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Re: school discipline policy based on merit/demeritsystem--anyoneheard of this?

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From: Susan L. Sanders (slsandrs_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Mon Jun 10 2002 - 08:10:00 PDT


I am not sure how well a point system of rewards for behavior would work
in an educational institution. Years ago, my husband and I were hired
as live-in group home parents for disturbed (emotionally or mentally)
teen age 13-18 boys. This was a 24 hour a day, 10 days on and four days
off job. At the end of each week, we would sit down with each boy and
tally their points. Then from a list of rewards they were able to spend
the points they had earned. This included free time, time outside the
house, permission to go to the movies or be with friends...whatever was
important to them...even earn an allowance if that was part of the way
they chose to spend their points. We did this for ten months, and
basically were available to them 24/10. At the end of 10 months we were
both physically exhausted (our mornings began at 5 am and ran sometimes
until as late as 2 or 3 am if there had been a serious offense or
problem that had to be dealt with. The four days off every ten days was
barely enough to overcome the physical exhaustion we would feel at the
end of each ten days. Between the paperwork, keeping up with the boy's
tallies, and their accurate use of the point system, I don't believe we
saw one child whose behavior improved. My husband was an excellent
social worker and therapist ( he had had a small private practice before
we met). I had come from a banking background, but was very familiar
with behavior modification techniques through my own individual
studies. We were both college graduates and at least 15 years older
than the boys we had in our care.

Adjacent to our home was a home for younger boys, also manned by a very
responsible and loving couple. Sometimes we would have brothers, with
one living in one group home, and one in the other. In the length of
time we stayed, we had our car stolen by one of the residents, an
incident with a stolen gun, an outright rebellion that began in the
younger home and carried over to ours. The boys living in the younger
home cut the phone lines, and trashed the house, put sugar in the gas
tanks of all the vehicles, and finally some were taken away by the
police. Issues of racism would often erupt and the lack of training and
tolerance these children had had as youngsters would should itself in
full force. My husband was threatened by a boy, who had no conscience,
with a tire iron. We had clothes stolen, jewelry stolen, and other
things as well.

Although we tried very hard to provide a stable, warm family-like
atmosphere, we found it, for the most part to be in vain. We tried to
encourage music lessons if they were interested, or sports if that was
their thing. I have seen us place a new boy in a new school, and within
the week, he would have connected with those students who were involved
in the basic kinds of things that had brought him to the group home
immediately. The only one thing that we were able to do while in the
employ of this private children's agency was to share Christ with each
boy who came through...no, we didn't wham them over the head with the
Bible, or preach hell and damnation to them....we waited for God to
supply opportunities that were timely and relevant to share with each
child. A couple of those boys still keep in touch with us. Some have
died through their own neglect and continued participation in drugs,
alcohol and such. Some, who had been wards of the state from almost the
beginning of their lives, died on the streets. We have tried to
maintain contact with all of them. We had two who came and lived with
us after their 18th birthdays because they had no where else to go. We
have kept their children and acted as grandparents to some of their
boys. One was killed in a car wreck about a week after we left the
group home (the funeral home tried to bury him in a suit that the boy
had stolen from my husband). Several have died on the streets, homeless
and alcoholics. Two or three spent some parts of their later years in
prison, and then straightening up, marrying and having families of their
own, trying to do the right thing by their own children. Others have
continued the pattern that was begun in their lives by their parents,
and continued it into the lives of their own children.

As the mother of two children who teach, one in public elementary and
one in private high school, and as the sister to my own sister who is a
librarian in public middle school school, and as a teacher in my own
right in an intro level of college art appreciation course, and the wife
to my husband who now teaches middle school in a small private Catholic
school, I cannot imagine trying to institute a point system with the 200
plus students they see daily. In my own class I saw adult students
trying to pull the same things that they pulled as children....I didn't
do my homework...I didn't have time...etc. etc. I found being hard,
being fairly rigid, but being compassionate about the things adult
students must deal with...like job demands, sick children, pregnant
wives...and offering some opportunities for extra credit work to help
overcome losses encountered by the trials of being adult students and
keeping in mind my goal, which was to introduce them to the world of
art....worked pretty well. Sure I made some mistakes....and hopefully
have learned from them..I know now where to be harder and where to
lighten up....

My feeling is that if students are challenged by interesting material
and in interesting ways, that if we as teachers are constantly working
to improve our skills as teachers, and looking for challenging ways to
bring the material they must learn to them, there will be little time
for behavior problems. When students learn that you simply don't
tolerate misbehavior, and that you do require them to do their
work....the lines are simpler and far more easily ;understood.

Susan Sanders, Curator
University of Memphis
Visual Resources
slsandrs@memphis.edyu

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