Consequences are consequences. Punishment is punishment. Wanted: "Freedom to choose"


 Do we need consequences and punishment in schools? Do we even need schools?

Currently, "The Case of Casper" is making headlines, as he had to run around the schoolyard in freezing weather instead of participating in gym class because he had forgotten his gym clothes. The school defends its policy, the psychologist Niels Egelund defends the methodology and welcomes it, but thankfully the headlines are shocked.

But what's up and down in this?

Can you skip gym class because you forget your gym clothes? Shouldn't there be consequences? Isn't the school allowed to introduce some rules? Are we not allowed to be a bit forgetful? Can we all be here? And how can we collaborate on this?

You see, the difficulty is, first and foremost, structural. Choosing a different school than the local public school or opting out of school altogether is not an option for most people. Not within reach, at least not without significant reordering. I will be the first to say that such reordering should be made if it reflects a value system that one holds - because integrity is still more important than most things.

But that doesn't mean I can't see how locked this system is in reality.

That's why the big problem with public schools, with forgotten gym bags and punishment or not, is the lack of voluntariness.

That is THE biggest problem. If school was voluntary, you could participate in it if you wanted to. And your parents wanted you to, as most parents determine what their children do during the day (while the parents do something else). It would only require that after-school care be open all day. Not really structurally difficult.

I'm not saying that this would be a GOOD system. But it would be better, as the element of freedom would creep in. And that is sorely lacking in the existing school system. Both for students and teachers. Even for leaders.

The big problem with the discourse surrounding the gym bag is the discourse surrounding consequences. Should forgetting your gym clothes have consequences? Adults assume that if there are no consequences, children will do it just to get out of it.

My thoughts: Yes.

But not if they were in school because they wanted to be there. Then there would be the consequence that naturally lies in the situation, that you didn't have your gym clothes! AND therefore had to do gym class in jeans or skip it. There IS a consequence. You don't actually have to invent one.

That is the big problem with the thinking behind consequence-based education at all levels.

It's not really about consequences. It's about power. I's about the fundamental coercion built into the system, and the so-called "consequences," which in reality are clear punishment, are used to establish this power.

The adults decide! Do as you're told!

And it goes wrong when the parents who send their children to school do not want to collaborate on this power because they disagree with it while also experiencing a lack of freedom themselves. Then the parents' lack of desire to collaborate becomes, in reality, a rebellion against the coercion that forced them to choose between ONE option. And from that follows an even greater need on the part of the school to establish power, to administer punishment.

Thus, I understand why a supporter of old-school education like Niels Egelund welcomes these "consequences." Because their absence threatens the system he holds so dear...


Cecilie Conrad

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