Punishment in the
Lest we forget the barbaric practices used in
punishing children in the past here are a few grim reminders.
the USA these 29 states have now banned corporal punishment:
* banned by state regulation
** banned by every school board in the state
*** banned by law rescinding authorization to use
Bans on Corporal Punishment
industrialized country in the world now prohibits school corporal
punishment, except the U.S., and one state in Australia.
following list shows a sample of the trend towards the elimination of
corporal punishment in schools, dating as far back as the 1700s.
Physical punishment is part of our puritan
heritage. Even the most kind-hearted of people, when influenced by this
dogmatic set of beliefs, have been known to say something like the
following: "Kids today are mollycoddled. In my day they would have
gotten a good beating. That would have straightened them up." Since the
very inception of the institutions of schooling physical punishment has
been the accepted method for teachers to control those in their charge.
These days even though physical punishment is not used and can no
longer be used in most schools in the western world, this ingrained set
of beliefs tends to ensure that many people (parents teachers and
administrators) still feel there was something very good about physical
punishment that has been lost. They point to bad behavior of children
today and assume that not only did this not happen in the past, but it
did not because kids where physically punished. They assume that lack
of punishment is what causes, as they say, kids today to run wild, and
that the reintroduction of physical punishment would fix the problem. In the following we will
show that punishment, and especially physical punishment, is
ineffective in changing bad behavior to good behavior, and actually
destructive in encouraging good morals.
Aggression and antisocial behavior.
behavior often comes about as part of aggression which is our primitive
mechanism for dealing with perceived threats. To be part of a society
we have to learn to inhibit aggression in circumstances where it is
inappropriate. All antisocial behavior has to be dealt with in this
way, but aggression is the emotional core that drives antisocial
behavior. Society has two mechanisms for dealing with anti social or
aggressive behavior. On the one hand there is socialization, where the
young of our species internalizes the correct way for them to conduct
themselves in society and then act that way, because that is what they
want to do. On the other hand there is the law or the rules that
society sets down and punishes those that disobey those laws or rules.
It is this punishment that is in question.
Science and punishment.
in the past few have disputed that the threat of punishment tends to
lower the likelihood of people committing crimes, performing antisocial
activities, and being aggressive this is largely an untested theory.
However, since the time science first started looking at the effects of
punishment scientists have not been able to find much evidence that
this theory is correct. Indeed it has been shown that punishment and
especially severe punishment is counterproductive and can increase
antisocial and aggressive behaviors. Elliot Aronson in his book "The
Social Animal" presents the current state of consensus among
social scientists concerning punishment:
"To the average citizen, an obvious way of
reducing aggression is to punish it. If one man robs, batters of kills
another, the simple solution is to put him in prison or, in extreme
cases to kill him. If a young girl aggresses against her parents,
siblings, or peers, we can spank her, scream at her, remove her
privileges, or make her feel guilty. The assumption here is that this
punishment "will teach them a lesson," that they will think twice
before they perform that activity again, and that the more severe the
punishment, the better. But it is not that simple. Severe punishment
has been shown to be effective temporarily, but unless used with
extreme caution, it can have the opposite effect in the long run.
Why do we punish?
Why do we feel the need to punish, if, as I
assert, this is so ineffective? Social scientists as a group do not
endorse punishment or think it effective, even the behaviorists such as
Skinner agree. The answer lies in the fact that humans are only partly
logical. It is possible, as the behaviorist also point out, for our
behavior to be directed by reward contingencies that arise from our own
social circumstances. The one problem is, if one grows up in a family
of harsh physical punishment, that person will tend to adopt this
behavior when they want to control a situation or people. The moment we
use it, it reinforces us by causing an instant change in the behavior
of others. Thus we tend to use it again and again. Each time we use it,
it becomes a little more of an established pattern of how we do things
in our lives. Sad though it is, as commonly established, the child
reared in a violent dysfunctional family seems to be most prone to
become violent or exhibit dysfunctional behavior in their own lives.
The children of slaves are the easiest to raise as slaves. In the end
of course as pointed out in 'what we can do', we rationalize all this
in terms of cognitive dissonance.
The main reason many people believe in the
virtues of punishment is easily explained by Festinger's concept of
cognitive dissonance. While common sense would lead us to believe that
if we suffer we would understand this as a completely bad thing that
has happened to us, cognitive dissonance tells us otherwise. Cognitive
dissonance, among other things, is the social process whereby people
rationalize the choices they make into the belief that those choices
were the best choices. Even choices that were made for them, in this
way, become a belief that those choices were best. Thus their adverse
experiences, can become transformed into a belief, that such things
must be good for you. The logic goes, "I am what I am because of what
happened to me and all the things that happened to me were therefore
good and for my own good, including the beatings." In his book "Cognitive
Dissonance" Joel Cooper talks about liking what you suffer
"Elliot Aronson and Jud Mills
(1959) used the theory of cognitive dissonance to predict... [that
punishment did not change behavior for the better]. They
reasoned that the suffering that goes into a given activity [or
is associated with it] is inconsistent with our typical
preference not to suffer. [The ordeal is dissonant with our
desire not to experience the ordeal, and 'cognitive dissonance theory'
tells us that holding two such cognitions, that are inconsistent,
causes us to experience a great deal of unpleasantness. It tells us
this unpleasantness must be somehow reduced, and that the easiest way
to do this is to change what we believe.] ...from the
perspective of cognitive dissonance theory, enduring punishing
activities...should increase the positivity of our attitudes toward the
activity for which we suffered." There are two ways we can
change our beliefs in this situation.  We can either change how we
feel about the punishment. It didn't hurt.  Or we can change how we
feel about what we did that precipitated the punishment. We can make
ourselves believe that what we did was worth it and is thus even more
attractive. What we did can go from being a little attractive to us to
being something we can hardly live without.
It is a small step from
there to see that any experience of suffering would cause dissonance,
and the easiest way to reduce that dissonance is to give the suffering
meaning. We might believe the suffering helped us to become stronger or
that it helped us to be better people. Anything is better than
believing that the suffering, we incurred, was meaningless and useless.
When we look at punishment in this context we begin to see how
difficult it is to eradicate it. People looking back on their own
punishment in the past are normally unable to accept that it served no
purpose. It had to have had a purpose or they are left in a position of
suffering constant dissonance. Curiously the theory also predicts the
more unpleasant the punishment was, the more people will cling to the
idea (be sure of the fact) that it was the punishment that made them
good or strong. Thus, they inevitably believe, everybody should
experience punishment, so they can become good or strong like them. Elliot Aronson in his book "The
Social Animal" continues exploring the current state of
consensus among social scientists concerning punishment:
of parents and children in the real world have demonstrated time and
again that parents who use severe punishment tend to produce children
who are extremely aggressive or who, as adults, favor violent means of
obtaining personal and political ends. This aggression usually takes
place outside the home, where the child is distant from the punishing
Here Aronson, being a good
scientist, points out that such correlations while certainly not
proving that punishment reduces social deviance, likewise are
inconclusive in asserting that harsh punishment causes or increases
aggressive, or antisocial behavior:
these naturalistic studies are inconclusive. They don't necessarily
prove that punishment for aggression, in itself, necessarily produces
aggressive children. Parents who resort to harsh punishment probably do
a lot of other things as well - that is, they are probably harsh and
aggressive people. Accordingly, it may be that the children are simply
copying the aggressive behavior of their parents."
