Punishment in the past.

Lest we forget the barbaric practices used in punishing children in the past here are a few grim reminders.

In the USA these 29 states have now banned corporal punishment:

Alaska California Connecticut Delaware Hawaii Illinois Iowa Maine
Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Montana Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire*
New Jersey New York* North Dakota Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island** South Dakota*** Utah*
Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia Wisconsin  
* banned by state regulation
** banned by every school board in the state
*** banned by law rescinding authorization to use

Worldwide Bans on Corporal Punishment

Every industrialized country in the world now prohibits school corporal punishment, except the U.S., and one state in Australia.

The following list shows a sample of the trend towards the elimination of corporal punishment in schools, dating as far back as the 1700s.

Year Country Year Country
Foundation Iceland 1970 Germany
1783 Poland 1970 Switzerland
1820 Netherlands 1982 Ireland
1845 Luxembourg 1983 Greece
1860 Italy 1986 United Kingdom
1867 Belgium 1990 New Zealand
1870 Austria 1990 Namibia
1881 France 1996 South Africa
1890 Finland 1998 England
1900 Japan 1998 American Samoa
1917 Russia 1999 Zimbabwe
1923 Turkey 2000 Zambia
1936 Norway 2000 Thailand
1949 China 2000 Trinidad and Tobago
1950 Portugal 2001 Kenya
1958 Sweden 2002 Fiji
1967 Denmark 2004 Canada
1967 Cyprus 2006 Taiwan

Schools & Physical Punishment.

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.

Antisocial 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.

While 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 for:

"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. [1] We can either change how we feel about the punishment. It didn't hurt. [2] 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:

"Observations 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 agent."

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:  

"But 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?

Harsh 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.
  1. 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.

  2. 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. 

  3. 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. 

  4. 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.

  5. 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 corporal punishment.

Mirror neurons.

All 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 more aggressive.

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 behavior.      

The argument against child punishment in schools was summarized most compellingly by newspaper columnist Stephanie Salter in 1996 as follows:

"If 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."

Psychologist 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."

Of 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 A.D. 35-100      

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 punishment.

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.

New research.

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.

Abusive parents.

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:

"Remarkably, 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 assaults.

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.

Why is punishment so entrenched?

In 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.
  1. It's quick and easy. Parents and teachers just don't want spend all that time and effort solving some difficulty with children. People are often lazy.

  2. It usually causes at least temporary compliance. The parent or teacher gets their way. People are often lazy and self involved.

  3. We 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 self awareness.

  4. It 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.

  5. It 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.

  6. It 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 and vindictive.

  7. We 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 and untrusting.

  8. We 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 the next.


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:

"For example, 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'."

'Regression 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. 

Types of punishment.

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.


Sarcasm 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.

Extra schoolwork.

If 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.

Writing 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.

Withdrawal 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.

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.

Logical consequences.

What 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:

"Quite 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:

Fantasy. "Thus a person may behave in ways that will not be punished because they cannot be seen as by fantasizing or dreaming."

Redirection. "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."

Identification. "He may watch or read about others who engage in the punishable behavior, identifying himself with them..."

Projection. "...or interpret the behavior of others as punishable, projecting his own tendencies."

Rationalization. "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."

Avoidance 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..."

Changing 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 friends."

Changing the probability. "Or he may make punishable behavior less likely by changing his physiological condition, controlling aggression for example, by taking tranquillizers."

Sublimation. "Literature and art permit one to 'sublimate' other kinds of troublesome behavior."

Keeping 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."

Transforming 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 nausea..."

Reducing 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 less palatable."

Surreptitiousness. "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."

Compliance and its price.

So 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.

  1. It is a bandage or a patch.

  2. Any 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.

  3. It makes the problem worse.

  4. Alfie 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."

  5. It creates a new problem of modeled use of power.

  6. This 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.

  7. It creates an eroded relationship between the punisher and the punished.

  8. Alfie 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.

  9. It creates a new problem of impeded ethical development.

  10. Punishment 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.


Rehabilitation and Punishment.

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.

The social 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 stable.       

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 actions.   

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 latter.

Modeling behavior.

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.

Intrinsic reward.

The 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.

Fooling ourselves?

Punishment 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 work.

A world without punishment.

Skinner 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.

Punishment as a means to the internalization of values.

Punishment 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 opposite effect:

"...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 dissonance.           

Empathy, mirror 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 punishment.

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.

Crime and punishment.

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:

"When negative 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 reappear."

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 didn't change.

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 words.  

"Gneezy and 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 transaction?

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.'

'The twenty-five 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 about punishment?

It 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.

But 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.

Another 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.

Of 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.

The 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 social norms.

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 academically.                   

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