Unless you are in Public Education (or, alas, in much of Independent Education as well), if someone were to ask you the meaning of the word consequence, you might say something close to the following: “Why consequence means something that logically or naturally follows from an action or condition.” Or, let me see, you could say, “A consequence is the relation of a result to its cause.” Or, to put it yet another way, “A logical conclusion or inference.” For the dictionary hound, those three definitions come from the American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin).
Those in Public Education know that consequence really means punishment. Observe.
Place: Mr. Assistant Principal’s Office.
Time: 11:27 A.M.
Mr. Assistant Principal: Come in, Tom, have a seat.
Tom: (saying nothing, shuffling into Mr. AP’s office. He sits in the chair in front of Mr. AP’s desk. He’s been here before.)
Mr. AP: Do you know what I have here, Tom?
Tom: No. (He does know, but he’s not going to participate in the process any more than he can help.)
Mr. AP: It’s a Discipline Referral from Mrs. Leary.
Mr. AP: Does that help you remember?
Tom: How can I remember what I don’t know?
Mr. AP: Last Monday, when she sent you to the office?
Tom: Not ringing a bell.
Mr. AP: For using inappropriate language…
Tom: That was bullshit, she….
Mr. AP: …after warning you repeatedly.
Tom: She accused me of not doing my homework?
Mr. AP: You couldn’t produce it.
Mr. AP: You didn’t have it with you.
Tom: How does that mean I didn’t do it?
Mr. AP: Did you do it?
Mr. AP: Had you done your homework?
Mr. AP: Yes, Tom. Honestly. Had you done your homework?
Tom: No (pause. Mr. AP is about to add something else) But she didn’t know that. She said I was lying.
Mr. AP: Well, it sounds to me, from what you just said, that you were.
Tom: How do you like it when people call you a liar?
Mr. AP: If that were to happen, which it doesn’t, I’m sure I wouldn’t like it at all.
Mr. AP: Do I see what?
Tom: It was bullshit.
Mr. AP: (deciding the interview has gone on more than long enough) The Consequence for your being removed from Mrs. Leary’s class is Saturday School?
Tom: No way!
Mr. AP: It’s in the Student Handbook, under Disciplinary Consequences, p. 47. (reading from the handbook) Infraction: Removal from Class. Consequence: Saturday School. Sorry, Tom, my hands are tied.
Tom: What if I don’t show up?
Mr. AP: (reading again) Infraction: Failure to attend Saturday School. Consequence: One day in-school suspension.
Tom: I’ll take that. At least I won’t have to listen to Leary’s bullshit.
Had I not heard conversations indistinguishable from the one I imagined above, I would not have taken the time to illustrate the point that way. But I have, too many times, in fact.
Now remember my last post on Food for Thought? No? Well, okay. That was my fault. I said I’d write more in a few days and a few days has turned into a couple or three weeks. So if you need to refresh your memory, I’ll wait while you look it over.
Right, now the last line was “[Shared Spaces is] saying you’ve got to put responsibility back on people, not on the government.” Reread that line, but, (1) change people to students, (2) add the word teachers, (3) change government to administrators, (4) begin the sentence at put, and (5) delete the word back. Now we have: Put responsibility on students and teachers, not on the administrators.
I hope I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure most public school teachers would howl at the very idea. Teachers, most especially those who went to teacher college, will talk your ear off if you want to hear about their approach to Classroom Management, but Discipline is something handled by Administrators so Teachers can concentrate on the import work of Educating Learners.
To save myself time, I checked out Shard Spaces on Wikipedia and found this:
Risk compensation (also Peltzman effect, risk homeostasis) is an observed effect in ethology whereby people tend to adjust their behavior in response to perceived level of risk, behaving less cautiously where they feel more protected and more cautiously where they feel a higher level of risk. The theory emerged out of road safety research after it was observed that many interventions failed to achieve the expected level of benefits but has since found application in many other fields.
Peltzman, by the way, is Dr. Sam Peltzman. You can find him speaking about the Peltzman Effect on YouTube. He’s interesting.
Rooting around on Google, I discovered the following from Dr. Gerald G.S. Wilde in a discussion of Risk Homeostasis.
