The Problem With Punishing Emotions
By Luke Reynolds
While our schools are a world away from prisons, the notion of punishment still reigns supreme in too many of them. Is this because teachers—like me—are just so human that we break down and respond with detention when an angry kid tells us we’re stupid? In part, yes. But there are larger implications as well. To extrapolate from the scenery of bars and cells into open hallways and swinging doors, let’s say the educational promise isn’t rehabilitation but progress. In all areas, we strive to help students improve: as learners, as achievers, as citizens, as compassionate members of the human race.
Erwin James claimed that prisons don’t rehabilitate for two reasons: Forgiveness is hard, and change is expensive. It takes a lot of loving people working an incredible amount of focused hours to help a prisoner leave prison a better person than when he entered. It happened for James through the aid of a kind nun and a great teacher. In our schools, I daresay that we find ourselves facing the same two obstacles to student progress: Forgiveness is hard, and change is expensive.
Research suggests that such repression becomes the basis for bolstering long-term physical and mental problems.