In psych class, we are currently learning about “learning.” In particular, I was reading tonight about reinforcement and punishment.
I was really surprised by how much of what I was learning directly refuted the way our school system operates in regards to discipline.
The short summary of my reading is that punishment only really works if it occurs right after the undesired behavior. If it is delayed, then there could be mixed associations about what behavior caused the punishment. For example, if a child cheats and then days later admits to cheating and gets punished for it, then the kid is being encouraged to not admit to cheating in the future and instead lie because their goal always is to avoid punishment. The kid is not actually taught how to improve by being punished, instead, they are taught what not to do, and therefore, are basically just being taught to learn how to not get caught.
I can’t think of many times in education where punishment is not delayed from the time of the undesired behavior; therefore, punishment almost always is not going to do the best job at teaching a child to change the behavior.
Instead, psychology would suggest reinforcing desired behavior oppose to using punishment techniques. This can be hard to do because punishment is a more natural response, which my family has experienced while trying to use this technique to train our puppy… However, despite the challenges, it seems odd to me that I don’t see more prototypes of this technique being experimented with in schools. I’ve heard of a few ideas, like yoga instead of detention, but on the whole, it seems that most schools tend to stick with traditional punishments like missing recess, suspension, detention, busy work, etc.
Furthermore, only slightly related, but very interesting to me, the textbook also discussed the ineffectiveness of physical punishment; spanking being the primary focus of the material.
We were provided with this visual of the locations where spanking has been made illegal in school and homes. What I found interesting is that if I was asked to name areas I consider to have better public school systems, there is a correlation to the extent which spanking is not tolerated. It was one of those things I read and thought, “Well I’m not surprised, but I can’t believe it!” The idea that in the US children can still be legally spanked in school just feels wrong… (Must be honest, I’ve not done further research on this fact and the study in our book was conducted 2015-16, so perhaps this is not up to date information, but still only two years ago feels crazy enough.)
We know so much about learning that it constantly baffles me when I discover more and more ways that our education system doesn’t incorporate concepts we know to be true.