Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Character Education - Focus on relatedness - not on good deeds

Getting a kid to say ' I am sorry ' - even if it is not sincere -is common amongst parents and teachers who want to make children accountable for their deeds and pay the price. 

In the Collaborative problem solving process –CPS , making the apology comes at the end of the process . 

First we problem solve and come up with a better plan , and help the kid change from the inside.  We give him a vision of the future , the type of person he wants to be.

Now he is in a position to deal with past and engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution , and making  a sincere apology with his self esteem intact. 

Accountability is more than 'saying sorry '  , it is creating a vision of oneself as a caring person and making a  commitment to the future.   see  true accountability

Joe Bower in a blog – autonomous and authentic apologies  writes

Apologizing needs to feel like empathy, not guilt and retribution…. Saying sorry is less about the person saying it and more about the person hearing it. …It is about how we can show others we care about them. 

His words are an important guide in how we engage in character education and moral development.

There is a tendency is focus on the doing of good deeds – helping others, inviting singles or who do not have family, or poor kids  to your home for dinner , giving a kid in need clothes, food, sweets etc  ,kids going to entertain a down syndrome child or doing housework for an old lady etc. 

Kids are then rewarded with stickers etc for every good deed they do.  The kids and people they help hereby  become 'objects ' that enable THEM to do the good deeds -  something that enables them to do the good deed of inviting guests or helping a person in need. Only when kids are intrinsically motivated and not collecting good deeds can they be empathic and focus on the physical and emotional-relatedness needs of other kids.

Not only have we ' converted social norms into economic norms '  - Dan Ariely , but converted people into objects. The down syndrome kid soon feels that the teen is not interested in forming a relationship or a friendship – becoming a real friend ,  the guest  feels he is serving the hosts need to ' have guests' – an object of charity rather than a real person who has a need for connection and ' relatedness'. 

 Good deeds done this way is more about the person doing it and less  about the person we are supposed to be connecting with. Relatedness goes beyond the physical interaction, it is more about an emotional connection, a feeling of being respected as an autonomous human being , understood, and cared about.

This understanding can be used to explain a strange commentary  on the words 

from Psalm 34.  ' Seek peace and pursue it '   -   seek peace but not good deeds. 

 Peace is about relationship and connection between people on an emotional level.  We should pursue peaceful relationships. When we pursue good deeds , it is more about us and less about the other person.

In a similar light 

 The biblical character Jacob (Yaakov) blessed his son Judah (Yehudah) that “……your teeth white with milk” (i.e., the land will be fertile so that it would produce an abundance of  milk). The commentary  teaches that “teeth white with milk” can be read to mean that when one shows his teeth (by smiling) to another, it is better than giving him milk; while milk nourishes the body, a smile enters the mind and body and real connection 
and relationship is made with the other person

An emotional connection affects both the physical and emotional sides of people.

Here is a message to teachers of our kids 

  It is not so important for kids how much you know but how much you care


1 comment:

  1. we need to be concerned with structures in schools that support moral education - cooperative learning , intrinsic motivation . etc

    I think we can learn from Alfie Kohn – see his article on ‘How not to teach values ‘
    , his books Beyond discipline , moving from compliance to community , ‘ Punished by rewards

    As the title of his book says – we need to build caring communities of learners rather than focus on compliance.

    We cannot promote good character in schools if we rank kids against each other, use competition and grades to motivate kids. Kids then see others obstacles to their success.

    Instead we should be promoting cooperative learning – where excellence is measured by one’s contribution to others

    The second problem is the use of rewards to promote character . Schools have various mitvah campaigns with stickers and prizes. This behavioristic approach focuses on behavior , on externality. If we want kids to internalize the value, we need to focus on intentions, motives and the feelings behind the actions. A kid can do a good deed and give a sweet to another kid for different reasons – to impress the teacher standing close by , to get a piece of chocolate the other kid is eating, or an act of altuism – just to make the kid feel good.

    A school tried to promote returning lost items and money found on the playground by giving kids rewards – the result , all of a sudden , kids were finding so many ‘ lost’ items in the playground . The same goes for punishments and consequences. A kid kicked a ball that hit a teacher who then fell and hurt herself. The kid ran. When asked why he did not offer help – he said he was scared of the punishment. Two egs -how rewards or punishments ‘ promote’ ‘ moral’ development.

    Rewards and punishment/ consequences get in the way of the kid asking – is this the type of person I want to be , are these my values – I am a kid who would not like to hurt others and not because what will happen to him.

    In all learning , not just socio-moral learning kids need to reflect and do the thinking , make meaning of what they learn, internalize the message and not just give back what others before him have said.

    Marvin Marshall’s DWS discipline without stress does not use reward and punishment but helps kids to reflect on the impact of their behavior on others – CPS collaborative problem solving by Ross Greene helps teachers and parents to solve problems in a collabrative way rather than use reward or punishment and of course Alfie Kohn’s work.