Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shame, Lies and Videotape

The word "shame" is taboo in today's Western cultures; teachers today are forbidden to reproach children regarding the most shameful behaviors for fear that it will irrevocably harm their self-esteem.  Now, shaming a child gratuitously like I would hear through the door connecting my second grade classroom to the third grade classroom next to us is not what I'm advocating here.  Those loud belittling sessions were so regular that I question their effect on their intended audience (who was my neighbor, and who never struck me as particularly troublesome), however they did succeed in making me fear the 3rd grade teacher, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I didn't lose sleep worrying about it, but I was especially obediant in this teacher's classroom when I had her the following year.  Fear and shame are a part of life, and there is a place for both in schools.

I was chastised by teachers very few times as a student, and each occasion I remember vividly.  My first scolding occurred in first grade when I was caught cheating on a spelling quiz, another time in second grade music class when I became too excited pretending to be a chick, and once in third grade for climbing a drainpipe at recess.  I experience shame as a sickening feeling that starts simultaneously in the toes and on the top of the head, flows across your body and meets in your gut where it swirls and churns.  I dreaded the next thing to come as I watched my teacher take away my cheat sheet, faced the wall, or waited for the principal.  After the drainpipe incident, I didn't get into trouble at school again until Senior Skip day at the end of senior year.  So, shame is effective deterrant in my case.
This is now the quickest route to fame, fortune
and a reality TV show.  We celebrate these
self-absorbed people every time we watch these
guilty pleasures.  Shame on you, Barbie!
And that is exactly what shame is: a deterrent from dishonorable behavior.  It is not the same as humiliation or degradation.  Those are things that someone does to somebody else.  Shame comes from within, or at least it should.  Guilt is an emotion that keeps people in check.  A thoughtful person does not rationalize their crude behavior, they view it critically without the egomeniacal mentality that pervades our society.  Today, children's role models are the people that become rich (or, richer) and famous for "leaked" sex tapes and dressing scandalously in public, or other such shameful behaviors. I'm afraid it's hard to enforce normative behavior in people with no conscience.

So, what do we do for the child with no sense of shame or self-regulation, without the ability to stop his or her baser impulses, no capacity to do things against his or her inclination?  Since the goal of this blog is to address solutions to the very real problems facing teachers and education, I found some resources for teachers in regards to self-regulation and middle schoolers, which is a bit late developmentally to learn such a thing, but it is the population that I serve.  There is a survey called the Self-Regulation Questionnaire, or SRQ that gauges how motivated a student is or is not.  Somehow, magically I assume, they will take the survey and realize that the path to success is paved with intrinsic motivation and hard work.  I say magically, because there are plenty of studies on the "relative autonomy index" score on this questionnaire and students' academic performance, but no information that I could find on how to raise a students RAI.  The best I can gather is that from there, they should monitor if they are working towards their goals by completing a "learning contract form".  My school currently does this, as does every other school with which I am familiar.  In the learning contract, or goals, as they are called in most every school, the students write about what they can do to succeed, and look back at why they performed well or poorly.  I am thinking about asking the administrators in my school to add a component about how they feel about their past performance, as well.

I have always started my school year talking to students about effort and success.  I reinforce this by pointing out that those who do homework also do well on assessments.  I also corrolate school success with incomes, in order to motivate them extrinsically.  Learning takes hard work and dedication, there is no other way.  Currently, this does little to change the behaviors of those who are looking for immediate gratification.  Other things that have little to no effect on these students attitudes and work ethics are phone calls home, failing grades, lunch and afterschool detention, being pulled out by the dean, suspension etc.  Do I really think giving kids a survey will change this?  No.  Will I give the survey as soon as the math state test is in the rearview mirror.  Yes, because I am desperate.  My students do not care.  My students do not try.  They will probably not take the survey seriously.  But, I have to try it.  I will let you know the results as soon as I know.


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