A Worked Example (RTP)

[From Bill Powers (980425.0437 MDT)]

Bruce Gregory (980424.1707 EDT)--

Children are hierarchical control systems. So are teachers. Sometimes the
former interfere with the efforts of the latter to exercise control. Since
hierarchical control systems resist interference with the efforts to
control, "disruptive" students pose a problem for teachers. The RTP process
is based on the assumption that remaining with their friends is a system
level controlled perception for most students. A disruptive student is
threatened with a major disturbance of this perception (being removed to the
room where he or she must work out a plan to re-enter the classroom). If the
unwanted behavior persists, this disturbance is applied. In order to regain
the control of the "with my buddies" perceptual variable, the system must
adjust the reference levels of lower level control systems. If it fails to
successfully make these adjustments, the student experiences continuing
large error signals and eventually is expelled. This process, unlike the one
I described in an earlier post, is humanistic.

All corrections appreciated.

This is what one would deduce from Ed Ford's description of the process
(all but the "humanistic" part). However, as it actually plays out, there
are some significant differences. One is that the personal interactions
between teachers and students are specifically constrained, as part of the
RTP program, to be neutral or friendly, not punitive or revengeful. Even
though the process is described as a punishment (taking away the privilege
of being with one's friends), the children evidently do not experience it
as punitive. On parent nights many of them take their parents to meet the
teacher in the special classroom, and on occasion students will request a
transfer to the special classroom in order to cool off and avoid creating a

In fact, nobody knows what role the desire to "be with my friends" plays in
this process. I suspect that it's fairly minor.

The handicap under which RTP operates is that it's embedded in a coercive
system that can't be changed without abolishing the whole school concept.
The student who is determined to disrupt is in fact punished upon being
handed over to the juvenile "justice" system, which does not use RTP. The
system is basically coercive once the student fails to take advantage of
the special classroom as expected, and it's coercive in that the student is
simply not allowed the choice of staying in the classroom AND disrupting
it. The adults are physically in charge, and the cops are called if there
is any effective resistance to this state of affairs.

In my view, what is most effective about RTP is that the teachers are
taught that the students are autonomous control systems and basically can't
be controlled by peaceable means -- so the teachers don't have to try. The
teachers are taught not to lose their cool, and to treat the students (even
offenders) with respect. What choices are actually possible for the student
to make are treated as real choices; if the student doesn't want to make a
plan for re-entering the classroom, for example, that's OK.

The main thing that changes as a result of RTP, I believe, is the way
teachers treat the students. Classroom conflicts are de-escalated, and
there is less for the children to fight back about. The level of tension
seems to decrease markedly. Since the most dramatic initial change induced
by RTP is in the teachers' behavior, I think we can conclude that by and
large, there's not much wrong with the kids except ignorance of practical
social behavior. RTP is really an adult therapy program, although you'd
can't sell it by calling it that.


Bill P.

[From Bruce Gregory (980425.0814 EDT)]

Bill Powers (980425.0437 MDT)]

This is what one would deduce from Ed Ford's description of the process
(all but the "humanistic" part). However, as it actually plays out, there
are some significant differences.

A very clear statement. Thanks.

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