Why might harsh punishment actually cause
the thing it is supposed to prevent?
punishment of children is normally referred to as corporal punishment.
There are many reasons why corporal punishment might possibly be
causing increased misbehavior in the long run.
As Aronson points out
children may be imitating the the harsh and aggressive behavior of
their parents. However dolling out harsh punishment is in itself a
modeling by parents of harsh and aggressive behavior. Children who view
corporally-punishing behavior of their parents may be learning to get
others to do what they want by hitting or punishing them.
Children may also become
aggressive or antisocial by lashing out blindly at the world out of
anger and resentment stemming from corporal punishment. We all have
experienced a situation where someone has attacked us or made our life
miserable for seemingly no reason. This is where we are simply in the
wrong place at the wrong time. Someone has attacked this person,
unbeknown to us, and because they cannot retaliate and attack that
person, they simply lash out at anyone nearby. By punishing their
children, parents may be punishing their own parents by proxy for their
acts of corporal punishment. This displaced retaliation is what Laura
Huxley means by 'you are not the target'. In his book Aronson also
speaks to an aspect of this: "One other factor of great
significance to the efficacy of punishment is its severity or
restrictiveness. A severe or restrictive punishment can be extremely
frustrating; because frustration is one of the primary causes of
aggression, it would seem wise to avoid using frustrating tactics when
trying to curb aggression.
Children who are punished
both severely and frequently may find these beatings may contribute to
their having feelings of worthlessness and loss of self-esteem. It has
been shown in many studies that people who feel worthless or have low
self-esteem do not feel much in the way of dissonance when they perform
aggressive or antisocial actions. Such people are less inclined to
learn and are less capable of learning to reduce their own aggressive
and antisocial tendencies.
Another possibility is that
when punishment is being presented as the only solution to personal
conflicts, there is a loss of opportunities to learn peaceful conflict
resolution, perhaps causing aggression and antisocial behavior to be
the only social tools the child has available when he grows up.
Finally children may become
more aggressive and antisocial in response to corporal as a way of
asserting their freedom and dignity by refusing to be controlled by
the above reasons are probable, and each of them are certainly true in
at least some cases. However, neuroscience has provided almost certain
proof that the first reason, imitation, is the most important
underlying factor for developing any skill, any interest, and any
morality. In other words imitation is essential to any kind of
learning. We now know, that we all have special neurons scattered
within our heads, that fire whenever we perceive a particular action
performed. These special neurons are called mirror neurons. Every time
we perform an action these neurons fire. Every time we see somebody
else performing the same action these mirror neurons fire. Every time
we even hear somebody performing the action these mirror neurons will
fire. Every time we think about performing the action the same neurons
fire. It is theorized that the firing of these neurons represents an
internal simulation of that activity, a preparing to perform the
activity. It could be said that the program instructions are loaded
simply awaiting a go signal to activate.
Mirror neurons have many implications for learning.
First it means that learning is perhaps less intentional than we might
like. It means that we tend to learn what is modeled for us and that we
learn it by imitating what is modeled. It is not just that we learn
activities that are rewarding, but that the mere seeing of an activity
will induce some tendency to perform that action and some learning of
how to perform it. Not only that, but the more we see the action, hear
the action, are reminded of the action in any way, or even if we simply
think about the action, it gradually becomes more wired into our
brains. Being punished, it turns out, means we are probably learning to
punish. Every time the cane falls on our flesh our brain is busy
simulating the wielding of the cane, preparing us to in turn wield the
cane. Socialization is all about learning to inhibit this automatic
activation of the mirror neurons in cases where such activity is
inappropriate. In the case of modeled punishing activity learning to
inhibit this response can be very difficult if the modeling of
punishment is very frequent.
If we observe others being punished, as in the case
were children see their siblings being punished, this may cause some
conflict where we have a choice as to which behavior our mirror neurons
will react to; the punisher or the punished. If we mirror the actions
and emotions of our punished sibling we will build empathy and become
less likely to punish or be aggressive. But if our mirror neurons
emulate the actions and emotions of the punisher we will likely become
When we ourselves are punished there is only one
model to emulate with our mirror neurons and that is the behavior, the
actions and emotions of the punisher. This form of modeling will most
likely increase our aggression and our other antisocial
The argument against child
punishment in schools was summarized most compellingly by newspaper
columnist Stephanie Salter in 1996 as follows:
hitting a troubled kid is so good for him, why didn't Charlie Manson
turn into a model citizen? Or Hitler? Or Stalin? If there is 'no harm
in a swat on the butt' why is it against the law to do the same thing
to an adult? If state-authorized beating is a desirable method of
punishment and deterrence for a school child, why did the U.S. military
outlaw it for soldiers in the late 1800s? And why has it been two
generations (Delaware abolished it in 1952) since corporal
punishment for adults was on the books in any state? ...Study after
study (not to mention the majority of locked cells in every prison)
prove that children who are 'disciplined' with physical violence and
humiliation don't become line toeing little Gandhis; they become adults
who equate power with violence and humiliation."
Thomas Gordon has remarked that in
an auditorium filled with bank robbers, wife bashers and assorted other
felons we would likely find: "...a significant majority of
them were regularly punished as children."
course People may say, that just because people who punish their
children have children who are particularly unruly and lacking in
socialization, does not mean that the punishing causes the unruly and
antisocial behavior. This is quite true and it is also probably true
that the child's behavior (the antisocial behavior) causes the parental
behavior of punishing. But here is the thing, what this correlation
clearly does show, is that the punishing behavior is ineffective,
because the children end up unruly and antisocial any way.
It is remarkable that
physical punishment is still well thought of by some people, when there
is so much evidence against it, and there has been opposition to it as
far back as about 70 A.D. or earlier. "As
for corporal punishment, though it is a recognized practice, I am
completely opposed to it, first because it is disgusting, fit only for
slaves and undoubtedly an insult. In the next place because a pupil
whose mind so ill befits a free man's son as not to be corrected by
reproof, will remain obdurate even in the face of blows - like the
vilest of slaves....If you coerce the child when he is young by means
of blows, what will you do when he is a young man who cannot be
compelled through fear and has many more important things to learn? Quintilian
The Plowden Report,
Children and their primary schools, 1967 stated in part: "It
(corporal punishment) has been almost universally outlawed in other
western countries. It can be associated with psychological perversion
affecting both the beater and the beaten and it is ineffective in
precisely those cases in which its use is most hotly defended. We think
that the time has come to drop it. After full consideration, we
recommend that the infliction of physical pain as a recognized method
of punishment in primary schools should be forbidden."
