Friday, March 02, 2012
A major public flap seems to be occurring over the discipline policy of the Noble Street College Prep schools in Chicago. The news report that was called to my attention on this matter began with criticism of the “superficial effort” in reporting the story by the New York Times, Huffington Post, and ABC News. The decline of responsible journalism should come as no surprise to anybody. I won’t get into the journalism, but I would like to reflect on the educational issues involved.
The problem seems to be that Noble school policy is to have a conduct demerit system, use detention for bad student conduct, and impose a $5 fine when detention has to be imposed. A parents group is up in arms over such policy.
First, let me make the point that in learning, motivation is everything. If a student wants to learn, learning happens. If a student does not want to learn, learning will be minimal, no matter the greatness of teaching or enlightenment of educational policy. The old saw fits: “you can lead a mule to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
So, from a learning perspective, the issue is does punishment (negative reinforcement) work? It may or may not, and Noble school’s policy needs to be tested against that criterion. Apparently, Noble school has a permissive enrollment policy that accepts all who apply. It is not like a private prep school where students are screened before admission. Open enrollment will always yield some misfits. Drill sergeants in the military can shape up misfits in a hurry. That may work in a school, but only for some students.
You can train animals with negative reinforcement. But in animals, and people, positive reinforcement is usually more effective. The trick in education is to do things that make students want to learn. And there are numerous ways that good teachers know how to do that.
However, some students are incorrigible, at least at a given moment in their development. There is nothing positive that will reach them. The issue for a school then, especially one such as Noble which is a college prep school where parents volunteer their students for enrollment, is whether a misfit student is interfering with the education of others. No student has a right to interfere with the learning of others. If a misfit does not respond to whatever rules the school has, throw the jerk out. In a charter school, enrollment is not forced. If the parent does not like the rules, they should stop whining and send their child to a regular school. I would add that parents who take their child’s side in such arguments are teaching the child to be a whiner like they are and reinforcing the rebellious nature of such children. If you want to create spoiled brats who grow up to be spoiled adults, this is the way to do it. In case you haven’t noticed, our U.S. population is degenerating into an entitlement society of spoiled adults.