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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:

·        physical environments

·        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 of poison,

·        contempt, hostility, sarcasm

·        internalization of values

·        social skills training

·        emphasis on finding and developing the highest quality leaders

·        team spirit

·        appearance of shared power or actual shared power

·        quality standards and quality enforcement

·        influence via reasoning

·        predictable, proportional punishment

·        unfreakableness

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:

·        Do it.

·        Reason about it in a civilized tone.


Worth browsing.

166pp.  (H)  1996       


Book review articles by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 11, 2009


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