Those Who Can, Teach; Those Who Cannot, Shame

It was a fine Saturday morning. I had taken care of some chores: the gutters were clean, the dishes were washed, and the porch had been swept. I was feeling pretty good about things when I decided to flip on the news to check the state of the world.

I should never underestimate the power that Fox and Friends possess to ruin an otherwise glorious morning.

In California, two truancy officers decided to shame 34 students who were not graduating by publicly naming them, ordering them to stand in front of others, and humiliating the students for their non-compliance. This Saturday morning, Fox and Friends decided to ask the question of whether it was a good or bad idea to shame students for purposes of education.

Fox and Friends’ answer follows in line with most of the network’s tactical answers: Of course, it’s okay to shame students…how else are they supposed to learn? (Other than, ya know, teaching them, with knowledge and information and stuff…this seems right in line with how most of Fox News’ reporting operates: ridicule instead of facts.)

They invited motivational idiot, Larry Winget, to share his perspective. Winget doubled-down on the humiliation tactics of the two California truancy officers. His stance seemed to emulate the same methods that King Joffrey used to shame his uncle, Tyrion Lannister, on last night’s episode of Game of Thrones.

Winget dressed-down the 34 students and praised the school officials. He called the students “losers.” He said he was sick of school officials having to apologize to kids for their own “bad behavior.” He assumed the kids were not smart enough to graduate because they didn’t do the work. His take is that the students should have been humiliated, and he “hope[s] their feelings were hurt really bad.” (Winget, as such an educated speaker and writer, should know that the correct adverbial use is “badly.”) Tucker Carlson giggled like a school-age child during this tirade and said, “I’m so enjoying this. Keep it going.”

Referring to the truancy officers’ method, Winget asked the inane question, “What did it hurt?” I recently wrote about two student suicides at Lake Central High School. There seems to be quite a bit of confusion when student suicides occur, and the question always seems to be “Why do they do it?” I think there is a related answer to both these questions, and they share the consequence of this practice of school shaming.

Winget also knows who to blame for these students’ behavior: parents!…the most popular answer to all that ails us in our beautiful country…according to Fox News, anyway. Winget wants to “call Momma an’ Daddy out.” Winget’s Daddy woulda had a “come to Jesus talk” wit’ him! Apparently a parent’s job is to shame his kid into becoming a good American, since most of the Fox News nation advocates such tactics. I wonder how many of the parents of those 34 kids watch Fox News….Do we really believe that there is some magical parenting formula that produces children who graduate? Can we acknowledge that there are some parents who try and fail at raising “good” children? Would humiliating the parents, along with their children, really solve the issue of creating successful students?

This Fox and Friends panel’s conclusion: When you shame students, humiliating them “with their tail between their legs,” these students will redouble their efforts and graduate because they cannot stand the humiliation…or they will drop out of school and open meth labs (Thanks for the input, Tucker Carlson! Never mind you perpetuate an “either/or” fallacy.). Winget’s final summary: If it’s good for just one kid, then this whole shaming tactic will be worth it! (…and the rest of the kids be damned! No need to wonder why there are so many impoverished members of our society! Our jails are plenty big enough for all of the losers! It was all worth it for that one go-getter that learned because of shaming!)

If you haven’t figured it out, I think this news report is a bit short-sighted. Shaming children does not seem to be a good teaching pedagogy OR parenting strategy. I remember reading something about the failure of negative reinforcements in behavioral psychology….

I decided to do a bit of research on the practice of school shaming this weekend. As a teacher, I’ve never found it to be a valid method to induce student participation, and I’ve avoided shaming students to the best of my ability. As a parent, I certainly have never found shaming my kids to be beneficial for their upbringing. I find it hard to believe that this practice of shaming is widely implemented and embedded within our American education system…

Boy, with all of the educational mistakes I have witnessed in my career, you’d think I would have prepared myself to be disappointed by now. Do teachers routinely shame students from sexual intercourse with kinesthetic methods? Check. Do administrators shame females by attacking their clothing and enforcing dress codes? Check. Do students use social media to shame victims of sexual assault? Check. I even found an instance where a principal forced two boys who were fighting to hold hands in front of the student body while the mob was encouraged to sling homophobic slurs at the two boys! (Thank you, Professor Francine Jewett, for the share.)

I try to effect change in our education system, but it seems of little consequence when placed against the social media generator at Fox News. When blowhards like Larry Winget are allowed to inform millions about how to best educate children, it does a disservice to good social norms. Fox News grossly affects our social attitudes, and our education system is a favorite target. As a single voice against the Fox News reporting machine, all I ask is that you consider the perspective of an educator over that of a motivational speaker or journalist: shaming students doesn’t work very well at producing successful graduates, retaining students, or producing good American citizens.

As for my fellow educators who endorse the practice of shaming, all I can think to do is shout with rage, in my best shame-inducing voice, “What the hell is wrong with you?!! You should know better.”

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

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