You've Got Questions? I Have Answers

Education In America

Subscribe to Education In America: eMailAlertsEmail Alerts newslettersWeekly Newsletters
Get Education In America: homepageHomepage mobileMobile rssRSS facebookFacebook twitterTwitter linkedinLinkedIn


Education In America Authors: Darrah Deal, Student Lance, David Miller, David Miller, Chris Pentago

Related Topics: Education 2.0 Journal, Education In America, Education Innovation Journal

Article

Old Style Discipline and Authority Won’t Work In Today’s World

Collaborative decision-making can provide appropriate behavior

Today’s column begins with two letters I received from parents concerned with new disciplinary rules that have been enacted for the new school year that has already started in some parts of the country.

Dear Dr. Fournier:

My son is back in school but at registration, I was handed a copy of the new discipline policy.  On the first day of school, he and his classmates got an explanation of the policy and it has scared him to death. He cries, doesn’t want to go to school, and says he can’t do his work because he is afraid. He’s 9 years old and in the 4th grade. He has always been a happy child who loves to play and ask questions. I’m really worried. What should I do?

Debbie M.

Lexington, Ky.

School has started back and my son’s school has started a card system to try and better manage the behavioral problems the school had last year with kids. If a child misbehaves, the child’s card is pulled. This continues for three card-pulls then the child is punished. An act of misbehaving can be something as simple as not having a pencil out. As a result, my son now feels like he is in prison and is so afraid of doing something wrong, he doesn’t want to do anything. How can he learn when he is filled with fear?

Robert D.

Birmingham, Ala.

Dear Debbie and Robert:

Often I hear, “Remember the one-room schoolhouse?”  It was a time when teachers ruled with a hickory stick and the students all stayed in line.

This method may have worked well in the past but it will not prepare today’s students to be the collaborative decision-makers our country needs for the future and for the global world in which we live.

ASSESSMENT

Schools of a past era – the Industrial Era, specifically – prepared students for a rote workforce where the need was for manual laborers to tend positions on an assembly line doing the same job, day in and day out, for the same supervisor.

Schools mimicked the structure that students would experience in the real world, and teachers maintained authoritative control with a standard discipline policy.

The problem is that schools are still teaching this way, yet the work environment for which our children are being prepared is fast disappearing and in fact, barely exists in this country. As such, the rigid policies and disciplines of the Industrial Era that are still being used in today’s schools are not going to produce the workforce of the future.

However, it seems to be producing quite a few college graduates that are turning up on parents’ doorsteps, jobless and ready to move back home.

If you have not read Thomas Friedman’s books, you should. I recommend The World Is Flat 3.0, and Hot, Flat and Crowded.

His first book is about the connectivity of the world and technological advances that have made it possible to do business almost instantly around the world. In his second book, Friedman talks about the rise of the middle class in the BRIC countries  (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and how they are now consuming products like Americans have been for decades.

This can only mean one thing. Companies producing products and services for this new global consumer will likely require employees to be creative and collaborative to meet the needs of that new consumer. And since said companies probably have global offices, workers will be expected to be collaborative in a decision-making process that ensures appropriate social interaction among co-workers from various countries.

This is practically a mandate for changing how our classrooms are managed and how our children are being taught. If we want to prepare our children for the world Friedman describes, we should be teaching students in an entirely different way and as such, controlling the classroom in a different manner.

It is this one, of classroom control, which lies at the heart of your issues, Debbie and Robert.

Rather than viewing classroom behavior as a 30-to-l battle between students and teacher, schools need to mimic the emerging new world reality in which behavior is not mandated. Instead, behavior is the result of collaborative decision-making that ensures appropriate social interaction among students.

This rather radical change in the student-teacher relationship emphasizes the capacity to collaborate and to solve problems together, rather than the old structure of blind submission schools still rely on today.

Students and teachers must begin to work together to establish the rules and consequences for group behavior so that the responsibility for conduct is on everyone. In doing so, the learning environment is enhanced not diminished.

WHAT TO DO

Until schools change to meet the needs of today and the future, your children will need to deal with their fear of the system.

First, openly discuss with your children how schools responded to the needs of the past, teaching people how to obey, follow instructions, work independently and repeat what the teacher said.  Explain to your child it was not out of meanness but out of necessity that our schools created such systems and are unfortunately, stuck in this mode of thought today.

Explain to them that even though today’s schools cling to the policies of the past, they will have a wonderful opportunity in the future to work with other people and make decisions together, not just follow directions.

To cope with the present system, legitimize your children’s fears. Talk with them about the moments in the day that they fear most. List these explicitly, and then have them find a solution and carry through with that solution.

For example, Robert, if your son is afraid of getting his card pulled because he doesn’t have a pencil ready, he could carry a pencil case in the front pocket of his book bag or put a mechanical pencil in his shirt pocket. If he is afraid of getting out the wrong book when it’s time for math, he could put different colored stickers on the book covers of each book so he can recognize each subject by its color.

The process of problem solving is important. Help your children brainstorm, evaluate ideas, test them and change what doesn’t work. Help them to be in control rather than be controlled.

Until schools begin to transition into teaching based on collaborative decision-making, parents must take on the responsibility of building reasoned thinking and collaboration in their children as a response to rigidity.

More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.