Thursday, April 22, 2010

Parents boycott PBIS at Monseigneur Remi-Gaulin school in Kingston, Ontario (part one)

(Photo by stevendepolo)

Used with permission from, the following is from Marvin Marshall's December 2008 newsletter:

This section is about how giving young people token rewards reinforces young people's values—rather than promoting ADULT values. The story is about a "new" (BUT VERY, VERY OLD) manipulative approach that fosters obedience rather than promoting responsibility.
The following is from a Canadian newspaper:
The weekly Huntsville Forester reported that it seems as though Bill 212 is having a positive effect at schools served by Ontario's Trillium Lakelands District School Board. The bill, passed in February, "is intended to promote a more progressive and constructive approach to student discipline." As such, it mandates that schools create new codes of conduct. According to Kevin Cutler, superintendent of SPECIAL EDUCATION (caps added) and safe schools for the district, "since the bill was implemented, of the 42 elementary schools served by the board, 37 have reduced the number of suspensions and expulsions.  All of the secondary schools had a dramatic decrease." Schools in the district are implementing a strategy called Positive Behaviour Supports to try essential strategies at the school level," Cutler said.
The article continues:
THE PARENTS' SCHOOL BOYCOTT MEANS 'WELL BEHAVED' KIDS TO MISS SCHOOL HALLOWEEN PARTY --Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News Service, Wednesday, October 29, 2008
OTTAWA - At a quiet little elementary school in Kingston, Ontario, a boycott is underway by a group of parents who are forbidding their children from wearing a tag around their neck with hole punches to prove they are well-behaved.
Students at Monseigneur Remi-Gaulin School must accumulate a certain number of hole punches to be eligible for rewards such as this Friday's Halloween activities in the gymnasium.  While the rest of the school enjoys the day, those students whose parents disapprove of the new discipline approach introduced in September will stay in their classrooms, and that has their parents incensed.
You can be sure that, I will be at the school. I want to know what will happen," said Louise Meunier, one of seven protesting parents.
The purpose of the punch card, carried in a plastic pouch and tucked behind an identification tag with the child's name and photo, is to help shift the focus from reprimanding bad behaviour to encouraging and recognizing good behaviour. When students follow the rules, teachers use their discretion and either verbally compliment them for doing so, or give them a hole punch in their card.
The dissenting parents have a long list of reasons why they disapprove of the system. They claim it's unnecessary at a school where there were no major behavioural problems. They say it incorrectly focuses on rewards and that it does more harm than good.
"Our children were coming home in tears; they were very stressed out," said Adele Mercier, another parent who is leading the charge against the new system.
According to the parents, children are so worried about getting enough holes to receive a reward that it's distracting from their studies. It's also causing COMPETITION among students and SOME CHILDREN ARE NOW ASKING THEIR PARENTS HOW THEY WILL BE REWARDED FOR MAKING THEIR BED OR FOR CLEANING THEIR ROOM, CHORES THEY PREVIOUSLY DID WITHOUT INCENTIVE. (caps added)
"It's encouraging not the commission of good behaviour, but the desire to be recognized for doing it," said Mercier.  “This system is destroying the moral autonomy of our children by obligating them to seek public recognition of their self-managed behaviour," said Mercier, who teaches philosophy at Queen's University.
The school stands by its decision to implement the punch-card system and Principal Andre Dostaler said it needs to be given a chance.
"The intent down the road is that the student will appreciate the good behaviour and won't necessarily be soliciting the reward," he said.
(NOTE: This is a prime belief for the justification of the approach. However, many studies have shown the exact opposite occurs. There is not only no transfer from "external motivation" (EXTERNAL locus of control) to "internal motivation" (INTERNAL locus of control), but young people exposed to external rewards such as in this program become more selfish.)
Dostaler said changes have been made to the program based on parent feedback and that while he respects the boycotting parents' decision, it does come with repercussions for their children such as missing out on the Halloween festivities.
The principal likens the system to an air miles program, where people aren't punished for not collecting points but aren't eligible for the rewards offered unless they are participating in it.
Meunier and Mercier, whose sons are in Grade 5, disagree and say their well-behaved children--a description the principal supports--deserve to go to the Halloween activities and will view it as a punishment if they aren't permitted to attend.
(Alfie Kohn refers to this in his classic tome, "Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive  Plans, A's, Praise, and other Bribes.")
"In the mind of a child, being excluded from even a small activity like this is significant," said Meunier.
The punch-card system is based on a model called Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Normand St-Georges, the program's coordinator for the school board, provided training on the approach.
"People in the school are torn with this scenario. They don't like to have kids not go to an activity but at the same time they are stuck between a rock and a really hard place because they have to manage the system," he said.
Dostaler said that despite not wearing the tag the children are getting recognized verbally for their good behaviour.
Meunier and Mercier are convinced the school is taking the wrong approach and have taken their fight to the school board.
To paraphrase the old "Blondie" cartoon, as Dagwood Bumstead would say, "Giving kids rewards for acting responsibly makes a lot of sense--until you start thinking about it." (Marvin Marshall)

The newspaper article can be found here.

Ms. Fitzpatrick can be found on twitter here.

(photo by Paul L. Nettles)