The focus of
Punished children weren't
encouraged to focus on how others were affected by their bad behavior. They were
trained to think about what would happen to them if some more powerful
person, for any reason or no reason, didn't like it.
Before 1997, although there
were many studies linking spanking with higher levels of misbehavior in
children, people argued that it was the misbehavior that caused the
spanking. However, since that time several studies have examined
changes in misbehavior over time. The authors of these papers now
propose a link between corporal punishment with increasing relative
levels of misbehavior compared to similar children who were not
corporally punished. It is difficult to differentiate between parents
who punish severely and parents who are said to maltreat their children
because one can be seen to be a more extreme form of the other. Not
only that but the difference between one and the other has to be a
subjective estimation which varies considerably in any group of people.
With this in mind, the study of the consequences of parental violence
against their children, is of significant interest in this matter.
In 2002 a study of 400 young
New Zealand men was published that completely overturned the nature
verses nurture debate, with a new way of understanding the effects of
parental violence toward their children. These four hundred men were
born between 1972-73 they all had four white grand parents and came
from homes of similar class and wealth. From a cohort of 1037 people
the researchers selected a group of 442 boys to be studied. This group
included 8 percent who had been abused as children between the ages of
3 and 11 and 28 percent who had been probably maltreated in some way.
As expected many of the maltreated children had themselves turned out
to be violent or criminal or had got into trouble at school. They were
typical of the idea that anti-social parents produce anti-social
children. But the question was does the maltreatment cause the the
antisocial behavior in the children, is it caused by genetics, or is
there some other explanation?
The researchers Moffitt
and Caspi decided to compare these environmental influences with the
influence of a particular gene called monoamine oxidase A or MAOA. This
gene was selected because because experiments in mice had shown, that
if this gene was knocked out, it would cause aggressive and other non
social behavior in the mice. Also a Dutch criminal family that had been
studied was found to have this gene broken in those of the family who
were the criminals. Having this gene broken, was however, very rare,
and not usual for most anti-social people.
Most people were found
to have either, a highly active version of this gene or a low active
version of the gene. It was theorized that those boys with the highly
active gene should grow up to be less antisocial and the those boys
with the low active gene would grow up to be more antisocial. When the
two influences were compared however, something quite remarkable was
found. In his book "Nature
Via Nurture" Matt Ridley tells us the results:
the ones with high-active MAOA genes were virtually immune to the
effect of maltreatment. They did not get into trouble much even if
maltreated as youngsters. Those with the low-active genes were much
more antisocial if maltreated, and if anything slightly less
anti-social than the average if not maltreated. The low-active
maltreated men did four times there share of rapes, robberies and
In other words,
it seems that it is not enough to have maltreatment, you must also have
the low-active gene; or it is not enough to have the low active gene,
you must also be maltreated."
It turns out that while
genes can protect children from becoming anti-social, for the most part
it seems that, to become anti-social requires both bad genes and
parental abuse. Of course there could be other influences as well but
these examined influences appear to to be extremely influential.
is punishment so entrenched?
his book "Beyond
Discipline" Alfie Kohn suggests there are very pragmatic
reasons why people continue to rely on punishment even when they are
aware that it accomplishes nothing in the long run and that it has been
shown in research to cause actual harm.
quick and easy. Parents and teachers just don't want spend all that
time and effort solving some difficulty with children. People are often
usually causes at least temporary compliance. The parent or teacher
gets their way. People are often lazy and self involved.
tend to end up doing what our parents did and for most of us that means
punishing. This is the behavior that was modeled for us when we were
young. Jeez I sound just like my mother. People are often lazy and lack
is expected by our peers and those in positions of authority over us.
For teachers it is expected by colleagues, the parents, the school
administrators and the children themselves. People are often lazy and
afraid of what other people will say.
makes us feel powerful. The parent or teacher is one up and the child
is one down. It also appeases feelings of panic, that come from feeling
out of control, and restores the feeling of control. This seesaw
attitude of competition is deeply imbedded in our culture. People are
often lazy, insecure and domineering.
satisfies a primitive 'eye for an eye' type of rough justice. This is a
deeply rooted cultural norm, that society, and thus people, should take
vengeance upon those who transgress the rules. People are often lazy
are afraid that if the child gets away with it, they will do the same
or worse at the first opportunity. People are often lazy, suspicious
tend to believe that punishing shows us to be strong, while not doing
so shows us to be weak and permissive. People are often lazy and stuck
in a false 'either or' belief system.
There is at least one other
reason why we continue to punish. This involves a kind of nostalgia for
things of the past and a belief that the past was better and more
noble, an often quoted and well recognized fallacy.
To the same extent that
punishment is a poor method in schools, it is likewise a poor method in
the home. Parents should, and indeed have to be, very careful how they
punish their children. Thankfully injuries inflicted on children, even
if perpetrated by their parents are considered crimes these days. Click here to learn some of the
things birth parents have done to their children. Even in the
hypothetical case of considering children akin to wild animals that
need to be trained, no animal trainer worth his salt would allow the
animal he was training to be punished.
What happens to an animal
that is beaten? It may be cowering one moment, but can become a
snarling, savage monster that must be restrained all the time. Such
animals will bite their master if an opportunity presents itself. In a
pack, such animals will tare their master to pieces. In so far as
authoritarianism condones various forms of punishment, drawing a
parallel between the beaten dog and humans seems reasonable. This leads
us to believe that far from reducing bad behavior, the cult of
punishment actually is what turns our youth into cowering pitiful
creatures one moment, and a pack of young thugs terrorizing the elderly
Slaves provide another
interesting example of punishment and reward. Slaves have been known to
fight both for their masters and against them. Spartacus in ancient
Rome raised an army from slaves that deserted their masters and then
fought against them. In the American civil war many, perhaps most
slaves, remained loyal to their masters, and no doubt many would have
been willing to fight for them if they had been able to. Without
knowing the actual cases, I think it can be safely said that the slaves
who would have been willing to fight for their masters were the ones
that had been well treated by their masters, and the ones that defected
to the north were those who had been mistreated or punished by their
masters. This as established by other workers and reiterated in this
website indicates that punishment does not change the desire to perform
a punished activity. Punishment does not cause the one punished to want
to please the punisher.
Fooled by randomness.
