Apr 15, 2015

Wed Review (Alfie Kohn - Beyond Discipline)

An interesting subject and premise, but I don't think the content justified the length. It's not a long book; it just doesn't have much content. It's a very negative book in that it criticizes at length forms of discipline in the classroom but it doesn't offer much to replace those forms.

Punishment (and reward, which has the same outcome as punishment) allows teachers to gain temporary compliance. It has bad psychological effects on the children. Children grown up can feel these effects, like me who, for the most part, went through the whole punishment/reward system, when they are adults. The book doesn't dwell on the future effects, however. The punishment system also doesn't teach the students anything about why they should behave. It simply gives them an incentive to.

The punishment system also presupposes that what the teachers are having the students do is correct. For example, punishing a kid for not being able to sit still suggests that the kid should sit still. It is likely that this is a ridiculous request - kids are meant to move around. To extent this principle; perhaps it is the curriculum itself that is causing the 'ill' behaviour - kids tend to lose interest if a subject is too easy, too hard, or too repetitive.

Kohn wants teachers to consider what the goal of education is. It is not to 'get students to memorize the names of the founding fathers'. But it is more likely to get students to be independent thinkers, lovers of knowledge and thought, etc.

I already agreed with Kohn going into this book, so perhaps that is why I found it a bit boring - it was trying to convince me of things I am already into. It's almost foreign to me that people would endorse the disciplinary systems Kohn criticizes (can't educators recall their own childhoods?).

The book reads like a dumbed-down version of some of John Dewey's educational works. It's shocking to me that this book is considered a "modern classic" (that label may just be the book publisher being a bit too emphatic) as it really has no new information, it rehashes, simplifies, and puts into digestible form, information that has been in print for at least a hundred years (probably more, as I may discover if I read more on education and children; I mention Dewey because he's what I've read, and he's quite popular).

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