As an educator, I subscribe to various education blogs as well as some sites that send me collections of some of the latest writing on education. It keeps me current with the ideas in my profession. I recommend it. But sometimes something shows up that really bothers me. Yesterday as I was reading my feed, I came across an article entitled “Why Punishment Doesn’t Work” by Mac Bledsoe. As a parent and educator, I take issue with the writer’s view.
Admittedly, I have not read any other of Mr. Bledsoe’s writing. At the bottom of the article, he suggests that I look into his other methods for dealing with children. I chose not to do this, and perhaps we might have found some agreeable ground there. But his basic worldview is so contrary to mine that I didn’t wish to continue to argue with him in my mind. (Am I the only one who does that?)
Mr. Bledsoe says that allowing a child to suffer logical consequences for behavior will only cause the child to be angry with the parent because I could have helped with a situation, but did not. That letting children know what the consequence for a particular behavior is actually threatening them, and implying that they will not be able to make the correct choice. That enforcing consequences will give me the total responsibility for the child’s behavior and thus cripple them when they are out in the real world and need to be responsible for themselves. I cannot say how much I disagree with those views.
I wondered how we could come to such opposing viewpoints. And it finally occurred to me. We have opposing world views. From Mr. Bledsoe’s writing, I surmised that he believes that children are inherently good, and with correct guidance, they will make good choices. I, on the other hand, believe what God says about us, namely that we are all sinners. And that children are little sinners that need training to choose rightly. I believe that the basis of sin is self-centeredness. And is there a creature on this planet more self-centered than an newborn? They don’t even know that the world exists outside of themselves.
I’ve done a lot of observing as a parent and as a teacher. I can tell you that the children who make the healthiest choices are the ones whose parents have shown themselves to be strong enough to keep them safe. They do this by putting “fences” in place to let kids know where the safe limits are. Mr. Bledsoe claims that doing this will make children angry with you. That is true in the very short term sometimes. But the reality I’ve seen is that these kids are the happiest kids. They have internalized the rules of their world and are able to navigate it successfully. They tend to be successful in school because the external discipline their parents have instilled has become internalized. I’ve known lots of children in my 30+ years in education. Not one of them raised by parents who gave them reasonable limits and then enforced those limits by giving logical or natural consequences was an angry or aggressive child. They are the children who are a joy to be around. The children who are respectful, who are generous, who give to others. They are the children who are joyful and share their joy with the world.
I raised my own children that way. It was my job to teach them the correct way to be in this world. I have used this belief in teaching hundreds of children. Recently I worked with a very unhappy boy for 11 weeks. During that time, I watched him closely. I found some root causes of many of his behaviors and took steps to address those concerns. I added in more positive options. But I also meted out consequences for when he chose to misbehave. Did that make him mad? Yes. Was he mad at me? At first he was. But by the end of the time, he was getting mad at himself for choosing behavior that did not serve him. And he is much, much happier now. I had several people comment to me on what a change they saw in this boy.
As a parent, as a teacher, it is my job to teach children how to make those good choices. It is not taking over the responsibility from the child. We wouldn’t tell a heart surgeon it’s not his responsibility to do open-heart surgery. It’s his job. And it’s my job to teach children to choose wisely.