There is also another reason that makes it
difficult to abandon punishment as a motivating tool. In the book by
Thomas Kida "Don't
Believe Everything You Think", it is pointed out that we
often see causal connections when in fact there are none. He gives an
example of people being trained to fly aircraft as follows:
flight instructors in one study noticed that when they praised a pilot
for an exceptionally smooth landing, the pilot usually had a poorer
landing on the next flight. On the other hand, criticism after a rough
landing was usually followed by an improvement on the next try. The
instructors concluded that verbal rewards are detrimental to learning,
while verbal punishments are beneficial. But are punishments really
better than rewards for learning? It is more likely we would get such a
sequence of events because of a 'regression to the mean'."
to the mean' is a statistical concept. If someone has landed an
aircraft really well it is statistically more probable that next time
he will do it worse. Likewise there is a greater probability that if
someone performs badly that he will do better on the next try. There
may be no causal connection between the reward or the punishment and
what happens on the next try. Chance alone can account for both the
improvement and the deterioration in performance. All this is bad for
learning because it helps perpetuate the myth that punishment motivates
to learn. The teacher or parent, observing children
doing badly at some task for which they are then punished and who
subsequently do better on their next try, tend to perceive a causal
link between the punishment and the improvement. In these cases however
the children were statistically bound to do better on the next try if
they did very badly on the first try. The teachers or parents are
actually being tricked by a statistical illusion into believing that
punishment is effective when it may be having no effect or may possibly
be having a worsening effect.
Physical punishment is by no means exhaustive of
the various ways in which parents and indeed all humans have been known
to punish each other. The following are presented as but a few of the
more usual ways in which humans have been known to inflict punishment,
especially as is conducted by teachers in schools. Some of these
punishments are a little more detrimental to learning than others, but
none of them have been found to be conducive to learning and in fact
all of them are detrimental to learning to some degree or other.
Incarceration has always
been a popular form of punishment which also is done during the
student's free time. Sometimes it is useful academically if students
are able to use the time to complete homework assignments, but usually
this kind of activity is forbidden, as then detention might not be
perceived as a punishment, which is of course the whole reason for it.
Detention usually involves some mindless, useless work that completely
wastes the student's time. An un-graded essay or writing lines are
popular activities, or sometimes no activity is allowed at all as in
the cartoon opposite. Basically students are meant to feel more
confined than usual, they are meant to feel they have been jailed,
albeit only for a short time.
An enforced visit to the principal.
This walk of shame is a time
honored punishment in schools. Teachers tend to use this because it
gets a troublesome student out of the way, temporally solving a
problem. But it really does not solve anything, as when the student
returns, he is likely to do the same thing again, at least after a
while. It is also popular with teachers, because it basically fobs off
the need for the teacher to deal with the problem himself. Instead the
responsibility falls to the principal. Thus principals tend to become
ogres in the student's eyes. This is typified in the movie "School of
Rock", where the head mistress is telling a little girl, in a kind
voice, to be more conscientious, but the girl is clearly terrified out
of her mind.
Humiliation is any kind of
action that portrays a person as stupid, weak, or powerless. Almost all
punishments performed in schools have some elements of humiliation.
Humiliation is the emotional equivalent of physical pain and is often
even more terrifying to children. Like corporal punishment, it is a non
resolution method of dealing with differences. It is conveyed to
students by what is said to them in front of their peers, by forcing
them into doing demeaning activities before their peers, and by
exposing for all to see their most private weaknesses and absurdities.
It creates anger and resentment in the student just as surely as does
physical pain. Sure it brings compliance, but it is a compliance with
an eye for revenge, or modeled meanness to be passed on to others.
is a form of humiliating a victim with words. While it often seems
humorous to those that hear it, it is, like any punishment, meant to be
hurtful. It is sometimes seen as worse than other forms of humiliation,
because it lures the other students into betraying their fellow
students in this humiliating experience. Because it seduces them into portraying their friends as
stupid, into perceiving their friends as stupid by ridiculing them with
rapier sharp wit. It is a grievous betrayal. Also because it engenders
laughter it is a particularly insidious model for students to copy.
Sarcastic teachers tend to end up with rooms full of sarcastic
students. Sarcasm is not only the lowest form of wit, but it is also
some of the lowest form of human behavior.
it is our intention to have children wanting to learn, then using
schoolwork as a punishment is ridiculously self defeating. The very
idea, that learning could be turned into a punishment, just makes my
blood boil. But is does exist and usually takes the form of the
following example from the writings of John Holt. "...[She]
was going to continue working with
her daughter as she had been, by giving her a page of problems to do
each day, with the threat that for each problem done wrong she would be
given several more problems to do." It is difficult to imagine
what this mother might be hoping for her daughter, certainly not that
she ever learn to like learning,
or that she become a life long learner.
Mindless repetitive dull work.
lines is mind numbingly boring and a completely useless way of
occupying someone's time. Although this is usually done in detention,
it is sometimes required to be done when the student is kept in after
class. Some teachers have been known to have students do lines while
class is continuing, so that the student actually misses the lesson.
Where ever and whenever it is done, this tedium is both painful and an
unforgivable waste of time, that could be used for learning or for
play. The lines serve no purpose other than to make work. It is the
soulless equivalent of digging a hole and then filling it in. Even the
message in the lines is usually not taken in. We all remember lines
tend to be written in columns of the same word, so the sentence does
not even register.
Withdrawal of privileges.
of rewards, comforts, and enjoyable circumstances taken for granted,
may be the most common form of punishment these days. Some privileges,
some excursions, some pleasures often seem to be dangled in front of
students for the sole purpose of being snatched away if the students do
not comply with the teacher's wishes. Such blatant manipulation is
usually seen through by students who then decide if compliance is worth
the bait. Other privileges such as play time at recess or during
sports, can also be withdrawn making the few minor pleasures available
at school also conditional of compliance. Such actions by teachers
likewise do not invoke in students a sudden revelation of the error of
their ways, but rather models for students the uses of power.
Time out covers a
multitude of punishments. It is basically a respite for the teacher or
the student. If not presented as a punishment, but as an option. It can
be an effective cooling down period, a time of calming dangerous
emotions so a more rational mind may emerge. But time out in schools
usually means enforced isolation which merely provides the student with
time to multiply resentment and hurt feelings and plan revenge. The
child sitting alone does not suddenly come the realization
that he has done something wrong and must not do it again. Rather he
has time to plan how to do it again without getting caught and how to
better make the teacher's life miserable.
is called logical consequences by those who advocate this form of
punishment is usually neither logical nor consequential. These are an
artificial attempt to make punishment equate with the discipline of
nature. But students, whatever their age, are not taken in by
explanations of natural law. They see quite clearly that it is a
person, a teacher, that is punishing them, and not some vital force of
nature. For them, the difference between other punishments and the so
called 'logical consequences' is zero. At the same time, teachers who
use this technique can end up performing some ludicrously inappropriate
actions, in an effort to make punishments somehow fit the crime.
Psychology and Punishment.
