THE AGE: The use of collective punishment in schools, whereby an entire class suffers when one student misbehaves, has been restricted in Tasmania and there is now pressure to ban the practice in Victoria.
The practice of punishing the whole class for the misbehaviour of one or a number of disruptive students flies in the face of all accepted theory about learning and behavioural change.
The most dangerous element of this practice is that it punishes well-behaved children and anybody who knows anything about conditioning and learning knows that this is totally counter-productive.
The punishment effectively discourages good behaviour which should in fact be rewarded.
B.F. Skinner (1904 — 1958): Skinner developed the theory of operant reinforcement theory which is the notion that how often a behaviour is executed depends on the events that follow the behaviour For example, if the behaviour is reinforced, the behaviour is more likely to be repeated.
It also follows that behaviour is not rewarded is likely to be extinguished and in the case of group detention this will be accelerated through group punishment.
The idea that to the class can bring peer pressure to bear on badly behaved children is based on the military practice of publishing groups of soldiers when one soldier fails to reach a given standard. This is designed to increase esprit de corps and group solidarity.
However, there is a huge difference between group of soldiers and a class of children. The group of soldiers have common goals: defeating the enemy and staying alive. Both of these are more likely if the group is highly cohesive.
School classrooms do not have these common goals and there is little that the children can do to ring misbehaving fellow pupils into line.
The practice is also an indication of the complete failure of the teachers to discipline the children in their charge. It is also a huge abrogation of responsibility.
There is a corollary to this.
It is a central tenant of reward policies in organisations that people should be rewarded for the outcomes over which they have direct control. There should not be group rewards for the success of individual members within the group. Such a practice rewards freeloaders and ultimately demotivates high performing individuals.
The same occurs with group punishments. Well-behaved children who are effectively punished for their good behaviour nd consequently are more likely to become demotivated and start behaving badly.
If such practices are still possible in Victorian schools, the government should move to outlaw the practice.