"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Your Rod and Your Staff Will Comfort Me"

Michael Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, once wrote in the New York Times, "Like many biblical literalists, lots of black believers are fond of quoting Scriptures to justify corporal punishment, particularly the verse in Proverbs 13:24 that says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” But in Hebrew, the word translated as “rod” is the same word used in Psalms 23:4, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The shepherd’s rod was used to guide the sheep, not to beat them."

Dyson continues by returning to the origins of the word discipline and punishment, "The word “discipline” comes from the Latin “discipuli,” which means student or disciple, suggesting a teacher-pupil relationship. Punishment comes from the Greek word “poine” and its Latin derivative “poena,” which mean revenge, and form the root words of pain, penalty and penitentiary."

There are likewise two terms that may sound similar but are actually dramatically different, authoritative and authoritarian. According to Baumrind (Adolescence, Vol 3(11), 1968, 255-272), parenting is authoritarian when the emphasis is on demands or rules and there is a general lack of support. This basically echoes the apparent misinterpretation of the biblical verses cited above by Dyson. There is another parenting style which can be called permissive, which paints the other possible side, being supportive but lacking in rules. Of course, parents can also lack both, rules and support, which can be appropriately called neglectful. The last style, authoritative, takes Psalms 23:4, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” into heart. This is structure and support blended into one.

The problem mentioned in the previous post of this blog, Youth Maltreatment and Juvenile Deliquency, according to recent posts on Facebook, is only getting worse. It is saddening that the initial reaction to the problem from comments on the post are punitive in nature. Juvenile delinquency is viewed primarily as a domestic responsibility and not of the entire community. No parent raises a child to be a criminal and there is ample research that could help identify factors that lead to youth violence and crime. Next to the home, the school is the second institution that influences the growth and development of a child. Obviously, similar to parenting, there are likewise authoritative, permissive, neglectful and authoritarian schools. One recent study pays great attention to the difference between authoritative and authoritarian. The study, scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, uses the following criteria to determine if a school is authoritative:
Disciplinary structure 
1. The punishment for breaking school rules is the same for all students. 
2. Students at this school only get punished when they deserve it. 
3. Students are treated fairly regardless of their race or ethnicity. 
4. Students get suspended without good reason (this would be deemed authoritarian). 
5. The adults at this school are too strict (this would be deemed authoritarian). 
6. The school rules are fair. 
7. When students are accused of doing something wrong, they get a chance to explain it. 
Student support 
1. Most teachers and other adults at this school care about all students. 
2. Most teachers and other adults at this school want all students to do well. 
3. Most teachers and other adults at this school listen to what students have to say. 
4. Most teachers and other adults at this school treat students with respect. 
5. There are adults at this school I could talk with if I had a personal problem. 
6. If I tell a teacher that someone is bullying me, the teacher will do something to help. 
7. I am comfortable asking my teachers for help with my schoolwork. 
8. There is at least one teacher or another adult at this school who really wants me to do well.
The above are copied from the Appendix of Peer Victimization and Authoritative School Climate: A Multilevel Approach. Cornell, Dewey; Shukla, Kathan; Konold, Timothy, Journal of Educational Psychology, Apr 27 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000038
Support has been treated separately, thus, one can in fact see how this factor by itself affects the prevalence of youth violence. An authoritative climate, first of all, is convincingly shown as able to reduce problematic behavior. In the following graph copied from the paper, it is seen that as the degree of authoritativeness increases, incidences of teasing and bullying inside the school are reduced.
Above copied from Peer Victimization and Authoritative School Climate: A Multilevel Approach. Cornell, Dewey; Shukla, Kathan; Konold, Timothy, Journal of Educational Psychology, Apr 27 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000038

What should be particularly enlightening is the greater effect of an authoritative school climate when this is combined with support.

Professor Dyson in the New York Times article was commenting on the indictment of a football player, Adrian Peterson (who later pleaded no contest to the charge), alleged to have beaten his four-year old child. Dyson closes his article with the following paragraphs:
Adrian Peterson’s brutal behavior toward his 4-year-old son is, in truth, the violent amplification of the belief of many blacks that beatings made them better people, a sad and bleak justification for the continuation of the practice in younger generations. After Mr. Peterson’s indictment, the comedian D. L. Hughley tweeted: “A fathers belt hurts a lot less then a cops bullet!”

He is right, of course, but only in a forensic, not a moral or psychological sense. What hurts far less than either is the loving correction of our children’s misbehavior so they become healthy adults who speak against violence wherever they find it — in the barrel of a policeman’s gun, the fist of a lover or the switch of a misguided parent.
Some parents may indeed fail to see what the rod should really be, but schools should be able to do better. Unlike parents, educators do undergo formal training in the job that they are supposed to do.

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