No branch of psychology has been able to support
punishment as a viable form of discipline or control. Even the
behaviorists have unequivocally stated that aversion techniques are not
inherently motivating. Skinner points out that punishment is only
clearly motivating to the punisher, who is instantly rewarded by the
changes in the actions of those being punished. But as Skinner points
out in "Beyond
Freedom and Dignity" the person who is punished has a wide
range of choices as to how he will modify his behavior to escape the
punishment. Skinner goes on to state that, even when the punished
person chooses to refrain from the behavior that instigated the
punishment, the desire to continue that activity remains, and will
resurface the moment the punishment is withdrawn or a way of avoiding
it is found. He said:
literally, a person may subsequently behave 'in order to avoid
punishment'. He can avoid it by not behaving in punishable ways, but
there are other possibilities. Some of these are disruptive and
maladaptive or neurotic..."
"The trouble is
that when we punish a person for behaving badly, we leave it up to him
to discover how to behave well..."
Punishment causes escape or flight behavior, where
the one who is punished tries to escape any situations of future
punishment. The one punished decides from then on, which way to act in
order to avoid the punishment. He will be rewarded by that method which
appears most effective from his own previous experience. That is, he
will tend to act in the way in which he has discovered to be rewarding
in avoiding punishment. This way may be any number of inappropriate
ways that are not anticipated by the punisher. In his book "Beyond
Freedom and Dignity" Skinner gives examples of many of the
sorts of socially inappropriate strategies people use to escape future
punishment, as follows:
"Thus a person may behave in ways that will
not be punished because they cannot be seen as by fantasizing or
"He may displace punishable behavior by directing it toward objects
which cannot punish - for example, he may be aggressive towards
physical objects, children or small animals."
"He may watch or read about others who engage in the punishable
behavior, identifying himself with them..."
"...or interpret the behavior of others as punishable, projecting his
"He may rationalize his behavior by giving reasons, either to himself
or others which make it non-punishable - as in asserting that he is
punishing a child for the child's own good."
of temptations. "One may avoid the occasions on which the
punishable behavior is likely to occur. A person who has been punished
for drunkenness may 'put temptation behind him' by staying away from
places where he is likely to drink too much..."
the environment. "Still another strategy is to change the
environment so the behavior is less likely to be punished. ...we weaken
punitive social contingencies by associating with more tolerant
the probability. "Or he may make punishable behavior less
likely by changing his physiological condition, controlling aggression
for example, by taking tranquillizers."
"Literature and art permit one to 'sublimate' other kinds of
busy. "...he stays out of trouble by keeping busy in
non-punished ways, as by doggedly 'doing something else'. ...Organized
sports are sometimes promoted on the grounds that they provide an
environment in which young people will be too busy to get into trouble."
reward into punishment. "A person may even take steps to
strengthen contingencies which teach him to stop behaving in punishable
ways: he may, for example take drugs under the influence of which
smoking or drinking have strong aversive consequences, such as
reward. "Temper tantrums often disappear when they no longer
receive attention, aggressive behavior is attenuated by making sure
nothing is gained by it, and overeating is controlled by making foods
"A simple way to avoid punishment is to avoid the punishers. Sex play
becomes surreptitious, and a violent man attacks only when the police
are not around."
and its price.
punishment is not effective in changing behavior. Is it effective for
anything? Punishment and the threat of it has indeed been found to be
effective, but effective in doing only one thing, and that being the
provision of temporary compliance. Some people might be tempted to
respond as ironically suggested by Alfie Kohn: "Hey don't
knock temporary compliance. When a student acts intolerably - when kids
are prevented from learning - I'll settle for whatever stops it."
The question then is to ask ourselves if this is all we are trying to
do, and is it worth the price? In his book "Beyond
Discipline" Alfie Kohn provides us with some very large price
tags for punishment.
strategy that has to be invoked over and over again clearly is not
solving the problem and punishment has to be used again and again.
is a bandage or a patch.
Kohn puts it like this: "Researchers have found for example,
children who are severely punished at home are more likely than their
peers to act out when they are away from home. I have yet to find an
educator who is surprised by these findings, which suggests that we
have all noticed something similar going on at schools."
It makes the problem worse.
is a very disturbing lesson as Alfie Kohn points out: "Specifically
the child learns that when you don't like the way someone is acting,
you make something bad happen to that person until he gives in: Do this
or here's what I'm going to do to you." It is disturbing
because some children's behavior suggests that they have already
learned this all too well.
creates a new problem of modeled use of power.
Kohn says: "Once an adult has come to be seen as an enforcer
of the rules and an imposer of unpleasant
consequences, the child is about as happy to see that person as an
adult is to see a police car in the rear view mirror." A
person's ability to uncover the causes and rational of problem behavior
relies on the element of trust and care that has developed between the
teacher and the student or the parent and the child. Punishment of the
student by the teacher violates this trust and care, distorting the
relationship so that the possibility of coming to some amicable
solution is lost forever.
It creates an eroded relationship between the
punisher and the punished.
places the child in an insecure and unsafe position. It forces the
basic motivation to become the satisfaction of the need for safety. In
terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it causes the child to get stuck
at the level of safety and thus less likely to become concerned with
the higher meta needs. Alfie Kohn puts it like this: "...we
want children not to rob banks - or do various other things that are
unethical or hurtful - because they know it's wrong, and also because
they can imagine how such actions will affect other people. But when
disciplinarians talk about imposing 'consequences' for a student's
action - and inducing him to think about those consequences ahead of
time - they almost always mean the consequences to him. The focus is on
how he will get in trouble for breaking the rule." It forces
the child to be concerned with the lower deprivation needs, and never
develop a concern for others, or develop an understanding of what is
right for all humans.
creates a new problem of impeded ethical development.
We should try to understand
that punishing someone who has committed a crime does not make a good
citizen out of a bad citizen. Rather it is like putting a tiger in a
fragile cage and then poking it with a stick. We are quite familiar
with the idea that jails do not turn out model citizens. The function
of the jail in society is to protect the rest of society by shutting
the offender away where he cannot further harm society. The fact is
however, that a jail is seen by most members of society as a place of
punishment and as such it is under pressure to punish. Many people
react as if mere incarceration is not sufficient punishment and that
prisons should be places of hard labor and other physical punishments.
In this way prisons are often prevented from rehabilitating prisoners,
because that would mean treating them well and rewarding them for doing
good, which is of course not punishment. Because of this people who
want to improve conditions for prisoners making them more humane and in
keeping with human dignity, and who wish to enable prisoners to learn
skills, which would enable them to earn an honest living, will always
have an uphill battle on their hands.
utility of punishment.
Who benefits from the punishments exacted by
society? We can be fairly sure that the punished person,
young or old, receives no benefit from their punishment. If we are
going to punish people, we should not kid ourselves that we are doing
it for their benefit. It turns out, those who benefit from punishment
are all the rest of us who do not break the laws. We benefit in two
ways. Firstly, we benefit from the lower numbers of criminals in our
society who are shut away in jails where they are not able to harm us
or those we care about. Secondly, punishment helps sate our need for a
sense of fair play. If one person works hard to obtain possessions and
another person just comes along and steals those possessions, we feel a
sense of outrage at the unfairness of this. We need some some
consequence for the person who steals to balance our emotional outrage.
