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February 11, 2013

To Shame or Not To Shame

by Anne Paddock

While driving my daughter to school this past week, we noticed a young teen raking leaves on campus which shouldn’t seem out of the ordinary but to my daughter, it was. The raker had been “deuced” which is another way of saying the student had been caught doing something outside of the honor code.  Punishments vary but nearly every “deuced” student has to spend a day or more raking leaves or cleaning up around campus in full sight of everyone – not because the maintenance staff needs help but to shame the student. It’s the equivalent of wearing the Scarlett Letter “A” in full view of the student’s peer community.

My daughter knows the raker – an excellent student and gifted athlete; a kid that most people would assume is the perfect teenager. But, there is no perfect teenager – they all make mistakes. The bigger issue is to stop them from making more mistakes so part of the school punishment is to shame them. Earlier in the week during the class meeting, the Class Advisor – a woman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly – announced that four students had been deuced that week and although she didn’t name names, she did describe their deeds. My daughter’s response was “I would be so embarrassed if I was one of them.” That’s the point reminding her that the students were lucky they weren’t called out because at the school she previously attended in Switzerland, the Head of School would have called a class meeting after an infraction and not only described the deed but also who did it and what the school decided to do about it. Public shaming at its best (the Swiss rely heavily on this social tool). Teens are notorious for making errors in judgment and if they don’t know there are consequences or if the behavior is brushed aside citing immaturity, they just may be more apt to continue to make more mistakes. But what about adults?

Recently, a friend posted a picture (above) of how a family of four left a row of seats on a flight to Aruba. It was disgusting. Thinking at first that small children who don’t know the difference between right and wrong made the mess, I later learned the seats were trashed by two children, ages 8 and 9. Instead of instructing the children to clean up the mess or cleaning the mess up themselves, the parents left the mess for the flight crew to clean up. This family of four obviously didn’t realize that flight attendants are primarily on the plane to ensure the safety of the passengers – not to pick up after the children or adults on board. I’m guessing the picture was posted to shame people to pick up after their children and themselves in public places – not such a bad thing when you think about it.

A few months ago, my husband was in a movie theater when a family of five sat down in front of him. With drinks and buckets of popcorn in hand, they proceeded to watch the movie for about 20 minutes. After a whispered discussion, they got up and left, leaving buckets of spilled popcorn and drinks all over the seat and floor. He later learned the family group didn’t like the first movie so they left and snuck into another theater. When confronted, the parents were defensive.Kids learn more about how to behave by watching parents, not by listening to what they say so I’m wondering what those kids will do in movie theaters in the years ahead?

Lance Armstrong is being publicly flogged right now, as he probably should be. Not only did he cheat but he also venomously pursued anyone who dared to speak the truth in public. What struck me about the most recent turn of events is Armstrong’s claim that he didn’t really cheat by doping because everyone was doping. Somehow that just doesn’t seem logical to me so at the risk of sounding harsh, let the shaming continue.

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