Wednesday, September 9, 2009

try doing that with miracle-gro!

another plus for organic gardening.

i spread and watered 50 pounds of hort. molasses in the front yard and now it smells like ginger snaps.

Friday, September 4, 2009

more behaviourist creep-tasticness

while i was researching my last post i googled "token economy" and the first link after the wiki article was for the website i cant get there banner picture to show so you might as well click over so you have an idea what im talking about.

the egg family (kinda looks like a veggie-tale knock-off) and what is in their eyes. for the mother, it's a heart. the father, a star. the child, a dollar sign. the site is not very easy to navigate. it mostly regurgitates the same thing imploring the visitor to sign up for all the secrets.

but back to the egg family's focus. the heart - is the mother acting with love as her intention? or is she looking for "good behaviour" as a sign of love? how many times have you heard "if you really loved me, you'd do...?" is she only willing to love if the behaviour warrants it? the start - does the father see the child's potential, their inner strengths? or does the father see a "good" child as a "star" and the only way to be popular/successful is through "good" behaviour?

in kohn's other book unconditional parenting, he states the use of "time outs" (the short cut of "time out from positive reinforcement") is conditional parenting. the parents' love/time/attention is all based on child's behaviour and whether it is up to snuff. his major complaint about time outs are they often arent used in a constructive way to talk about actions or their repercussions. a child who hits another may need a break to cool down and to keep from further harming themselves or others. the parent may need a break to comfort the victim and to get their own head level, but ultimately it's foolish to think a child in the heat of the moment is going to "think about what they did" simply because they were told head to the naughty mat. a more productive and longer lasting, and longer to achieve, method would be to talk about what lead to the altercation and then talk about why the current actions were not appropriate and what can be done differently next time.

this can be hard to see when one is in the mists of an angry child, a hurt child and a frustrated adult but the main point is children are not trees you can prune to grow against a wall, or dog to train or blank slates to imprint with whatever notions you have about the word. and they certainly arent wild horses that need to be broken by sticker charts and tickets and the parental cold-shoulder to get used to the yoke of civility. they are human beings worthy of respect (and one can give boundaries and regulations with respect) and dignity. eventually, given the proper amount of time and teaching, children will learn to be respectful citizens to whatever degree they possibly can.

but regardless of the parent's motivations, the egg-child's focus is plain and ultimately the most disturbing. the reward. whether it's literally money, or a prize, or parental approval and affection. whether the child has learned life is better when we are nice to others or sharing chores makes us self-reliant and leaves more free time for us all, or sometimes you just have to do things even if they arent all that fun, is left to be said.

book pairings

ive been reading a lot lately and have been meaning to put together a little list of books that really should be read together:

homage to catilona/1984 - george orwell. written roughly about the same time. orwell's hatred of communism comes from his experiences with the anarchists during the spanish civil war.

black boy/native son - richard wright. if i remember correctly native son was written directly after wright finished black boy.

gravity's rainbow - thomas pinchon/the kindly ones - jonathan littel. insanely long, graphic, complicated books about nazis/WWII. not for the faint of heart or those not wanting to marry a book for several months.

those are the ones i can think of right now. look for more.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

alfie kohn was right

buddyone has not been extremely open with what he does in school. he says "it just fell out of my brain" whenever i ask at pick up time. eventually a few little stories will bubble out during the evening. husband and i have to exchange notes because he rarely tells us the same events.

last week was the start of school and either the first or second day, the only thing he could tell me was he got 5 tickets for "being good." red flag. usually "being good" in children means being complacient/quiet/convienent automatons. and if he got 15 by friday he could get a treasure out of the treasure box. oh lord. but i said "oh. ok" and dropped it for more important school day activities.

then friday rolls around. buddyone was very excited to get his treasure - a blue jelly pencil grip. he got 21 tickets and husband asked if he got to keep them. no. that's not fair, husband exclaims. drop it, i tell husband. to buddyone, that's a really neat treasure; im glad you like it. and off we go out to jumping party for one last time on our summer pass.

later that evening, buddyone's going to the bathroom and im talking to him, trying to get a few more details about this token economy system. the following paraphrased exchange ensues. i have omitted repeated paths of inquiry.

