same time that he fears the wrath of the teacher.
The advantages of a display of aggression as a sanction are that it is quick, often effective, easy to defend, and, for many teachers, that it comes perfectly natural. A display of aggression is, after all, just a display of anger. The disadvantages are that a few students are practically immune to aggressive displays, and that some teachers are naturally low in aggressiveness and cannot put on a convincing show of anger even when they are angry.
Displays of aggression are not used entirely consistently. Neither aggressive displays nor a student’s susceptibility to aggressive displays can be accurately and objectively measured. Therefore a teacher can use a display of aggression almost as a deniable punishment. It is hard for a student to complain that he has been punished too harshly when it is impossible to measure the degree of harshness. As a result, some, but by no means all, teachers of high aggressiveness use displays of aggression indiscriminately. Teachers of low aggressiveness, on the other hand, don’t naturally know how to put on a display of aggression. They can learn to display aggression, but may be clumsy and inconsistent while they are learning.
An attack on face, the third level of punishment, is not used by good teachers. A teacher has an obligation to maintain the face of his students. This is no more than simple courtesy. It is quite proper to attack the particular behavior of a student who is causing trouble, and it is quite proper to instill a certain amount of fear in a misbehaving student. But it is not proper to imply to a student that he is “bad” beyond redemption. A bawling out must not indiscriminately attack the student in general, but instead must focus on the particular misbehavior that is causing the trouble.
I have sometimes heard teachers claim that they have used embarrassment as a punishment. When a student acts up the teacher draws attention to him by saying some remark, and the resulting embarrassment, according to this theory, is an effective deterrent to further misbehavior. This tactic first sounds as though it is an attack on face. However, I don’t think this is actually the case, or the students would show resentment. When such a tactic works, I think it is due more to the teacher’s display of aggression than to the student’s embarrassment. I also suspect it may not be quite as effective as some teachers think, since it is more of a face-saving device for the teacher than a punishment for the student. I have known it to be used effectively only by teachers of high aggressiveness.
The “squelch” is a similar technique. A squelch may be defined as a point scored by one person who is engaged in verbal combat with another. It takes the form of a clever statement or comeback which leaves the other person with nothing to say, with no avenue to pursue the argument. Again this is a technique that can be used only by teachers of high aggressiveness. Therefore I again interpret its effectiveness as being due to a display of aggression. When students know from experience that a teacher is of high aggressiveness, that he cannot be easily manipulated or bluffed, then they do not want to lock horns with him, and they are very easily “embarrassed” or “squelched.” But for a teacher of low aggressiveness such tactics are only invitations to protracted gaming.
Material sanctions are the fourth level of punishment. These sanctions are very important, for their use is relatively unrestricted and safe. Material sanctions may not be used quite as much as disapproval or displays of aggression in the lower grades, but they become more important in the higher grades. This is because a material sanction cannot be as immediate as a display of aggression, and because, as children grow older, they become a little tougher and cannot be so easily bluffed. Probably the most common material sanction is the assignment to write “I will not talk in class” a hundred times or so. Another material sanction with a long and honorable history is that of an hour detention after school.
Physical punishment, the fifth level of punishment, usually means spanking, but not always. I remember well my second grade teacher who would swat the palm of the hand of a misbehaving student with a ruler. This punishment got results. I have heard of other teachers who would use their knuckles to rap the heads of their students. Physical punishment is frowned upon in many modern educational ideologies, but I believe it is still very much in use. I would advocate that it be used sparingly, but there are times when nothing else will do the job. My personal view is that it is far preferable, at least in elementary school, to spank a child than to expel him. Physical punishment is not as safe for a teacher to use as are material sanctions. Parents may feel their child is being assaulted and this can lead to trouble. Teachers should be sensitive to community standards in this regard. If a community completely disapproves of corporal punishment, then it would be foolish for a teacher to try to buck that sentiment. However, in most communities parents themselves make good use of spanking and expect the school to do the same.
I have known several administrators who have felt that the act of spanking is mainly symbolic - that it is the embarrassment, rather than the actual physical pain, that has the desired effect on the child. I don’t agree with this. Actual physical pain can have an effect in situations where disapproval, a display of aggression, material sanctions, and embarrassment, have had no effect.
