Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What is PBIS teaching our kids about moral reasoning?

From Engaging Troubling Students: A Constructivist Approach, by Scot Danforth and Terry Jo Smith (emphasis mine):
An important question for educators to ask involves the distinction between “shaping” students’ behaviors and promoting their moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg (1967, 1984), a developmental psychologist, developed a hierarchical schema of moral development through which he believes children evolve. . . .

Thomas (1992) explains that in the first stage of the Preconventional [or Premoral] Level, referred to as the Obedience and Punishment Orientation, a child judges whether an action is good or bad based on whether it results in a punishment. Doing the “right thing” is equated with avoiding punishment. This judgment does not involve the human meaning of the act, just its consequences. The second stage of the Preconventional Level is referred to as the naive instrumental level. This stage involves actions based on what “pays off” for the child, not on a sense of justice or loyalty. . . .

The second level of moral development in Kohlberg’s schema is the Conventional Level and involves conformity to the expectations of the family, group, or nation. The third level is the Postconventional Level, in which moral behavior is first defined in terms of individual rights but advances toward universal principles of justice.

Behavior modification is the systematic enactment of the Premoral Level of development. This is particularly problematic in light of Kohlberg’s beliefs about how moral development is fostered. . . . Kohlberg theorized that the environmental aspects affecting children’s moral development are “(1) the child’s opportunities to learn social roles and (2) the form of justice in the social institutions with which the child is familiar” (Thomas, 1992, p. 503).

The behavior modification systems commonly used in schools, according to Kohlberg’s schemas, do not involve moral reasoning at all. Drummed into students’ heads all day is the morally bankrupt message of “behave and you’ll be rewarded.” If the form of justice in social institutions affects moral development, as Kohlberg has suggested, then classrooms provide promising opportunities to promote moral development. In particular, a classroom culture that is based on the concept of a community has the potential to promote moral development that involves rights and responsibilities, as well as relationships between the individual and the group. We are deeply concerned by the long-term impact of classrooms that operate on premoral principles.
I don’t know if I buy completely into Kohlberg’s theory. But “premoral” sounds like just the right word for PBIS. Why are our schools modeling and encouraging this “morally bankrupt” way of thinking?


FedUpMom said...

The common thread is that schools try to artificially motivate instead of working from natural inclinations.

That is, instead of working from a child's natural curiosity and desire to learn, they tell them that their lives will be ruined if they don't get good grades.

Instead of working from a child's natural desire to be liked and get along with others, they try to motivate good behavior with little trinkets and praise.

In the long run, they alienate the children from their own inclinations, so they don't have any natural curiosity, or natural desire to get along with others, left.

Mandy said...

That's why there are all those businesses that have popped up to cater to "corporate team building" and they spend the weekend having an "Outward Bound" experience.

Doris said...

For the past few weeks, I've been reading Huckleberry Finn with our kids. It took a long time to read the novel because we ended up stopping so frequently to talk about the ethical and moral issues at stake--especially Huck's perception that he is doing something "wrong" in helping Jim flee because he is going against the pro-slavery sentiments of the larger community.

How does one go about reading a book like Huck Finn in a PBIS-driven world? Talk about cognitive dissonance. You can't very well spend year after year marching students through Expectation Stations and then turn around and celebrate the climactic moment when Huck decides to follow his conscience by not betraying Jim--"All right, then, I'll go to hell."

It wouldn't suprise me if in the next round of the Huck Finn censorship wars, the ending gets changed so that Huck makes the good choice to go and live with Aunt Sally (and get sivilized) instead of the bad choice of lighting out for the Territory.

Chris said...

FedUpMom -- This week one of the teachers told her class that “Hoover kids’ behavior is worse than it’s ever been” . . . and this is after two full years of PBIS!

Mandy -- Yeah, it’s hard not to be reminded of the fads in the “science of management” -- TQM, anyone?

Doris -- Huck Finn clearly didn’t have a proper sense for doing what was “appropriate,” “acceptable,” or “expected.” If only Aunt Sally had had modern science at her disposal!

Seriously, your comment is great, and deserves a post of its own . . .