Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Indoctrination is a counterproductive way to address bullying

The Iowa City Patch has invited its readers to discuss the issue of bullying with a group of panelists. I’ve been chiming in with comments that will sound familiar to readers of this blog – for example:
In addressing the bullying issue, people should be mindful of the difference between persuasion and indoctrination. Trying to use reason to persuade people to a set of values is a respectful way of engaging with people. Indoctrination – telling people what to think – is not. Indoctrination is a form of dehumanization, just like bullying, and is part of the problem, not the solution.

Right now, the approach of the Iowa City schools is indoctrination. The behavioral rewards program used in all the schools (“PBIS”) is entirely about telling the students how to act, and then using material rewards to get them to comply. It has no component designed to get the kids thinking for themselves about right and wrong and how to treat other people. In the end, all it teaches is obedience to authority.

I’m not saying the schools shouldn’t have rules. But simply dictating rules does nothing to help kids develop their own moral and ethical reasoning about how to treat other people. Without more, it just models treating people like objects to be bossed around and manipulated.

If we want kids to treat each other with dignity, we need to treat them with dignity, and engage them in reasoning about what’s right and wrong – not just tell them what to think.
So far, the panelists have had little to say in response to my comments, but the thread is still developing . . .

Update here.


LAB said...

Have your schools bought into the "Bucket Fillers" program yet? It uses horrible clip art and creepy posters ("Fill a's good for you!") to teach kids to worry about everybody's feelings while protecting their own feelings by putting a "lid" on their own "bucket." ?! This would be funny if it wasn't so real. "Bucket Fillers" makes a lovely addition to PBIS and other behavior modification programs, because it gets deep inside the child's head, targeting his/her emotions and level of happiness and using these as a path to appropriate behavior.

Where's Rod Serling when I need him?

Margaret C said...

In response to LAB's comment;

The filling a bucket idea sounds good but I don't think it would be in practice, for two reasons.

1. thinking of the normal, courteous things kids are capable of doing to each other as bucket-filling events makes them completely different. Kindness isn't a habit anymore, it's rare and special.

2. The "using your lid" was well meant, but the difference between what's said and what's heard is awful. "The “lid” represents a mental shield against anything that would dip into your bucket. When you consciously train yourself to stop and think through a situation as soon as you feel [negative emotions]"

They're trying to say recognize and deal with your feelings but I (and LAB too, I think) hear "prevent yourself from feeling anything. Denial is NOT a good coping strategy. When someone dips into your bucket, talk to someone else and let them fill it again. Better?

Chris said...

LAB and Margaret – Thanks for the comments. I hadn’t heard of the Bucket-filling program, but found it here. At first, I thought: I’ve seen worse. But the more I browsed, the more infantilizing the program seemed. There’s the “I’m a Bucket Filler” song (with sheet music), the “Bucket Fillers Pledge” and the “school bucketfilling chant” (“Kindness counts and bucket filling’s cool, that’s what we expect at _____ School”), the “I’m a Bucket Filler Lap and Hand Clap Chant,” “Fill a Bucket T-shirts” and “I’M A BUCKET FILLER” pencils and wristbands, and so on, ad nauseum.

Its FAQ explains that “Every character trait (kindness, respect, responsibility, trust, fairness, and citizenship) becomes more tangible when the action is described as filling a bucket.” Hmm, I have my doubts. I don’t think kids have too hard a time understanding concepts like kindness, and if they have a harder time with “respect” and “citizenship,” it’s largely because the schools have twisted the meaning of the words so much. I wish they would give the kids a little more credit, and not equate character development with chanting in unison at pep rallies.

LAB said...

@ Margarget One of the many things I dislike about the Bucket Fillers program is the idea of the "lid." I mean, what if my bucket is full and another kid has nothing in his? Shouldn't I let him have some of what I've collected? Should I guard all my positive goodies with my life (and my lid)? I find that image particularly offensive, encouraging kids to greedily guard their good feelings by locking them in a bucket with a tight-fitting lid. If your bucket is overflowing, Bucket Fillers allows that, sure, the goodness naturally flows onto others. But unless you have that overflowing extra ton of "happiness," DO NOT allow others to "dip."

The idea that others can take everything you are if you're not on guard every minute is disturbing to say the least. Bucket Fillers is cutesy and infantilizing, but when you scratch the surface you find it's another prison-style approach. Watch your back, kids. You're surrounded by the enemy.

@ Chris One of the other things I dislike about Bucket Fillers is the marketing bit. Schools choosing to spent limited funds on plastic water bottles, pencils, mouse pads, etc., that say "I AM A BUCKET FILLER" is embarrassing and shows a real lack of creativity and vision. School administrators need to buy programs like Bucket Fillers in order to lead children? What kind of people are we hiring to run our schools? Do they not have minds of their own? Ideas of their own? We all make fun of this kind of thing in the workplace--those lame motivational posters to encourage teamwork and discourage absenteeism--and now we turn around to find our public schools have become one more Walmart break room.

FedUpMom said...

My problem with "Bucket Fillers" is more basic. Around our house, the most common use for a bucket is when one of the kids complains of an upset stomach. "Your stomach hurts? Where's the bucket?" In that context, being a bucket filler is not so desirable. I can't get that image out of my head ...

Anonymous said...

A toilet would be an easier cleanup.

Chris said...

FedUpMom and Anonymous -- LOL. I might be filling a few buckets myself if I read about any more of these behavior management programs.