It's not that we want to break the law ourselves, it is just that we
need society to restore balance so that each person gets what he
deserves. Society has to be seen as being fair in order to remain
Of course punishment
benefits another smaller group of people, the victims. For the victim
this is not only about what the criminal deserves but also about what
they deserve. If a criminal takes the life of someone you love, how can
society restore balance to us in the fairness of this act? Those who
are victims are usually not Jesus like wanting to forgive their
tormentors, but rather actively wanting revenge. Part of this is again
the wanting to restore the balance of fairness in society, but it has a
darker side of an eye for an eye. These darker wishes can escalate into
feuds that can unhinge societies. Societies have to some how allow
victims some retribution through societies action, so victims are not
tempted to try and restore balance through their own
With prisons then, society is
attempting to provide safety for non criminals, to see a balance
restored to our sense of fairness, and to allow victims of crimes some
retribution. Thus there is some justification for thinking of prisons
as places for punishing criminals. Through prisons, society can be seen
as taking its rightful revenge on its miscreants. In schools however,
there is no way of justifying punishment as in most cases the children
do not transgress the laws of society, and if they did, the law is
quite capable of dealing with it without help from the schools.
The Admirable Person.
Some people say, that the
person who wants to do terrible things and does not do them, is an
admirable and good person, and this needs analysis. They say this
person has struggled with himself and overcome his desires and is
therefore admirable. This site must reject this idea. Is the person who
gets pleasure from thinking about disemboweling people, or wallowing in
blood, really a good person if he does not do it? Is the person who
desires to molest small children, but does not do so, really a good
person? How much worse then is the person, who does not do these things
only from a fear of being punished? He indeed becomes the tortured
tiger in a fragile cage. The really admirable person should be seen as
the one who does not want to commit such atrocities, and is the one who
does good deeds because he wants to do them and enjoys doing them.
"Man would indeed be in a poor way if he
had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after
death." Albert Einstein
How does and admirable person come to be?
Well, certainly not through being punished. There
are three schools of thought about the generation of morality in
humans. One is that we are born genetically disposed to some morality
and that our life experiences then enhance or reduce that disposition.
The second is that when we are born we are a moral blank slate and that
our morality is written to that slate by our life experiences. The
third is that our morality is set at birth. The first of these
alternatives seems the most likely. Within this alternative however we
have to decide what is the disposition we are talking about. Is it good
or bad? Is it selfish or is it altruistic? There seems to be (perhaps
surprisingly to some people) that there is a great deal of evidence for
an altruistic disposition. It is an evolutionary efficient mechanism
for an individual to sacrifice himself for the good of the group. It
increased the likelihood of survival by the group, but it lowers
personal likelihood of survival. Even stronger evolutionary principles
are cooperation, symbiosis and synergy. So are we born bad and
have to be taught to be good? Or are we born good and have to avoid
life experiences that will turn us bad? This site is confident of the
way this disposition is enhanced and way it is reduced, is through our
interactions with others and most specifically through how those around
us model morality for us to observe. It has been shown in research that
if we assume that people are born with a disposition to be good and
moral we will be better able to enhance people in being good and moral.
However, born good or bad, no matter which of these is true, we can be
sure that the modeling of good behavior must help. If we want our
students to respect each other we must respect them and respect others
in their presence. If we want our students to not hurt each other, we
must not hurt them nor hurt others in their presence. If we want
students to cooperate with each other we must cooperate with them and
cooperate with others in their presence. If we want the golden rule to
apply, we must apply the rule first to ourselves. What most important
is the example we set in our own dealings with others and not what we
explain to our students. Of course, teachers are always in the position
of having to overcome the examples previously set for students by their
parents, the example they are continually setting for each other, and
the examples others are still setting for them. Teachers, are however,
in a very significant position to induce students to imitate their
behavior. The new research into mirror neurons is now showing the
importance imitating others in just about everything to do with
learning, including morality.
beauty of good or moral behavior, is that the moment we have an
opportunity to perform it, and we do perform it, we are rewarded, not
by some external judge of our behavior, but by the wonderful feelings
that well up inside of us. Good behavior is its own reward.
is not a way of motivating, and certainly not a way of motivating
people to learn. The main argument for punishment is as a kind of
revenge or retribution. This said, punishment is addictive to the
punisher. B. F. Skinner tells us that punishment rewards the punisher
by instant change in the behavior of the punished. A sort of mass
superstition has been created, a superstition that punishment works to
motivate because of a correlation of compliance with punishment. But
this is compliance without internalization of values. So although
science is unable to show that punishment works to motivate, a large
section of all societies cannot help but feel intuitively that it does
A world without punishment.
believed that a society could be created where there was no punishment
and where people were always rewarded for good and proper behavior. If
such a society could be created by altering laws and establishing
automatic rewards so that, it produces only good and admirable people,
then such should be a blueprint for how societies should be structured.
The problem is however, that Skinner's vision, seemingly admirable
though it is, is fatally flawed. Extrinsic rewards do not produce
admirable people any more than do punishments. Admirable people are
produced only by the imitation of good models, explanations of
consequences and intrinsic reward that follows good behavior.
as a means to the internalization of values.
works best when the social deviant is never actually punished, because
in this case the modeling of aggressive behavior never takes place. In his book "The
Social Animal" Elliot Aronson shows through cognitive
dissonance theory how the mildest threat of punishment
enables the internalization of social values thus deterring antisocial
behavior, while the threat of harsh punishment seems to have the
"...both Merrill Carlsmith and Jonathan
Freedman demonstrated that, with young children, threats of mild
punishment are far more effective than threats of harsh punishment.
...Here's how it works. Suppose a mother threatens to punish her young
son to to induce him to refrain, momentarily, from aggressing against
his little sister. If she is successful, her son will experience
dissonance. The cognition 'I like to wallop my little sister' is
dissonant with the cognition 'I am refraining from walloping my little
sister.' If he were severely threatened, he would have an abundantly
good reason for refraining; he would be able to reduce dissonance by
saying, 'The reason I am not hitting my sister is that I'd
get the daylights beaten out of me if I did - but I sure would like to.
However, suppose his mother threatens to use a punishment that is mild
rather than severe - a punishment just barely strong enough to to get
the child to to stop his aggression. In this instance, when he when he
asks himself why he is not hitting his infinitely hittable little
sister at the moment, he can't use the threat as a way of reducing
dissonance - that is, he can't easily convince himself that he would be
walloped if he hit his little sister simply because it's not true - yet
he must must justify the fact that he's not hitting his little sister.
