I’m going to go out on a limb and coin a new phrase here – Corporate Punishment. We’ve all heard of corporal punishment as infliction of physical pain in response to an action, but what the heck is corporate punishment? It is a trap that we can easily fall into as parents and teachers because we see it happening all around us. What it is, why it is harmful, and what to do about it are the topics of this post.
Let’s define corporate punishment as the application of the same punishment to a group of individuals. That might be something as simple as putting all of your children in time-out because they’re behaving badly. We see it in schools all the time where the teacher yells at the whole class or makes them all write sentences when in reality only a couple of children are acting up. The first example is clearly OK because all of the children are involved, but the second can be problematic. The children who were not part of the problem suffer a consequence, which sends the wrong message to them about their good behavior.
Corporate punishment can show up in not-so-obvious ways, which is what we observe among adults. I’ve had to catch myself doing this in my workplace. When I come up with a new rule or policy that applies to all of my associates, I have to ask myself is it a reaction to one or two people that is penalizing the group as a whole? Applying corporate punishment in this fashion is generally a method for avoiding conflict with the troublemakers. Sometimes you discover that there is a situation or condition that needs clarification for the group as a whole, but routinely stamping out bad behavior by swatting the whole group destroys morale.
I get it that there are situations where punishing the group as a whole leads to the group applying social correction to the offenders. This might work in a group of adults or in a team environment but generally is not understood by children who are evaluated on their individual performance. I don’t think that corporate punishment is effective in the classroom. When a child is singled out for their behavior it’s tough and may create an uncomfortable conversation with that child’s parents, but if they aren’t made aware of the problem then it never goes away. Corporate punishment may address a specific situation short term, but that situation will happen again and again until the root of the problem is dealt with.
If you’re a parent whose child might be the victim of corporate punishment, follow the general guidelines below to uncover the situation.
- Get the facts from your child. Be as specific about dates and punishments as possible.
- Don’t discuss your actions with the child; that will undermine their teacher’s authority.
- Ask the teacher if your child has been a problem and get specific details to see if the stories line up.
- Discuss with the teacher your concerns about what you’ve heard and possible solutions. If you fear retaliation on your child, go to the school principal.
- Be a good role model and example of the proper application of discipline in your home.
Teachers specifically, I know you have a very difficult job but no parent wants to hear that their child was unjustly disciplined. I would like to hear your thoughts on corporate punishment. Parents, do you see this happening? Have you had successful interactions with your child’s teachers on this subject?
Application Question – What can I do to recognize corporate punishment? Am I supporting my child’s teachers? Am I guilty of using corporate punishment to avoid conflict?