The soft bigotry of school discipline reform

Editor’s note: This is a lightly edited version of prepared remarks that Mr. Whitehead delivered to senior U.S. Department of Education officials at Friday morning’s listening session concerning the agency’s school discipline guidance. Mr. Whitehead is a retired high school teacher with thirty-seven years of teaching experience, the last twenty-five years of which were in Minneapolis.

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Rethinking Rewards in School

Read full article at the Mind/Shift website:

“Rewards can be seductive, according to Marvin Berkowitz, a professor of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and author of You Can’t Teach Through a Rat. They’re easy, they seem to work—particularly with the hard-to-reach kids—and many teachers are taught according to the behaviorist model, which posits that people repeat conduct that’s reinforced and avoid what’s punished. “We are breeding a new generation of kids who are well trained to be reward and recognition torpedoes,” Berkowitz writes.

“But a substantial body of social science research going back decades has concluded that giving rewards for certain types of behavior is not only futile but harmful. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsDaniel Pink identifies seven drawbacks to extrinsic rewards: they cripple intrinsic motivation, limit performance, squash creativity, stifle good conduct, promote cheating, can become habit-forming, and spur a short-term mindset. Giving prizes for routine and mindless tasks can be moderately effective, Pink writes. But offering rewards for those tasks that are “inherently interesting, creative, or noble…is a very dangerous game.” When it comes to promoting good behavior, extrinsic rewards are “the worst ineffective character education practice used by educators,” Berkowitz writes.”

In-group Empathy vs. Out-group Empathy

BY ADAM WAYTZ

In fact, there is a terrible irony in the assumption that we can ever transcend our parochial tendencies entirely. Social scientists have found that in-group love and out-group hate originate from the same neurobiological basis, are mutually reinforcing, and co-evolved—because loyalty to the in-group provided a survival advantage by helping our ancestors to combat a threatening out-group. That means that, in principle, if we eliminate out-group hate completely, we may also undermine in-group love. Empathy is a zero-sum game.

Absolute universalism, in which we feel compassion for every individual on Earth, is psychologically impossible. Ignoring this fact carries a heavy cost: We become paralyzed by the unachievable demands we place on ourselves. We can see this in our public discourse today. Discussions of empathy fluctuate between worrying that people don’t empathize enough and fretting that they empathize too much with the wrong people. These criticisms both come from the sense that we have an infinite capacity to empathize, and that it is our fault if we fail to use it.