Friday, February 20, 2009

Beating an Issue to Death

Chicago has one of the most progressive school districts in the nation. They have a curriculum designed by whole politburo of avant-garde thinkers like the bomb-tossing Bill Ayers.

As a progressive district, corporal punishment is not only illegal--The Chicago District School has a zero tolerance policy toward the use of corporal punishment. Policy is that any teacher caught hitting a student will be terminated on the spot regardless of union status.

So, it is not surprising that, when people look behind the façade, they find widespread reports of students being beaten by teachers while the administrators turn a blind eye. (Reference: Painful Lessons by David Savini).

Progressive regimes have had abysmal records with torture. A large number of People Movements and Change Movements have devolved into scenarios of oppression and genocide. The scrap heap of history includes The French Revolution, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hussein, and many more people's movements gone wrong.

Chomsky and other progressive theorists have filled tomes equating conservatism with torture, and have put forth a number of explanations of how torture starts in conservative regimes.

Having grown sick of progressivism, I thought I would yammer about why progressive regimes tend to be rife with beatings.

The populist leaders of progressive regimes are often driven by image politics. The party simply seeks to have purr words associated with their name, and snarl words associated with enemies.
The The UN Study on Violence against Children by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro is odd piece of work. Sergio's key belief is that "[children] have the right to live without
any kind of violence…"

I guess this means that if a boy pulls the tail of a cat, the cat shouldn't claw back at the boy.

I am on the side of the cat.

I met a distraught young girl last year who was stung by a bee. Bee stings are violent and painful. Does the UN dictate mean we should gas the hives?

The report is seeking a universal ban on corporal punishment. It does not bother to define the term. For that matter, report doesn't draw much of a distinction between a slap on the wrist and genital mutilation or child trafficking.

This highly sensational report does little more than provide a long list of the horrible things that happen to children then concludes with a list of social policies the author supports. To eliminate violence against children we must eliminate civilian access to firearms. The state must provide universal health care. The state must prevent income inequality. The state needs a comprehensive reporting mechanism to monitor children and aggressively prosecute people found guilty of hurting a child. People found guilty of "hurting a child" should be denied access to children. (That would mean that if a court found a parent guilty of spanking their kid, the parent should be denied access to their kid.)

The populist leader would make strong public denouncements of wrong doings, such as torture, tax evasion or corporal punishment. They might even launch a witch hunt to nest out any of his enemies that he can saddle with the label.

While the glorious leader pontificates, the people in the trenches must find ways to fulfill the unreal expectations. They quickly resort to whatever shortcuts they can find. Corporal punishment is the quintessential shortcut in education.

The over prescription of Ritalin is another.

People quickly latch on to the fact that the sole concern of the image driven politician is to keep bad associations from his name. One can take the shortcuts so long as the shortcut is not acknowledged. When abuse is acknowledge, one need simply project their actions on the party's enemies.

In Machiavelli's program, the prince would charge his lieutenants with torturing people to maintain control, but then would make a big public display of destroying the lieutenant in the public square when expediency required such actions.

Conservatives and even Libertarians have a strange allegiance to the Aristotelian tradition. The strange tradition essentially says that if society has a problem, then there should be a lot of open debate about the problem.

I do not believe that corporal punishment is effective. I avoid stating the opinion in absolute terms. There are many people who believe it is sometimes necessary. Also the term is not all that well defined. Technically, the term corporal refers to any physical interaction. If I saw a bully wailing away some poor schmuck in the playground and physically intervened, then I have engaged in a corporal act. If the bully feels hurt or, in any way is put off by my intervention, then I have engaged in corporal punishment.

People communicate through signals. All of these signals work through physical interaction. Communication with small children involves a great deal of touching. As such, one will never come up with a perfect definition of where corporal punishment begins. Placing a child in a crib in response to a screaming fit is corporal punishment. The parent is denying their child habeas corpus by placing them in a cage encircled with bars!

I won't go into the horrors of sending a child to their room without dessert or other such corporal punishments based on restraining personal liberty.

I love math, and have learned in game theory that, while the positive strategy is the ideal and works well when all players play positively, the tit for tat strategy is the best bet when the environment is less than ideal. The most successful all around strategy is one that allows for course corrections. In education, one should aim for a system based entirely on positive re-enforcement, but there needs to be room for a course correction when things start falling apart.

