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Theory and Practice: As a graduate student, Mathina Carkci read Alfie Kohn's Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, one of the authors many books on the evils of using rewards and punishments in the classroom. Kohn's argument resonated with Carkci, so when she began teaching 4th grade, she didn't bother to establish rules.

"I believed that inherent interest in rocks and minerals, lines and rays, and poems and prose (combined with my spectacular enthusiasm and flawless lesson planning) would be so great theres be no need," she writes in the July 23 edition of the Washington Post Magazine, a special issue devoted to education.

Boy, was she wrong.

"Reality set in after one day," she confesses. First came the rules, and then came "The Book," in which wrongdoers signed their names. The punishment ranged from a warning (one signature a month) to a conference with the principal (five signatures a month). Carkci saw her system as "a compromise between a purely teacher-directed, stickers-and-timeouts kind of behavior plan and something that gave the kids more of a role in controlling themselves." And while The Book did compel kids to meet Carkcit demands, "it didn't foster in them an inner sense of responsibility," she observes. In other words, "Kohn turned out to be right."

Ultimately, though, Carkci settled on a discipline program that aims to teach children social responsibility. "Created by Marvin Marshall," she writes, "it seemed to combine Kohn's utopian ideals with some more practical tactics." So far, it's working. "Learning to behave is a lot like learning anything—to read, for instance," Carkci muses. "When our children can't read, we read to them. When they can read a little, we help them with the hard words and celebrate the words they get on their own. Why should teaching children to live in a world of rules and other people be any different?"

Reality Check: Sara Mosle, a teacher turned writer, explores the limits of volunteerism in a fascinating article in the July 2 issue of the New York Times Magazine.

For three years, Mosle taught public school in New York City, and beginning in 1994, she became an "unofficial mentor" to some of her former students, most of them African American and all of them poor. "Over the years," Mosle writes, "we have gone ice skating, bowling, to movies, to museums, and on the occasional overnight trip (to Washington, the east end of Long Island) and have generally hung out." Even though she admits she wasn't exactly a model volunteer as time went on—Mosle saw her "kids" less—it's clear that she made a difference in their lives, in ways both tangible and intangible. Still, her experience has led her to question the value society places on volunteerism, particularly in an age of government cutbacks. She argues that volunteerism cannot, and should not, replace government's role in providing services to the poor.

"What my kids really need, I can't give them: better housing, less crowded schools, access to affordable health care, a less punitive juvenile justice system," she writes. "Thats not to say that volunteering has no value. But it doesn't offer a systematic solution to entrenched problems like hunger, poverty, or homelessness."

—David Hill

Vol. 12, Issue 1, Page 16

Published in Print: August 1, 2000, as Clippings
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