'Harmful' scolding just lays down the law on student behaviour

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2001, 12:00am

I read Pauline Bunce's criticism of scolding as a punishment which she claimed was harmful to 'the physical and mental well-being of students and teachers' (Education Post, May 19). She offered no evidence, but recommended a 'descending scale of punishment options' consisting of 'detention followed by a five-point penalty' before calling the parents.

With respect to Ms Bunce, her ignorance of aversive punishment is complete and absolute. Conclusive evidence has been gathered over the past 30 years that a single brief punishment can be profoundly useful in modifying behaviour providing it is sufficiently intense and clearly linked to the offence with minimal delay. Punishment in a gradual manner induces tolerance, greatly increasing the intensity needed to abolish an unwanted behaviour.

Ms Bunce wrote critically of a 'Miss Wu' as someone who scolded. Her method is brief, intense and 100 per cent successful in restoring respect for legitimate adult authority after a challenge. It is a healthy process which the child must lose decisively to avoid escalation. She achieves this quickly and informally, with minimal resources. She also deters other would-be offenders and minimises future conflict. Used fairly and judiciously this process is to her pupils' advantage in the long term.

Ms Bunce's resource-intensive strategy is designed specifically to escalate to the level of removal from the classroom and to encourage others to follow the example.

Statistically, Miss Wu's straightened pupils have a far higher probability of finishing school with a qualification and self-esteem built on competency and achievement than Ms Bunce's overindulged, overprotected little Johnnies. They have learned that there are no significant short-term consequences for their actions that can be imposed upon them by adult authority.

Britain has recently officially acknowledged that school discipline problems have reached a record high, teachers are leaving faster than they can be replaced and parents are deserting public schools for private ones.

Teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, delinquency and violent crime are at or near record highs. Maybe Ms Bunce should take notes from Miss Wu, who apparently does her kids a favour, rather than try to advise.


Sai Wan Ho