Public Shaming, the Classroom, and Locke

This past week I’ve been working off of this idea that Locke suggested in one of his essays. He thinks that the best way to motivate a child, the thing that will build intrinsic motivation, is reputation. This is tempered by his insistence that a child never is shamed or put down in front of others. The only way you talk about a child in public is with praise. This way, he says, you build up their love for having a good reputation and their investment in preserving it. 

The idea of a child being motivated either by achieving recognition or avoiding shame doesn't sit well with me. But neither do stickers. Or color charts. Or anything else that shames kids in front of their peers or rewards them extrinsically. So I’m experimenting with what feels like the lesser of those two evils.

This week, its been my main focus. Not bringing any negative attention to kids in front of the class, only praising them. I save correction or reflection for a private time either after class, on the way to recess, or during some class activity when I can quietly talk to them alone. 

I mean, a few times I caught myself calling out individual’s names. Like when one kid was rolling around on the floor. Or another trying to turn off his friend’s computer. Or another poking a hole in her water bottle cap with a pencil so she could squirt the water into her mouth instead of having to perform the trite task of unscrewing the cap and drinking it normally.

But by and large, its been good, if I can be permitted to use such an absolute. The results have been good. The class feels more peaceful. There are less conflicts, quieter voices, and better ideas coming out of them. Today, the whole class worked hard during centers for an entire hour and a half. Unprecedented. 

I really cant draw a definite correlation. I can say though, that it’s an improvement for my own heart and know it has to be one for theirs. I knew from day one that publicly shaming kids or using the peer group to conform behavior wasn't conducive to emotional safety and therefore wasn't good for learning. But I did anyway. It would just happen. You find yourself negatively interacting with a student in front of the class because it’s expedient and easy. But somewhere, deep down, you feel there has to be a better way. I think there is—not doing it. It's hard, especially if thats what we were given during our time as students.

Public shaming also risks forcing kids to cope. They decide to receive the negative attention and actually start to seek after it. It becomes “their thing.”

Children need to feel emotionally safe if they are going to learn. They can’t feel safe if they are worried about being shamed in front of their friends.