These five levels of punishment are in approximate order of severity, but there is a considerable amount of overlap and inconsistency. For example, expulsion, a level IV sanction, is generally considered more severe than spanking, a level V sanction. Another example, a chewing out, a punishment of level II, may be perceived by a sensitive student as much more severe than having to write a hundred sentences, a punishment of level IV. I have given this classification of punishments for convenience, but, as I will now try to show, the severity of a punishment is usually more important than its kind. There are very good reasons why a punishment should not be too severe, and there are also very good reasons why a punishment should not be too mild.
When dealing with repeated misbehavior of a non-serious nature, it is sensible to take these five levels of sanctions in order. Each level, with the exception of course of attack on face, serves as a threat for the next level of punishment. The lower levels of sanctions remind the offender that the rules exist, and the middle levels remind him that they will be enforced. The highest levels are to be convincers, not reminders. For example, the first time Johnny pokes his neighbor or speaks out of turn nothing more than a reminder may be needed. The next time, a few harsh words may be in order. If Johnny persists then material sanctions, such as, writing a hundred sentences or detention after school might be in order. If Johnny is truly incorrigible, then nothing less than a spanking may be needed. Anyone appreciates having warnings before punishments, and students should be able to expect these warnings. To immediately apply a severe sanction for a minor offense may elicit a considerable amount of resentment from the students and even from the whole community.
However, there is a danger in being too careful about punishments. The danger is that too little punishment will be given and the misbehaving student will only be challenged to continue gaming. Punishment that is less than adequate may lead to escalation of conflict. Conflicts usually start small and grow; they do not suddenly appear full size. They grow as long as both sides are approximately evenly matched. Conflicts end when one side gets a decided advantage and manages to overpower the other. In many situations, one side has a strong advantage right from the start and so potential conflicts cannot grow. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, has a decided advantage over me, so I follow the letter of the law in paying my taxes. I have no conflict with the IRS. In the classroom, the teacher usually has the authority and skill to prevent the growth of conflicts. Once in a great while this situation is reversed; the teacher is so weak that the students run the class. There may be little conflict as a result, but there is even less learning. There are other situations in which conflict is common because the teacher doesn’t have quite enough authority or doesn’t know quite how to use his authority. If there are several students in the class who are good gamesters, then they and the teacher may be evenly matched in spite of all the advantages the teacher is supposed to have.
Escalation of conflict is not limited to the classroom by any means. In the Vietnam War, America was unwilling for many years to either withdraw from the conflict or to use such massive force as to crush the opposition. We stayed in the middle ground, and that proved to be a tragically costly mistake. I suspect that the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud worked the same way. Each side wanted to retaliate with a harder blow than they had received, but neither could dominate the other and thus end the conflict.
There are two ways to stop the escalation of a conflict. One way is to withdraw. The other way is to use the method of overkill. This is just as true in the classroom as it is on a battlefield. There are occasions when it is wise for a teacher to withdraw from a conflict rather than expend energy on a lost cause. However, in most cases a teacher should not withdraw from a conflict with students but should use whatever coercion is necessary to stop it. A teacher is hired to dominate his class, to direct its activities and efforts toward goals dictated by society, not toward goals dictated by students’ whims. In spite of all the modern educational ideologies, it is still almost universally accepted that students are to “mind the teacher.” Teachers are expected to use whatever force is necessary. They are expected to do so skillfully and with respect for the students, but they are still expected to do it. Applying a punishment that is too mild to do the job may only maintain the status quo between gamester and teacher and prolong an unproductive conflict.
Similar to the idea of escalation of conflict is the idea of challenge. The drive of ego expansion leads students to challenge many things and many people. This can be constructive such as when an athlete challenges the record for the hundred-yard dash. But students also challenge aggressively. The drive of ego expansion says to make an impression on others, but it doesn’t tell one how to do it. What better way is there to make an impression than by aggression, by challenging another and seeking to dominate him? As a general rule one challenges “one notch up.” The idea of “one notch up” can be interpreted in many different ways, but it usually refers to some consideration of rank or power. To challenge two notches up is foolish, as one will lose the contest. To challenge one notch down is unproductive, for there is little fame or infamy to be gained in trying to dominate one who is already dominated. But to challenge one notch up offers some chance of winning and some benefit in doing so. Teachers, unfortunately, are often perceived by some of their students as being “one notch up” and therefore a suitable object of challenge. This perception leads to discipline problems. The use of punishments of adequate severity can help the teacher to be two notches up on his students.
