Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

“Classroom management” used to be called “discipline” — but discipline has become problematic:

One way to think about classroom management (and discipline in general) is that some tactics are external and others are internal. External tactics work by inflicting an embarrassing or unpleasant experience on the kid. The classic example is a teacher shaming a child by making him write “I will not …” whatever on the blackboard 100 times. My own second-grade teacher threw a rubber chicken at a boy who refused to shut up during silent reading. But such means have become “well, problematic,” says Jonathan Zimmerman, director of the History of Education Program at New York University. In 1975, in Goss v. Lopez, the Supreme Court found schoolchildren to have due process rights. “As a result, students can say to teachers with some authority, ‘If you do that, my mom is going to sue you.’ And that changes the score.”

In Goss’s wake, many educators moved toward what progressive education commentator Alfie Kohn calls the New Disciplines. The philosophy promotes strategies like “shared decision-making,” allowing children to decide between, say, following the teacher’s rules and staying after school for detention. This sounds great to the contemporary ear. The child is less passive and prone to be a victim, more autonomous and in control of his life. But critics of the technique are harsh. It’s “fundamentally dishonest, not to mention manipulative,” Kohn has written. “To the injury of punishment is added the insult of a kind of mind game whereby reality is redefined and children are told, in effect, that they wanted something bad to happen to them.”

A different, utopian approach to classroom management works from the premise that children are natively good and reasonable. If one is misbehaving, he’s trying to tell you that something is wrong. Maybe the curriculum is too easy, too hard, too monotonous. Maybe the child feels disregarded, threatened, or set up to fail. It’s a pretty thought, order through authentic, handcrafted curricula. But it’s nearly impossible to execute in the schools created through the combination of No Child Left Behind and recessionary budget-slashing. And that makes internal discipline very convenient right now.

To train this vital new task, schools have added to reading,’riting, and ’rithmetic a fourth R, for self-regulation. The curricular branch that has emerged to teach it is called social and emotional learning, or SEL.

Apparently there’s no evidence that emotional intelligence matters:

In 2007, Greg Duncan, a professor of education at the University of California at Irvine, did an analysis of the effects of social and emotional problems on a sample of 25,000 elementary school students. He found, he says, “Emotional intelligence in kindergarten was completely unpredictive.” Children who started school socially and emotionally unruly did just as well academically as their more contained peers from first through eighth grades. David Grissmer, at the University of Virginia, reran Duncan’s analysis repeatedly, hoping to prove him wrong. Instead, he confirmed that Duncan was right. A paper from Florida International University also found minimal correlation between emotional intelligence and college students’ GPAs.

Teaching kids to suppress their feelings may have unintended consequences:

The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking judge originality, emotional expressiveness, humor, intellectual vitality, open-mindedness, and ability to synthesize and elaborate on ideas. Since 1984, the scores of America’s schoolchildren have dropped by more than one standard deviation; that is to say, 85 percent of kids scored lower in 2008 than their counterparts did in 1984. Not coincidentally, that decrease happened as schools were becoming obsessed with self-regulation.

As Stanford Professor James Gross, author of Handbook of Emotional Regulation, explains, suppression of feelings is a common regulatory tactic. It’s mentally draining. Deliberate acts of regulation also become automatic over time, meaning this habit is likely to interfere with inspiration, which happens when the mind is loose and emotions are running high. Even Tough acknowledges in a short passage in How Children Succeed that overly controlled people have a hard time making decisions: They’re often “compulsive, anxious, and repressed.”

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