Ed's program

[From Bill Powers (950826.1115 MDT)]

Ed Ford (950825.daytime) --

It's funny, Ed, but when you get challenged and a little pissed off at
your critics, you become really eloquent and start making a lot of
sense. Maybe just before you start working on a chapter for a book, you
should have an argument with Rick, me, Mary, or anyone handy and get
revved up to really lay it all out.

In your latest post, you said some things about rules that really ought
to get into your books. Remember I said that it was more important to
teach _about_ rules than to teach any particular rules. You said

     I'm teaching students by asking them if they want to deal with a
     disturbance caused by ignoring a secondary goal or do they want to
     achieve their primary by dealing first in a way that respects the
     secondary goal. Frankly, I see rules as warning signs that
     disturbances are ahead.

That is what I call teaching _about_ rules. You're explaining that
ignoring rules is simply going to result in not being able to achieve
other goals that the child has. You're really talking about a principle
here, because you're not mentioning any specific rules or any specific
infraction of them. You're saying to the child, "Look, let's forget
about whatever you did or didn't do, or which rule in particular you
broke. When you go against the rules that we have at this school, you're
going to make it harder for other people to get what they want. The only
important rules we have are about letting everyone get what they want,
students and teachers. When you break rules like that, isn't it just
going to make it harder for you to get what you want?" I agree that the
best place to do this is in the Social Skills Room, out of the classroom
and the immediate crisis.


In _Discipline_, Chapter 4, you say

     Any kind of disruption that acts as a disturbance to others who are
     trying to reach their own goals constitutes a violation of the
     rights of others.

While "violation of rights" has a strong emotional appeal, it would be
less arguable if you substituted a simple statement of fact:

     Any kind of disruption that disturbs others who are trying to reach
     their own goals is going to arouse opposition from them -- they are
     going react strongly against the disturbance.

What's wrong with talking about violation of rights? Simply that people
don't agree on what a "right" is. The teacher can say "You're violating
my right to teach and the other students' right to learn." And the
violator can reply "Well, you're violating my Constitutional right to
free speech." All this does is lead to extended arguments.

If you just state the facts, however, it's hard to argue with them.
People will and do react against disturbances. That's just a fact of
life that nobody can argue with, while anybody can argue about "rights."
Someone who disrupts a class can expect strong opposition to the
disruption. In fact, the disruptor will be given only two choices: cool
it, or go discuss the problem with someone else outside the classroom.

This is obviously going to be frustrating to the disruptor, because the
disruption was meant to accomplish something more immediately important
than obeying the rules of conduct. The job of the Social Skills advisor
is to find out what that more important goal was, get the child to think
about whether the behavior in the classroom worked toward achieving that
goal, and work with the child to create a plan to achieve the same goal
(as much as possible) without violating a rule and experiencing all that
opposition. I think this is basically how your program works. It is a
teaching program all the way through, with no reference to rewards and
punishments. And it teaches nothing that any person can't accept as
At the beginning of Chapter 4, you say this:

     In general, children are given progressively more freedom according
     to their ability to handle the privileges that they enjoy.

In order to give more freedom and privileges, you must first have the
power and the will to take them away. This is the basis of reward and
punishment. Taking them away because of wrong behavior is a punishment,
giving them back on condition of right behavior is a reward. If you want
to follow a PCT approach, you need to get rid of this whole concept.

We don't need to get rid of the idea of consequences or the idea that
children need to understand that their behavior with respect to other
people has consequences, some of which may be unpleasant. What we need
to avoid is setting up artificial consequences that exist ONLY to
control behavior. If a child stays out past the deadline, a natural
consequence is worried and angry parents. But for the parents to say
"You're going to wash the dishes every day until you agree to come in on
time" is to introduce an irrelevant consequence for the sole purpose of
controlling behavior. Doing dishes is not a natural consequence related
to staying out late: it's just a punishment (provided the kid doesn't
enjoy washing dishes).

The main result of using unnatural and unrelated consequences to control
behavior is that children will stop letting you know what they value and
enjoy. It's inevitable: if you know what they value and enjoy, you will
use that knowledge to control their behavior by taking away what they
value and forbidding what they enjoy -- and then giving these things
back only if they behave right. When kids stop telling you about what
they value and enjoy, it's because they don't trust what you are going
to do with that knowledge.

What we need to teach is that there are real consequences of behavior,
and that when the consequences are not what you, the behaver, want, you
can figure out a different behavior that will create more desirable
consequences. When the bad consequence is due to another person's
interactions with you, you simply have to work out the problem until
both people are satisfied, or as satisfied as they are going to get.

It seems to me that your basic program accomplishes these things without
any need to appeal to taking freedom and privileges away and then giving
them back. If a child disrupts a class, the teacher and other students
are disturbed and at least one of them is going to push back. If nobody
pushes back, there was no disturbance. The consequence is simply that
the disturbance will not be allowed to go on. The child has a simple
choice: stop disturbing, or go somewhere else and work out some other
way to get whatever it is that you want. When you've worked it out you
can come back. The consequence is directly related to the act; it does
not employ anything else as a weapon against the child. The child is
sent away, but has control over coming back. The child does not have to
write sentences on the blackboard or stay after school or suffer
humiliating criticism in front of the class or be sent to the
principal's office to be threatened with having unrelated privileges
taken away. There may be a temporary separation from companions, but it
is strictly temporary and is not the point.

I should point out that your program also addresses at least some of the
reasons for which children may act disruptively. Near the end of Chapter
4 you list a number of ways in which children may cause disruptions, and

     -- namely, when children try to attract attention and distract
     other children ...

If a child wants attention, I have long felt, the thing to do is to give
the child attention. It is probably wanted for some reason. Your program
does this, immediately and without question. Moreover, the attention is
relevant; that is, the child is sent to a place where an adult will pay
as much attention as the child wants, and will talk about what the child
wants to talk about. And then the child gets to talk to the teacher,
when the plan is worked out. All in all, it seems quite likely that
whatever frustrated goals the child was trying to achieve by the
disruption will be seriously addressed and some kind of solution will be
worked out with respect for the child's autonomy. At least this outcome
is far more likely in this setting than in most others.

The main reason that children will stop misbehaving is that the goals
they were trying, inexpertly, to achieve have come much closer to being
satisfied. Misbehavior is not driven by wickedness or willful defiance,
but by internal error signals. When those error signals are corrected,
there will be nothing left to sustain the unwanted behavior. If your
program works, and it obviously does, it works because you are managing
somehow to correct the error signals that lead children to be violent,
disruptive, and otherwise socially inept.

Bill P.