Doing right because it’s the right thing to do
Times such as last night, when Big Guy dallied over his latest penance for misbehaving at school. He'd tossed Play-Doh across the room instead of concentrating during reading time, and his teacher assigned him to write about the "bad choice" he'd made and what he would do differently next time.
I added a middle component to connect the two: Why what he'd done was wrong.
Big Guy wrinkled his brow for a few seconds before his eyes lit up and his finger waved in his air. "I know!" he said. "It's wrong because you'll get in trouble and you'll have to move your clip down a color."
"Not exactly," I said. "Moving the clip down is what happens to you for doing it. But that's not why it's wrong to throw things in class."
He looked confused, and I knew why. Doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do is a hard concept for some adults, let alone kids. Being unable to grasp the idea was a side effect I'd feared from discipline systems he's been exposed to all his life that focus on outcome instead of input.
Not that I blame school systems for using them. When you're trying to cram learning into two dozen heads, and cram it quickly because they have to be ready for the bubble tests by second grade, maintaining discipline is hard enough without worrying about philosophy.
Besides, philosophy is my job. So I tried again.
"OK, think of it this way: When I drive, I don't speed. Do you know why?"
"Because the cops will get you?"
"No, and don't call them 'cops.' I don't speed because it's not safe to drive too fast. I could wreck the car and hurt myself or somebody else. I obey the speed limit because it's the right thing to do. Now, why should you choose to do the right thing tomorrow at school? What can happen if you throw things again."
"Someone could get hurt?" he offered.
"That's right. And when you throw things, it also keeps you and your friends from learning."
"And I have to move my clip down."
Arrggghhh. Enough with the dang clip. I tried again. "Maybe, maybe not. I could speed most of the time without anyone catching me. But I don't because it's not right, and people should do the right thing even if no one's watching or no one's going to catch them."
I still don't think he got it even after dutifully writing, "Throwing Play-Doh is wrong because it could hurt someone."
I hope it's a start, though.
Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.