me: do you like your pencil grip?
buddyone (b1): yep

me: did everyone get to pick a treasure?
b1: no, M (a little girl) didnt get enough tickets

me: she didnt get enough?
b1: yeah. she didnt listen.

me: oh. that's sad. you had extras, could you have shared yours?
b1: but then i wouldn't get a treasure

me: was she sad she didnt get a treasure?
b1: no (comment: maybe she's just a resilient gal, or didnt show her dissapointment but i personally know of no child that is fine being left out while everyone around them is getting something.)

me: but you had 6 extra (break for mini math lesson).
b1: we can't. that's against the rules.

me: (trying a new path) could you help M to listen
b1: but then i wont get any tickets

me: when does M not listen?
b1: she wiggles during nap time.

(this part is extremely ironic because buddyone is an insufferable wiggler in general, but especially at bedtime. talks a lot, too.)

me: maybe she's not tired
b1: no. she just wont listen and then everyone will start talking and wiggling.

me: did you fall asleep?
b1: yes
me: did other people start talking?
b1: no
me: than she didnt disrupt anyone.
b1: augh! i dont wanna talk about this anymore.

there was more, but it was of the "second verse, same as the first" variety.

M and buddyone seem cut from the same cloth. they could be best of friends.

ok, you are saying. what the heck was the point of that and who the heck is alfie kohn? in a nutshell, the exchange i had with my son is the quintessential example of why rewards, praise, token economies, and other crap doesnt work. and alfie kohn is an educator and writer and formally trained in psychology. he writes about education and parenting in his fabulous book Punished by Rewards he takes a hard look at what is considered vital parenting (and adult management) practices.

in the most basic form, rewards/praise/bribes take kids in a classroom and turn them into pigeons in a skinner box. do this, get that. dont do this, dont get that. i swear, when i here parents saying "good job/boy/girl" it sounds like they are talking to a pet. and big affectionate responses work. for animals. you wanna train your dog to stop barking at the mail carrier, by all means whip out the treats and belly rubs. but for your kids? come on! have a little more respect for yourself and your child.

in PbR, kohn gives five main reasons why rewards dont work (in any meaningful way). they are:
  1. Rewards Punish
  2. Rewards Rupture Relationships
  3. Rewards Ignore Reasons
  4. Rewards Discourage Risk-taking
  5. Rewards change how people feel about what they are doing

Rewards Punish - This boils down to basic control. do this, get that. dont do this, dont get that. Kohn also shows evidence of people who use rewards often also show a greater tendency to use punishments.

Rewards rupture Relationships - rewards rarely lead to collaboration and instead foster jealousy and strife between parties as they work for a single prize or "if we are all good" prize and inevitably some one isnt. Later in the book Kohn also mentions that rewards can polarise a person's view about their abilities, based on rewards received, and other's abilities, based on rewards received.

Rewards Ignore Reasons - Some people are not good test takers, other's arent interested in the topic at hand, other's have a higher energy level. (i would hate to think i couldnt have gotten my job several years ago because i had a horrible sinus infection and couldnt type "Egyptian" at 80wpm) this doesnt make them stupid, ill-tempered, hyper-active. but when rewards are based only for limited parameters, those who cant obtain them for whatever reason, are left out.

Rewards Discourage Risk-Taking - Kohn finds study after study showing that people will do exactly the "this" to get "that" and little more. people will often go out of their way to find the easiest "this" to get "that."

And lastly rewards ultimately kill any joy in doing the "this." Study after study has shown the more people are rewarded for doing something, the less actual interest they have in it. way to take learning and being a good citizen and strangling all meaning out of it.

really, the book is fascinating. It's a scholarly read but well worth plugging through. highly recommended if you are a parent, work with children or "manage" adults.

So let's recap. Can you spot all the "reward fail" in the exchange between me and my son?

  • because of the token economy, the tickets/rewards were some of the most enthusiastic things i heard from my son about his first week of school. not friends names or what he did at recess.
  • he was unwilling to help a friend for fear of losing rewards/was not able to help a friend with his extra tickets.
  • a child was forced to sleep/punished for inability to sleep simply because it was naptime and they werent tired
  • he "assumed the worst" based on M's inability to sleep during the scheduled time and couldnt think of a reason why she wouldnt be sleepy.