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Education Reform: Beyond Discipline
    
Reviewed by Kah Ying Choo
  
In his book, Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, Alfie Kohn (1996) shatters the traditional assumptions and practices of classroom management.
Conventionally, teachers work within a “teacher-directed model” by controlling the children’s behavior either by punishment or rewards.  Instead of acknowledging the possible problems of a dull curriculum or poor instructional methods, teachers place complete blame on children for their negative behavior.  Apart from critiquing traditional classroom method, Kohn (1996) offers an alternative method, a “student-directed model” that transforms the classroom into a democratic community that recognizes the needs and interests of both teachers and students.

The underlying flaw with using the traditional classroom management system is that it can only succeed in eliciting temporary compliance from the students.  The use of extrinsic rewards and sanctions does not teach students to become caring and responsible individuals who will be able to act appropriately without external supervision or coercion.

With punishments, children only learn the lesson that they will suffer dire consequences when they are caught misbehaving. With rewards, students will learn how to respond positively only in order to win a prize or praise. Therefore, both punishments and rewards do not cultivate long-lasting moral values within children.  In fact, Kohn (1996) cites supportive research to show that children who are taught with traditional classroom methods tend to be more selfish and uncooperative than those who are taught with alternative methods.  

In contrast, Kohn (1996) believes that the implementation of a new classroom management system that incorporates students in the decision-making processes will exert a positive impact on the students and eliminate behavioral problems. 

Kohn (1996) highlights
five ways for classroom management system that
incorporates students in the decision-making processes will exert a positive impact on the creating a democratic community within the classroom:
  • Invite students to participate in their learning processes by making daily decisions.
  • Encourage students to learn appropriate behavior among themselves, with the teacher’s guidance.
  • Hold classroom discussions about the standards of behavior for the classroom.  Instead of the teacher prescribing rules of conduct, the students are given the opportunities to explore and determine how to create a positive community.
     
  • Establish routine classroom meetings for students to vent their feelings, discuss classroom issues and learn how to solve problems in a democratic setting.
     
  • Create a safe and positive environment that promotes participation from all students, without fear of mockery and negative criticism.

With this book, Kohn (1996) has challenged the traditional assumptions of classroom management that has dominated the school system for centuries.  Although educators believe that the education system should help children become caring and responsible individuals, they have upheld a system designed to create unthinking and compliant students.  Therefore, it is time for educators to recognize the significance of Kohn’s vision of an alternative classroom by answering this question: What kind of future do we want for our children?   Reference Kohn, A. (1996).  Beyond discipline: From compliance to community. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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