I first said that little punishments should precede big punishments, and then I said that little punishments should be avoided as they may only lead to escalation of conflict. These two ideas are contradictory to a large degree. The net result is that there is no simple answer to how severe a punishment should be. This partly explains why discipline problems are a never-ending part of teaching.
If the severity of a punishment is crucial to its success, then it follows that a teacher must have available a hierarchy of punishments, ranging from mild to severe, from which to choose. As a hypothetical example, suppose I am training a rat in a laboratory to run a maze and want to use an electric shock as a punishment for a wrong move. Suppose further that as a source of electricity I have only a one-and-a-half-volt flashlight battery and a one hundred-twenty-volt house current. The one-and-a-half volts will be unnoticed by the rat, but the one hundred twenty volts will kill him. Neither one will be an appropriate punishment. If instead of these two choices I have a variable transformer that will provide any voltage from one volt to one hundred volts - in other words, if I have a hierarchy of punishments - then I can find some voltage that is high enough to be effective but low enough for the rat to survive and learn.
There must be no gaps in the hierarchy of punishments that is available to the teacher. It is not a workable plan to have only spanking as a punishment, for you can’t spank a child for a very minor first offense. It is not a workable plan to have only scolding as a punishment, for some students are so high in aggressiveness that scolding has no effect on them. It is not good to have only two or three levels of punishment, for there are many offenses that merit a punishment in the gaps between these levels. I think at least five levels of severity, and preferably more, are needed if a teacher is to be able to effectively cope with normal classroom problems. My suggestion for these five levels would be:
2. making student write 100 times “I will not talk in class”
3. retaining student one hour after school
4. depriving student of extracurricular activities for a short period of time
5. suspending student from class
I offer this list only as an example. Circumstances of the moment, as well as local values and customs, may dictate quite different punishments. The important thing is that there must be a continuum of severity for the punishments.
The use of a demerit system may at times prove valuable. With this system a teacher can assign several demerits for any given offense, thus when a student piles up a certain number of demerits, he is given some form of punishment. Such a system has advantages. It provides for a hierarchy of punishments. It makes it possible to give a meaningful penalty for minor offenses which would not be worth a punishment in themselves, and it makes a student very aware of his past transgressions and their consequences. However, there are disadvantages. There is the problem of keeping a record of demerits. When the class is engaged in a hard game of massive obstructionism, the record keeping could become too unwieldy. Also a demerit system might be perceived by the class as gaming by the teacher and therefore invite more gaming by the class. I have never used such a system, but looking back I realize that it might have proved very valuable in one particular situation. In one school where I taught the standard punishment for any misbehavior was an hour’s detention after school. I hesitated to assign sentences to write and similar punishments because none of the other teachers used such measures. There is quite a gap between a verbal reprimand and the assignment of a detention. The simple expedient of assigning demerits for minor offenses and assigning detentions for the accumulation of ten demerits might be very beneficial.
In my teaching experience, I have become more and more convinced that there should be a list of punishments that the school expressly recognizes. For any given punishment, there can be no end of arguments that it is inappropriate or ineffective. A parent may come in and say, “I don’t see what good it does to make Jimmy write all those sentences. Surely you can think of a better punishment than that.” And then someone else will say, “What good does it do to keep Johnny after school? It just wastes his time. There should be a better way to punish him than that.” And yet another will complain, “There’s no reason to keep Joe off the ball team just because he got in trouble in history.” For every punishment there is an objection. Yet there must be some form of punishment available; in fact there must be a number of punishments available that vary in severity. The school should realize this and decide that certain punishments are acceptable in spite of their disadvantages and are to be used when needed. A principal who tells a teacher, “I can’t tell you how to punish him. That’s up to you. Be creative! You’ll think of something.” is simply not doing his job. The principal who says, ”If scolding doesn’t work make him write sentences. If that doesn’t work keep him after school. If that doesn’t work send him to me.” is doing his job.
