Teacher journal archive (2008-2011)

Article Title

On punishment


When it comes to school bullying, plenty of educators use terms like 'punishment', 'sanctions', 'logical consequences' and 'natural consequences. The author considers what these terms really mean. Whatever we may think of the merits of alternative approaches to dealing with cases of school bullying, it is evident that most teachers and counsellors think that a disciplinary approach is best. That indicates that we can expect the use of punishment to remain the primary way of dealing with cases of bullying for some time to come, in which case we ought to consider carefully what school personnel think they are doing when they adopt a disciplinary approach to managing bullying. One way of finding out is to examine the language that is used in justifying this approach. Disciplinarians employ a range of terms to describe what they are about, including 'punishment' 'sanctions,' 'logical consequences' and 'natural consequences'. Each of these describes a process in which an unwelcome aversive treatment is delivered to someone following the commission of an act of which the school authorities disapprove. The purpose is to deter the perpetrator from acting that way again and, where the punishment, sanction, or logical or natural consequence is made public, to deter others from acting in a similar way. The author believes that punishment is sometimes justified, especially when it has the effect of reducing bullying. The question of whether it typically does so is one that can only be answered by a careful examination of outcomes, which unfortunately is seldom done. The author's view is that the disciplinary approach should not be the standard way in which schools deal with bullying. If it is to be used, however, it is sensible to consider ways in which the use of punishment is likely to be more acceptable and effective in reducing peer victimization. The use of punishment is not always, or even typically, the most appropriate way of dealing with cases of bullying - and counsellors and teachers should possess a working knowledge of alternative methods - but its effectiveness can be enhanced by an appreciation of the conditions in which it can work best. [Author abstract, ed]

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