I was reading the paper this morning, and I came across a story about a school in Kingston, Ontario that implemented a reward system for good behaviour. In this system, students wear an ID card around their neck, with a punch card tucked in behind. Every time the student goes something ‘good’, they get a hole punched in their card. They need a certain number of holes to participate in special events.
Some parents are boycotting the system, and as a result their children are not being permitted to particpate in the Halloween party. Not because they’re badly behaved, but because they don’t have the punch cards and therefore don’t have the requisite number of holes. The parents are angry because they say this amounts to a punishment for their kids. The principal says if they don’t participate, they can’t expect the benefits that would come with participation.
Speaking purely for myself, the very idea of this sort of reward system is horrifying. The principal argues that by implementing the reward system now, later the children will learn that good behaviour is its own reward. And how will that happen? How does receiving a hole in a card for lining up quietly create an incentive to line up quietly once the reward is gone? Isn’t it possible that it will lead to the children expecting some sort of prize for every little thing they do?
I am a big fan of Barbara Coloroso and Alfie Kohn, parenting experts and educators who argue against rewards and punishments for children. The lack of praise was a big sticking point for me at first, since our culture is so geared in this direction. Spend five minutes at a playground and count how many times you hear ‘good job’ or its equivalent. But my perspective changed when I did a little bit of reading and soul-searching.
The problem with artificial systems like punch cards, sticker charts, or time outs is that kids aren’t learning why they should behave in a certain way. They don’t come to understand the impact their actions have on others. They’re not learning to think critically. Instead they’re learning to avoid getting caught when they’re ‘bad’. To seek rewards and praise. And to please others first.
These are not messages I want to give to my children. And so far, I’ve found that you really can parent without using time outs, sticker charts, and lots of empty praise. It’s a big departure, but it’s completely freeing as a parent. Your kids will not be hooligans who walk all over you because you treat them with respect and dignity. Really.
So, yes, I entirely disagree with the school. Having said that, though, I sort of wonder if the parents are taking the best route. I think that if Hannah’s school implemented something like this I would voice my protest, but I wouldn’t necessarily boycott if it meant my kid missed out on all the fun. The boys in the article are in grade 5, so they may be able to understand the situation. I know that for my little one, it would seem completely unfair and incomprehensible to miss a party because of her mom.
In the end I just really hope that I don’t encounter this sort of thing in my kids’ schools. I think these sorts of situations are exactly what leads so many parents to choose home-schooling.