I have so far said nothing about the common practice of sending a misbehaving student “to the office.” This is seen by many teachers as a punishment in itself. For students of low aggressiveness, it is a punishment even if the principal does nothing more than talk with him for a minute and then send him back to class. However, this is not a punishment for students of higher aggressiveness. Sending such a student to the office only transfers the problem of finding a suitable punishment from the teacher to the principal. My opinion is that there is only one reason for sending a student to the office, and that is if the teacher has lost control of him. If Bart is acting up and bugging me, it should be my job to find a suitable punishment. But if I assign Bart a detention after school and he simply refuses to do his time, and if I cannot threaten or persuade him into gracefully accepting his punishment, then I don’t have much choice. I have to call in the principal. Similarly if I tell Mary that she cannot sit next to her best friend, but she refuses to move to the seat I assign her, then again I have no choice. I must get help from the principal.
Loss of control over a student is the only reason to send a student to the office; but it is not the only reason to ask for help from the principal. Some punishments, such as denial of extra-curricular activities, are not in the province of the teacher. As a science teacher I certainly have no business telling the coach who he can have on the basketball team. But it is the business of the principal. If a severe punishment is needed, then it is quite proper for a teacher to go to the principal, explain the situation, and suggest a certain punishment.
There is a constant temptation for those who are complaining about some particular penalty to demand that “the punishment fits the crime.” There are times when this makes sense, but I think those times are few. A student who carves his initials in his desk, for example, might be made to refinish the desk, or a student who litters on the lawn might be made to clean up the entire school yard. However, most crimes have no obviously fitting punishment. Rather than waste time deciding on the kind of punishment, it is much more important to decide on the severity of the punishment. There is also the problem that unusual punishments may be resisted by the student. If a school normally uses an hour detention after school as punishment, then an offender knows that that punishment will be upheld. He knows that in accepting that punishment he is not being downgraded or ridiculed, only punished. But he does not know the same of an unusual punishment, and may therefore become very obstinate. When there is a punishment that aptly fits the crime, I think it is better to give the offender a choice of the fitting punishment or the usual punishment.
Threats are sometimes used in place of punishments. I think this is a mistake in most cases. A threat can be a punishment if it is primarily a display of aggression and it is received as such; but more often a threat is a result of frustration on the part of the teacher. An inappropriate threat can be worse than a poor substitute for a punishment, for it can be an invitation to gaming. Too often a teacher gets caught up in a game and finds that he has no case to press against an offender, in spite of the fact that the offender is driving him crazy; so he tries to substitute a threat such as, “I’m warning you, class, if I ever catch the one who threw that paper wad I’ll make him wish he hadn’t . . .“ Sometimes the teacher will end with the phrase, “and that’s not a threat, that’s a promise.” This is a meaningless statement, for what is a threat except a promise to act in a certain way, a punitive way, under certain conditions. It only intensifies the invitation to game.
A threat should not be used in place of a punishment, but a threat is quite appropriate if it can prevent misbehavior. If the misbehavior is about to occur, then the threat may need to be given aggressively. However, not every threat needs to be given aggressively. There are many cases when a teacher must convey information about the expected behavior of students, information that certain acts are unacceptable and therefore punishable. For example, it is sensible for teachers to explain to their students at the beginning of the year just what rules they are expected to observe and what punishments they can expect for infractions. Such information constitutes a threat, but it need not sound punitive if the teacher will simply use a little tact and diplomacy. At times throughout the year the teacher may have occasion to head off trouble by giving threats (such as when the first snow tempts snowball throwers) but again such threats need not be given harshly.
Probably the most futile form of threat is the policy of massive retaliation. In the 1950’s America felt a growing threat of aggression from Russia and sought ways to deal with the problem. She came up with the threat of massive retaliation, telling Russia that any aggression on her part would cause the unleashing of the entire military might of America. Supposedly Russia would contain her expansionism to avoid this eventuality. The trouble with this policy is that it is very hard to decide when to turn threat into action. In fantasy we see Russia mounting a full-scale attack, but in reality Russia knows better than that. By supporting small-scale struggles in various unstable parts of the world, Russia has managed to be expansionist and aggressive without triggering the full-scale retaliation threatened by America. Thus the policy of massive retaliation did not protect America from the agony of the Vietnam war.
In the classroom, a policy of massive retaliation might take the form of, “If you don’t behave I’ll have you expelled from school.” Such a threat would be very hard to put into action, for it would be very hard to kick a student out of school for an offense as trivial as shooting one rubber band. As I have mentioned before, teachers must have available a number of punishments ranging from mild to severe. On an international scale or in the classroom, a policy of massive retaliation is a wide open invitation to a monumental game of lining.