There are environmental situations where corporal punishment appears to be needed. For example, if you have a totally failed school where the students are beating each other, then one is left scrambling in a no-mans land of insanity where the administration needs to find ways to restore civility.

Of course, the best way to deal with a dysfunctional school is to have a system of choice where students could flee the dysfunctional school for one that works.

I recognize that the superior option is a politically impossibility. School choice might diminish the hard earned ironclad grip progressives have on the education system.

The option of firing bad teachers is out when unions are involved.

Were I charged with a school district that had wild disciplinary problems and teachers who beat students on the sly, it is likely that I would attack the issue by establishing an openly acknowledged policy of corporal punishment.

The mere presence of a policy brings the issue into the open so that there can be open discussion.

As stated earlier, I do not believe that corporal punishment works. If the policy demands that people state their reasons and objectives, then people would gradually reject the method.

For that matter, the act of challenging presumptions of corporal punishment has led to a drop in both the usage and severity of the technique. When one challenges the presumptions, one finds the method falls short of the goals of the teacher.

That statement depends, of course, on the goals of the education system. If the goal is to create either a warlike or submissive population, then widespread use of beatings works wonders.

If the ruling principle is the betterment of the child, then simple open discourse diminishes the problem, and a ban is not needed.

There is an interesting interplay between principle and policy. Extremely harsh policies might indicate a lack of principle. Strong policy often erodes the principle behind the policy.


The group Liberating Education was appalled at the report of beatings in Chicago schools. This group runs private Montessori schools. Montessori schools are backed by both strong principles and a sound teaching method. As such corporal punishment is pretty much a non-issue.

Of course, one can easily frame the Montessori Method as corporal punishment. The method uses a series of self-corrective learning materials. For example, a student might be given a set of blocks. The blocks only fit together in one way. The student must master the principles behind a puzzle to solve it.

The child interfaces with the puzzles on a corporal level. Putting the blocks together incorrectly might damage a child's self esteem. Self corrective learning toys can be framed as a form of institutionalized corporal punishment.




Anyway, the universal ban on corporal punishment that the UN seeks to impose by 2009 might prove a boon for image driven politicians who wish to appear progressive; however, the United Nation's dictate against all corporal punishment destroys the climate where one can drill down, unmask and resolve the negative principles that lead to the horrific abuse of children.

Yes, we should have laws that aggressively address the horrific child abuse and should throw ourselves into stopping beatings, rapes and outlandish abuse. However, when self-righteous buffoons like professor Pinheiro issue dictates at the world, one loses the ability to develop the best principles which are in actuality the best path to a positive future.

Professor Pinheiro's totalitarian dream simply leads to a system where the beatings continue while the clowns in power bask in delusions of their moral superiority.

IMHO, the sensationalized reports and totalitarian policies dictated from the top down don't solve the problem. They simply create an atmosphere ripe for abuse. The image-driven politicians who issue top down dictates simply create a smoke screen for abusive behavior.

2 comments:

Reach Upward said...

A couple of years ago, my top honors junior high son punched a kid out in gym class. Upon investigation, administrators concluded that the other kid (a jock) was the provocateur and had swung first after half an hour of heckling my son during a sports exercise. No adults were close by at the moment.

I considered the matter and concluded that my son had behaved in an entirely appropriate manner, given the circumstances. Nevertheless, the school's zero tolerance policy mandated a three-day suspension. Being an academician, my son hated the suspension. Despite my assurances, he berated himself for allowing the altercation to go as far as it did. The jock, on the other hand, saw the suspension as welcome time off.

It seems to me that in this instance, the school's zero tolerance policy taught the wrong lessons to the students (and parents), while simultaneously providing a cowardly cover for administrators' refusal to deal effectively with standard youth behaviors.

y-intercept said...

Sounds like your kid learned a valuable lesson the way systems work. It is also strange that the school's idea of punishment is to replace time spent learning with free time.

I am actually more worried about what the thug learned. He's learned how to test and measure the system and knows how to cock it back and fling it back in the face of his enemies.

I probably should have elaborated more on the game theory part of the post.

The Karen Pryor Clicker Training Method works wonders for dogs and cats. It uses only positive re-enforcement.

The problem is that one has a completely new game when one deals with people (who happen to be self aware).

Once you have a system in place the player's will figure out how to turn the constraints of the system to their advantage. A good example here is the intentional fouls at the end of a basketball game. Players also learn how to draw opponents into fouls.

When dealing with people, you have to have continuous introspection of the system and be willing to change things when times change.