education, Rants, Teacher

Shame Discipline – We know better. It’s time to do better.

Bring back the strap!

You’ll often hear people of a certain age say that kids today would behave better if we brought back the strap as a disciplinary tool. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to use the strap on their children or grandchildren. Noooo, just the “bad” kids. That would learn ‘em.

Years ago, when a child misbehaved at school, a big leather strap was pulled out of the teacher’s desk. It was a state-mandated beating designed to stop any further misbehaviour and set an example for the others who might be considering such naughtiness. Jordan Historical Museum-School House

But if you ask anyone who was ever strapped back in the “olden days” they will tell you that the pain of the strap was nothing compared to the shame and humiliation. They learned a lesson alright. They learned that if you were bigger and stronger and held more power than someone else, it was OK to hurt them.

Fast-forward to 2013. Times have changed. Most (sane-minded) people agree that beating children in front of their classmates with a big slab of leather is just plain wrong.

Nowadays most teachers use positive disciplinary techniques designed to help a child change their behaviour while still retaining their dignity. I have worked with teachers who can manage their classrooms without raising their voice. My own children have been blessed with teachers who made learning both fun and safe.

Sadly, however, some teachers are still using discipline methods that rely on shame and humiliation as tools to correct real or perceived misbehaviour. And administrators are condoning this behaviour, either intentionally or by turning a blind eye.

I have written 64 blogs on this site over the past year and every single one resonates with how much I care for and support my fellow teachers. I have the utmost respect for the profession and the job we do every day. I will defend my co-workers to the death if I have to but NOT if what they are doing is hurting children.

If you were me  And I were you  For just a day  Or maybe two  Then maybe you  And maybe me  Would see the me  That you were too. Author: Sheree Fitch
If you were me
And I were you
For just a day
Or maybe two
Then maybe you
And maybe me
Would see the me
That you were too.
Author: Sheree Fitch

Most teachers have the best of intentions. They want their students to be the best they can be. They want them to do their work to the best of their ability and behave in a positive manner. But some teachers don’t know what to do when they are faced with a child who doesn’t fit the mold. So they try other methods. Here are just a few of the discipline techniques punishments that I know are being used in schools across North America today.

  • Having students stand on a designated “line of shame” in the hallway throughout recess and lunch hour, while hundreds of classmates and teachers walk by and stare, point, pity or mock.
  • Giving students who score well on weekly tests a pizza party on Friday. Students who do not score well have to eat their bag lunch in a different place in the classroom.
  • Having students stand and face the wall. (The modern of version of “go sit in the corner”.)
  • Taking away a child’s chair and making him crouch at his desk as punishment for turning around in his chair too many times.
  • Holding up a child’s work and telling the other children, “Your work should not look like this. Little Billy obviously did not do his best on this.”

I am not referring to children who willfully hurt other children or who disrupt the class in ways that make it impossible for other children to learn. (And even if I were, these children need positive discipline methods even more. My next blog post will deal with this issue.)

No, these children were punished for wiggling, talking, dawdling or forgetting. For these “terrible” offenses, they were subjected to public humiliation.

Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “Discipline in schools should respect children’s dignity. For children to benefit from education, schools must be run in an orderly way – without the use of violence. Any form of school discipline should take into account the child’s human dignity.”  Barbara Colorosso’s  Philosophical Tenets state: Kids are worth it. I won’t treat them in a way I would not want to be treated. If it works and leaves both of our dignity intact, do it. © Barbara Colorosso, Kids are Worth It

Research has proven time and time again that shame is not a good motivator. Oh, we’ll do anything we can to avoid it but it doesn’t instill good habits or an innate desire to do better. We merely change our behaviour in order to avoid the pain.

And some children, no matter what they do, cannot avoid the ‘misbehaviours’ that are causing them to receive these punishments.

If you have ADHD, you might not be able to control your fidgeting or your inattention. If you have dyslexia, no matter how hard you study, you might not pass that spelling test. No pizza party for you, Little Billy…ever. There are lots of things teachers can do to help these children – humiliating them in front of their peers is not one of them.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not trashing the entire teaching profession. I have worked with hundreds of amazing teachers and I have made a million and one mistakes over the years, but as Maya Angelou says, “I did what I knew.. when I knew better, I did better.”

We may not strap kids with a leather belt anymore, but we are still hurting them. We know better. Let’s do better.

Lori Petro, Educator, Mother, Advocate:
Lori Petro, Educator, Mother, Advocate:

9 thoughts on “Shame Discipline – We know better. It’s time to do better.”

  1. Thankfully the system my children are exposed to has abandoned all these methods. I shudder to think how my two dyslexic children would have coped.

    1. Discipline shares its root with disciple. I think of discipline as anything that helps a child to learn to love him/herself and to make choices that show self-respect and respect for others. Punishment does not ever fall in line with this. Natural consequences will support the process, but actively teaching what we want from kids, and being the role models they want to imitate, will take kids further than anything else. They will learn from us because they respect us, and that will only happen if they feel respected by us.

    1. What a terrible thing for your daughter to have gone through. Have you seen those facebook shame pictures of kids holding up sign saying, “I bullied somebody at school, so my mom made me sell my iPod…blah, blah, blah.” Do these parents really believe that publically shaming their children is going to make them better people? I shudder to think. And schools? Don’t even get me started. I try to not even reprimand a child in front of the class. I take kids out into the hall, so they can retain their dignity. I find this helps 100% in getting them to actually listen to me. Otherwise, they are trying to save face in front of their peers. Shame has no place in our schools.

      1. No, it doesn’t. Public humiliation scars, even as an adult. My son pulled a handicap accessible fire alarm in kindergarten and got suspended for 2 days. He was so embarrassed by the time he left school that he crawled out of the office on his hands and knees so the office ladies wouldn’t see him. It was just awful I have so many stories that would break your heart. And, he cried all the way to school when he could go back because he was so embarrassed he didn’t want to walk back in. 5 years old 😦 Needless to say, he never did it again

      2. A two-day suspension for a 5-year-old?! don’t understand how these things happen. My heart goes out to him. We had a couple of teenage girls threaten to burn down a teacher’s house with her baby inside and they got a ‘firm talking to’. There has to be some logic applied in these situations.

      3. Wow. That is insane. I have so many bad experiences. My history with schools is so disappointing. Last year I had a teacher write Duh! 2 times in red pen on my sons paper when I had made several trips in concerned about how he was struggling in school. I went to the principal and the paper “disappeared”. A few weeks later we discovered he had the ADD inattentive type and started him on medicine without telling the school. The teacher could not believe that he magically started to do better and this confirmed in her head he was just being lazy and not trying hard enough. Then,
        We told her the truth. Unbelievable. So many examples that break my heart. I do know there are good teachers out and when I get them, I am sure to tell them all the time how much I appreciate them!

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