In other words, his his external justification (in terms of severity of
threat) is minimal; therefore, he must add his own to justify his
restraint. He might, for example, convince himself that he no longer
enjoys hitting his little sister. This would not only explain, justify,
and make sensible his momentarily peaceful behavior, but more
important, it would decrease the probability of his hitting his little
sister in the future. In short, a counter aggressive value would have
been internalized. He would have convinced himself that, for him
hitting someone is neither desirable nor fun.
So punishment can be successfully used as part of
the socializing process. But, as has been demonstrated, this is a very
slippery slope that is difficult to perform well without the the use of
behavior modeling, the logical presentation of the reasons for behaving
that way, and having choice within the guide lines or limits. Also,
remember it is not the fear of punishment that allows it to be
effectively internalized, but rather the the reduction of
neurons and socialization.
A great deal of socialization is about empathy. We
do not harm others, we do not steal from others because we feel their
pain when we do bad things to them. We are wired at birth to be
cooperative. This empathy comes partly from the firing of mirror
neurons in our brains' inferior frontal gyrus (pars opercularis) and we
nearly all come equipped with them. Empathy is also found in the
function of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) which has been implicated with
the ability to overcome aggressive reactions. Iacoboni in his book "Mirroring
People" says there are 3 areas in the prefrontal lobe where
he found groups of neurons that he calls super mirror neurons. These
neurons shut down entirely while an action not to be imitated is being
observed. This he suggests could indicate the sending of messages to
the more normal mirror neurons preventing them from activating or
inhibiting them. The importance of all this is, that under normal
circumstances we all feel what others feel. Child socialization is
mostly a matter of getting the empathic connections right. Explaining
to children how their actions are affecting others is one of the most
important parts of socialization. But it can go wrong where a child is
subjected to too much pain and stress through abuse.
The perception of
From a learners perspective punishment is seen
through a filter of life experiences, and that filter creates whatever
we perceive punishment to be. Where I went to school, children were
strapped on the hand with a piece of leather, as punishment for
breaking the school rules, such as being late for school. Some of the
hardier children used to boast about how many times they had had the
strap. They seemed to look on it as a badge of honor. It certainly gave
them prestige among us peers. Nevertheless, I though at the time, that
they were lying when they said they said they were not concerned about
getting strapped. Now I am not so sure. Perhaps they came from homes
where they were often strapped or worse and thought it just part of
getting through the day, thus a little extra at school would be
nothing. This might be especially so, if getting beaten increased their
status among their peers.
Some aggressive and
antisocial behaviors may be performed out of a child's need for
attention. Parents who do not provide a child with love and esteem, and
who are generally cold and indifferent, may find their children acting
aggressively or antisocially in order to get parental attention.
Attention is a poor substitute for love and esteem, but it is better
than nothing. Punishment in this case may be perceived as a reward in
the form of parents paying attention.
A report appeared in the "Journal of Legal
Studies" in January of 2000 that has called into question the whole
idea of punishing criminal behavior. It was written by Uri Gneezy and
Aldo Rustichini and was about psychology despite the fact it was in a
legal journal. Gneezy and Rustichini set out a description of the
mainstream theory of deterrence as follows:
consequences are imposed on a behavior, they will produce a reduction
of that particular response. When negative consequences are removed,
the behavior that has been discontinued will typically tend to
This kind of deterrence is
the one that is used by the law almost everywhere, and it used to be
used in schools. It is now fondly remembered by both parent and teacher
reactionaries. It is typically depicted by the cartoon below.
Gneezy and Rustichini felt
this theory was largely untested and set out to test it. In his book "Cognitive
Surplus" Clay Shirky tells the story:
"They set out to
correct the fact in 1998, working with day-care centers in the Israeli
city of Haifa as experimental sites. Day-care is day-care the world
over; working parents with children under school age need someone to
watch their children during the day. Sometimes day-care is set up as a
public service other times as a business, but in either case the
parents and the day-care workers have a potential clash of interests:
pickup time. The workers have outside lives, so they want all the kids
safely reunited with their parents at a set time. The parents on the
other hand, busy at work or running errands and never entirely in
control of their travel time, want some slack to pick up their children
later than the appointed hour.
The study's ten
day-care centers in Haifa ran until four P.M., though no penalty for
picking up children late was specified. Gneezy and Rustichini observed
closing time in the centers to see how often parents were late; in a
normal week, there were seven or eight late pickups at each center.
Then they instituted a penalty at six of the centers: henceforth, they
announced parents would be fined for picking their children up more
than ten minutes late, a fine that would be automatically added to
their bill. (The other four centers, the control group, operated
unchanged to ensure that any observed effects in the six selected
schools were the result of the fine.)
The new rule was
imposed at the six centers the following week, and its effect on the
parents' behavior was immediate: their lateness increased. In
the first week, the average number of late pickups rose to eleven; to
fourteen the week after that; and to seventeen the week after that. The
episodes of lateness finally topped out a month into the experiment at
around twenty a week - nearly triple the pre-fine number. Thereafter,
for as long as the fine was in place, the number fluctuated, but it
never fell below fourteen and remained closer to twenty most weeks.
Meanwhile, the number of late pickups in the four control centers
From the point of
view of deterrence theory, this result was perverse. The fine was
small, just ten shekels (about three dollars), but it should still have
had some deterring effect; however bad a late pickup was before the
fine was instituted, it should have been ...[only ten shekels
worth changed] after. And even if it was too small to have a
deterring effect, it shouldn't have increased the frequency of
lateness. And yet that's just what it did."
Gneezy and Rustichini
formulated a theory to explain their experimental results. They
theorized that the fine was not perceived by the parents as a
punishment, but rather as a simple fee for service transaction. They
were paying extra in order that they could be late. In the parent's
eyes the fact they they could pay extra to be late meant that they
could be late whenever circumstances indicated the loss of the money
was worth the convenience of being able to be late. Gneezy and
Rustichini reasoned that the situation that existed before the
introduction of the fine was ambiguous, being partly a transaction, but
partly a gift, where their being late inconvenienced the workers and
took advantage of them. It was a situation that caused the parents to
see the workers as fellow human beings who's feelings and rights should
be respected. It was a situation in which they would feel
guilty about abusing the worker's good will. With the introduction of
the fine, they realized, the ambiguity collapsed, and being late was
then considered part of what they were paying for. They no longer saw
the workers as people who's lives had to be respected, but rather they
saw the worker's time as being a commodity for which they were paying
and a cheap one at that. The parents perceived the fine as being full
payment for the inconvenience they were causing.
Perhaps in our cartoon
Scruffy's thoughts might have been a bit different to his
Rustichini kept the fine in place for three months, and then ended it.
Once the fine stopped, however, the number of late pickups per week
didn't return to pre-fine levels; in fact it remained as high as high
as it had been when the fine was in place. Inducing parents to see the
workers as participants in a market transaction, rather than as people
whose needs had to be respected, had altered the parent's perceptions
of the workers, an alteration that outlived the fine itself. One might
impose a fine significant enough to deter lateness the paper noted, but
the experiment showed that market transactions are not merely additive
to other human motivations; they alter them by there mere presence."
