Beyond Discipline: From
Compliance to Community—Alfie Kohn
Among the best points in Beyond
Discipline are Alfie Kohn's claims that we underutilize induction and that
environmental aids matter--colossally. Relationships built on restrictions,
rather than care, trust and feeling valued, deteriorate. Kohn argues that we
should talk to others in ways that treat individuals with dignity. Misbehavior is
often a sign of boring or worthless assignments. Emphasizing the punishment
that occurs if we catch bad behaviors does not improve values. We rarely urge individuals to consider how their actions harm others. Autonomy
requires us to act without external pressure.
Kohn writes that a dark view of humans
and punishment reinforce each other in a vicious spiral.
"Thoughtless" actions often result from lack of thought, not bad motives.
Punishment is for strangers, not a "community."
Kohn's argument that punishment
should be completely eliminated, however, is weak. A world of zero probability of punishment is a naive or cynical manipulators fantasy come true. No amount of talk will
reform all individuals, and no amount of neoprogressive optimism changes
that reality. The dark view of humans and punishment do sometimes reinforce
each other in vicious cycles, as in prison guards. The natural goodness view of
humans, however, also creates evils, as in appeasers and collaborators.
Kohn attacks Assertive Discipline in detail, but Assertive Discipline is among the rottenest discipline programs. He leaves us
with the circular pun, "a ruse is a ruse is a ruse," as if the
badness of Assertive Discipline proves the badness of all punishment.
Kohn argues that students should
democratically choose rules, which in practice means teachers must be good
at convincing kids to democratically choose rules that good teachers figured out beforehand. What happens if students democratically choose to play
video games all day? Kohn does not say.
The author favors "constructivism," but
constructivism begins with nobody nowhere and ends with a confused nobody
nowhere or an overconfident, ill informed [ad hominem deleted for sanitary purposes] brimming with jargon. Constructing values out of nothing does not work better
than having students try to reinvent calculus from nothing. In the end, little gets
constructed with constructivism, other than mistaken beliefs.
The author rightly points out a difference exists between internalizing values and
constructing your values. But a difference also exists between constructing
values and constructing good values.
Kohn constantly invokes the buzzword
reflection. Much more to reasoning exists than reflection. When
I was younger, and someone said, let us reflect, that meant it was time to start
fantasizing about the girl 20 feet away. Reflection has little in
common with hard thinking.
Many contenders dot the discipline field, including:
cultural environments and changing beliefs
love or respect of leader or both
charisma and persuasive powers of leaders
ratio of enjoyable to unenjoyable interactions--absence
contempt, hostility, sarcasm
internalization of values
social skills training
emphasis on finding and developing the highest quality
appearance of shared power or actual shared power
quality standards and quality enforcement
influence via reasoning
predictable, proportional punishment
How much influence should each of these and others have? I have little idea.
What I perhaps know is that when you tell a
young child to do something, she should have two options:
Reason about it in a civilized tone.
166pp. (H) 1996
—Book review articles by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 11, 2009