Friday, August 17, 2012

On being 'good'

We often wish that our children would just 'be good'. And in the classroom context our children will often find themselves subject to disciplinary regimes whose goal is to produce desirable or 'good' behaviour, schemes where being 'good' is interchangeable with being obedient and compliant.

But do we really want to raise children to be 'good'? Is this compatible with raising engaged learners, critical thinkers, active citizens in a democratic state?

Last year all the teachers in my daughter's grade used a 'carrot and stick' system to reward and punish classroom behaviour. Once students acquired a certain number of tickets they could claim a small prize but if they broke a rule they lost tickets and their chance to collect a prize.

My daughter refused, point blank, to participate. In fact, she regularly tore up her tickets. She is in most respects a 'good' student, but in her own quiet and determined way she staged a one person rebellion. And while I would appreciate a little less rebellion on the home front I am proud of her resolve, her refusal to submit to a manipulative scheme that to her felt like an insult.

Today, Sister Megan Rice, an 82-year-old American nun with a long history of activism, is on trial (along with two male accomplices) for taking part in a break in at a top US nuclear weapons facility. She faces a possible 16-year prison term. And in Russia, Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years imprisonment for refusing to just shut up and submit to an unjust regime.

Brave, fierce and free in the truest sense of the word, these are women who I will hold up to my children - and especially my daughter - as role models. They show that to be truly good means being willing to question and actively defy authority when necessary, take risks, and even give up the privileges (small and large) that we benefit from when we meekly submit to the prevailing order.



10 comments:

  1. As the mother to a 'good' little girl, this post makes my heart sing. Such wonderful words Michelle.

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    1. Thanks so much Lisa. May your good girls rebel spirit flourish xx

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  2. I sat in amazement last night at Mr 9's Open House with the teacher of his fourth grade class and listened to her describe about 'money allocation' and cheques for students based around these concepts. He of course goes along with it all - thinking nothing of it, if it isn't getting in his way its no big deal to him. I am a little bit jealous reading about your 'good' girl and her stand, yay for her.

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    1. Sigh. I have seen these systems used in both Australia and the US. I hate the message it sends to kids, especially when it actually involves money!! So many levels of wrong IMO.
      So hard as a parent. We can't possibly fight everything or we'd never have time to tweet and blog ;-)

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  3. What am awesome little person you've raised there! X

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    1. She really is. Has always had incredibly strong sense of what she is about. And thank you x

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  4. You are my parenting guide, you know that, right? Your girl sounds exactly how I'd like my girls to be!

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    1. That makes me very nervous but is so lovely of you to say. And I really cannot take credit for my daughter's rebellion against oppressive school system (not to mention me).
      xx

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  5. I think I would have liked a girl like your daughter as a class mate. She sounds great.

    We had this in Year 5 (1995). The teacher had gone to Chinatown and got a lot of burnable gold and silver paper, which was distributed to class members according to 'goodness'.
    At the end of the year, we brought in old pieces of junk or toys we didn't want any more and held an auction using the gold and silver paper as currency.

    But as it happened, the auction was mostly crap and at the end of the day, we all felt rather cheated, having by this stage invested quite heavily in the scheme. Our teacher was, in retrospect, completely insane and quite abusive at times, so we'd put up with a lot to reach this point.

    By replacing altruism and a sense of fairness with cynical competition, the teacher was more interested in controlling the class than inculcating any sense of virtue. In fact, this ends justifies the means approach had some further unintended consequences in that as the spirit of the competition took hold, we started to view the good deeds of our classmates with suspicion. Were people being altruistic or were they being good to pull ahead of the pack? There were only so many pieces of paper to go around.

    Yes, this helped us associate long-term perseverance and inconvenience with the promise of some kind of non-specific gain down the track, but as this was a Catholic school, that was a fairly common message that didn't need reiterating, especially as in this case, what we gained as a feeling that we'd been tricked by a system skewed towards someone else's benefit.

    Most people learn that one when they're older!

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    1. I went to Catholic school too but I never saw these types of really explicit schemes in action until my kids started in public schools. The messages are so dreadful, even when the teacher is otherwise lovely (unlike yours). Sadly it feels to me like these approaches are just implemented without any thought as to the actual message that is being sent to the kids. Your analysis of what it did to the classroom dynamics is so spot on, particularly the destruction of what should be a cooperative learning community.
      Michelle

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