"Culture isn't just
an agglomeration of individual behaviors; it is a collectively held set
of norms and behaviors within a group. In the case of the day-care
centers, introducing the fine killed the previous culture by altering
the way the parents viewed the workers, and that culture stayed killed
even after the fine was removed."
Any punishment can in most
circumstances be perceived as being part of a market transaction. In
the case of physical punishment, the punishment is most effective on
those who are less hardy and unused to physical violence and who are
unlikely to break the law to begin with. It is least effective with
those who are used to punishment and who are willing to pay the price.
The hardened criminal will normally see punishment as a balancing of
the account in a bizarre contract between him and the law. With the
account balanced by his incarceration, he will then feel more free than
he previously did to break the law. In all probability, for many
criminals, a crime once punished, may be perceived as his contract with
the law as being fulfilled, and his slate wiped clean, so that he is
free to indulge in criminal activity again. Each time he is punished he
sees it as the scales being balanced again, so he can be justified in
renewing his criminal behavior.
I had a friend who went to
jail and who told me of two prisoners who were brothers, who were
abused as children, and who would push needles into their testicles to
prove their manliness. I cannot imagine they would be much deterred by
any physical punishment, and could view any punishment as a simple
price to pay to do whatever they wished.
A penalty or a
It is not always easy to distinguish between a
punishment and a transaction anywhere in life, and two people can view
the same circumstances quite differently. In his book Shirky continues:
"I ran into an
example some years ago at the San Francisco Airport. I'd previously
called the airline to change the return date of my flight and had been
told I'd have to pay an additional twenty-five dollars when I checked
in at the airport.
When I got to the
ticket counter on the day of the flight, I asked the agent for my new
ticket and said, 'Oh, and there's a twenty-five dollar charge' as I
started to dig out my wallet. 'No,' she replied, 'you have to pay a
penalty.' Thinking I was about to be hit with another fee on top of the
one I already knew about, I said, 'I was told I'd only owe twenty-five
dollars to change the ticket.'
dollars is a penalty,' she replied. At that point I realized what was
going on. We agreed that I owed the airline twenty-five dollars, but in
my mind that was a reasonable fee for the additional work. In her mind,
though, it was punishment for changing my ticket. Further, she was
clearly in no mind to hand over the ticket until I acknowledged that."
So what does all this say
says that punishment when seen from the point of view of a
criminal is not punishment at all but rather it is a transaction.
Certainly it is true from the point of view of psychopaths and
sociopaths who, as they have no empathy and therefore no conscience,
are not concerned with inconveniencing others or causing them pain or
harm. They simply weigh the cost of a so called punishment against the
pleasure they obtain from performing the action of a so called crime.
They also, of course, consider the likelihood of their getting caught
and factor it into their decision.
what about the criminal that has a conscience? The criminal in this
case is in the same position as the the parents in Gneezy
and Rustichini's experiment, in that they initially feel uncomfortable
in discomforting or causing others harm. However when a punishment is
applied these 'criminals' tend to see it as the price they have to pay
for doing business. In fact, far from reinforcing their concern about
inconveniencing or harming others, this payment tends to be seen as
full compensation paid. Criminals tend to feel the scales of justice
have been balanced by their payment and they feel less concerned about
the inconvenience or harm they might cause others. Certainly they do
not feel more concerned about the inconvenience and harm done to others
as should be the case if punishment worked to reduce their criminal
tendencies. Criminals with a conscience then may be disturbed by their
conscience if they do not get caught but feel unconcerned about others
if and when they do get caught.
factor in a punishment is it's severity. If a punishment is
sufficiently severe it will be considered unjust by ordinary people.
Such punishments while they do in fart deter some criminals only make
others work harder at not getting caught. When they are so punished
criminal's fury and indignation at its unfairness tends overcome their
future likelihood of compliance rendering severe punishment also
useless in reducing criminal activity.
course some punishments are actual fines where real money is exchanged
to balance the scales of justice. This is an unfair type of punishment
as the the poor and working classes tend to see the punishments as
severe while the rich tend to see it as cheap compensation for their
antisocial behavior. Imprisonment, on the other hand, is by most
understanding a much fairer punishment, as while each group is
prevented from earning a living by the imprisonment, each income
reduction is commensurate with each class status.
point is that anyone who deviates from social norms can construe any
kind of punishment as a payment made to compensate the parties injured
by the social deviation. The moment the deviant realizes he/she is
paying a price for his/her action the relationship that enabled
his/her guilty conscience is crushed. In consequence, any feelings of
guilt the deviant had evaporate along with any motivation to obey
How then can punishment be seen to motivate or socialize children in schools?
We can say then, that there is no proof of the
theory that punishment will motivate children to learn academically, and
there is plenty of evidence that punishment prevents such learning. Fortunately
in today's system of education very little punishment is used with a
view to induce students to learn academically as such.
There are however, some types of punishment such as sarcasm,
humiliation, mindless dull work, extra schoolwork and withdrawal of
privileges, which are sometimes used to punish poor or uncompleted
work. This use of punishment we can be fairly sure is counter
productive. This use of punishment is not only ineffective in producing
better or completed work, but it will probably lead to poorer work and
less desire to complete work.
Secondly punishment's main
use in schools is to socialize the children and to enforce the school
rules. Some people are of the opinion that enforcing the school rules
is the same as socialization, but they are quite separate, in that,
internalization of the school rules can in some cases be out of step
with values needed to enable smooth social integration. What is needed
for good socialization of children is for them to internalize those
values deemed essential by society as a whole. This is best achieved by
the modeling of such behavior, through the explanation of such behavior
and through having some choice in the behavior.
However, children in schools
do need guidelines and limits within which they are expected to act and
these have little effect or relevance if not accompanied by some level
of punishment if and when they are ignored. This said, the dynamics of
punishment are such that social values are only internalized through
threat of punishment, when that threat is mild enough to produce
dissonance in the children that cannot be explained by the threat
itself, when those children stay within the set limits. Remember also
that threat of punishment works best when it never has to be enforced
and the more it is enforced the less it will work. On the other hand
corporal punishment and other forms of severe punishment appear to
prevent the internalization of values and increase the likelihood of
antisocial and aggressive behaviors.
There is of course no good
answer to the problem of punishing children because those children come
from such diverse backgrounds and home lives that have different
amounts and quality of socialization. This is true when they first
enter the school and remains a truth with which the teachers have to
compete on a daily basis. Punishment that appears mild to one child may
appear quite severe to another. So in the end our advice is simply to
avoid the use of punishment if you can and if you cannot use it
sparingly. Also to be effective in procuring lasting changes of
behavior punishments must be mild and used only in the service of
socializing children. It should never be used for the purpose of trying
to force or induce children to learn