People alter their behaviour in response to the implementation of health and safety measures, but the riskiness of the way they behave will not change, unless those measures are capable of motivating people to alter the amount of risk they are willing to incur. (Wilde, 1994)
I shall paraphrase to suit my purpose: Students alter their classroom behavior in response to the implementation of different consequences ( or perhaps I should say negative or positive results) for enumerated behaviors, but the appropriateness of the way they behave will not change unless those consequences are capable of motivating students to alter the amount of risk they are willing to incur. In the imagined conversation above, Tom’s consequence is an acceptable result of his behavior in Mrs. Leary’s class. As the saying has it, if you do the crime, you do the time. The result of Tom’s blissfully spending his day suspended from classes will certainly be a repetition of the behavior that got him to be suspended in the first place. Being suspended will bring about no chance Tom will mend his ways and (a) begin to do his homework, and/or (b) stop lying about doing his homework. Nor will his vocabulary improve.
Educators allow themselves to think that motivation is exclusively a positive term, but it is not. People young and old can be motivated by unattractive alternatives, too. New to Arizona and not wise to the pleasure the local gendarmerie take in strictly enforcing traffic laws in this part of the state, I ran afoul of a motorcycle policeman whom I now think of as Officer Bonaparte due to the fact that, once he had dismounted and arrived outside the driver’s window, he and I were looking deeply and directly into each other’s eyes. I had indeed done the crime (although to be fair to myself, it was due to my unfamiliarity with the eccentricities of the town’s ideas of from which of three lanes one may or may not make a left hand turn rather than my anarchic driving habits) and so unhappily I accepted the time, so to speak. As a result, I am highly motivated not to go through yellow lights, squeeze out in front of on-coming traffic, go faster then 25 miles per hour in a residential zone, 15 mph in a school zone while school is in session, or make a turn from a lane not explicitly created for such a turn.
It used to be that a managed classroom was one in which acceptable and appropriate behavior was expected by the teacher; conversely. inappropriate behavior was not accepted. Appropriate, by which I mean good, behavior was rewarded in myriad ways. A smile, a pat, a note sent home, encouragement, praise, a congratulatory comment, gold stars. Bad behavior was also responded to. A frown, a sharp word, a note sent home, what a former colleague used to call “the hairy eye-ball,” detention, removal from class which sometime led to rustication§ . The latter was the last and least favored, for in such cases, teachers understood clearly that they were admitting failure and turning their problem over to someone else who, by virtue of hierarchical position, was more authoritative and intimidating.
In Middle Schools across the country children learn, of course, many things. One of the most momentous lessons they learn is this: almost nothing they do, write, or say is less than wonderful, astonishing, marvelous, splendid, great, super, incomparable, excellent, and/or outstanding. Don’t believe me? Do this: if you are still young enough to have held on to the journals you wrote in Middle School, look through them. See what words your teachers used in comments about your efforts. If you are parents of Middle School children, look at their journals. If you are a Middle School English teacher and you don’t write such comments, congratulations! You are an uncommonly sensical person.
To return to the Shared Spaces concept and applying it to the classroom: what might be the eventual result if next day after Labor Day, teachers were to remove from their bulletin boards the Rules for My Class; e.g., (1) Be On-Time, (2) Bring Appropriate Materials: book, paper, pencil or pen, assignment book, (3) Be Courteous, (4) Raise Your Hand. (5) Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work, (6) Do Not Leave Your Seat without Permission? In other words, what might happen if the principles of Shared Spaces were applied to a classroom?
Given a teacher with the requisite courage, students would bump up against results (consequences) of inappropriate and unacceptable behavior that made them feel not wonderful, astonishing, marvelous, splendid, great, super, incomparable, excellent, and/or outstanding in any way whatsoever. On the other hand, they would also discover a number of behaviors that resulted in their feeling good in any number of ways. These behaviors they would fairly quickly come to understand as ones that are appropriate, acceptable, appreciated, and rewarding. Does this sound familiar to you at all? Do you recall the term Behavior Modification?
Once upon a time, teachers made use of what eventually became known as Operant Conditioning because it worked for most all of their students. Then the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers cast their spell, and Public Education committed itself to Improving and Reforming itself every five to seven years or so, thereby credulously throwing the babies out with the bath water. In the end, Shared Spaces is a return to doing things that makes sense. Where the concept of Shared Spaces is applied and ends up making for happier, healthier, safer places, it will have been because behavior in those places has been modified. There will have been enough positive and negative consequences to people’s actions that the people will have chosen those behaviors that were rewarded and eschewed those that were not.
- § You’ll recognize this word as meaning suspended or expelled if you happen to have had the pleasure of seeing the Spencer Tracy film, Captains Courageous. I used it because I may never have another chance.