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School Shamings: Why they are unnecessary and who is to blame for them

March 4, 2018

I won’t link to it for reasons that will become obvious, but I read an article on the Guardian website about behaviour.

One by one, the children are greeted by staff with a warm smile and a personalised hello. The teachers’ enthusiasm, however genuine, is rarely reciprocated. Some students scowl, others grunt a “hello”, almost all hunch their shoulders. One 11-year-old girl, … [the executive principal of the special school] recalls, responded with a curt “Fuck off!” every single morning for a year.

That particular response would be met with instant isolation, detention or expulsion in many schools – but not at …[this school]. “She was living in a house where there was violence, drug abuse, swearing – that was just commonplace and no one was nice to her,” ….[the executive principal] says. “So when she comes to us and we’re nice to her, she couldn’t cope with it.”

Instead of disciplining her, teachers paid the girl more positive attention in an attempt to understand the angst she was bringing from home. Within a year, she had stopped her morning outburst and got along with school staff. And that, the school’s principal, …, explains, is why the daily greeting is essential: it allows teachers to spot which children are arriving in a foul mood. “You’re sussing out where the child is at and how they’re feeling,” she says.

The article goes on to talk about “unconditional positive regard”:

… it means rewarding children for the smallest things – like being kind to fellow pupils – and not punishing bad behaviour. “I could have a kid that spits in my face today and tomorrow I’ll be OK with them,” he says. And if a pupils throws over a table and swears at the teacher? “The teacher would be really nice to them, talk nicely. It would be dealt with by the care team and that child would be looked after, taken out of the room for a calming period and then welcomed back into the classroom.”

This model of teacher virtue, in which we are encouraged to be human sponges willing to absorb any abuse and punishment, was not popular on my Twitter timeline. Many complained about how bad it would be for students to have their bad behaviour excused or rewarded. Others pointed out the implications for teachers’ working conditions. One tweeter observed that the idea that you should just put up with violence and hostility if you care enough was one that was normally discouraged because of its implications for victims of domestic violence.

However, if you read this blog you are probably already familiar with what I think of this. This is not why I am blogging. There was something else. This article was on Tuesday. The school, the principal and the executive principal were named. They are easily found on Twitter. Many, many Twitter traditionalists expressed their disapproval. Yet when I did a search last night, there was not one tweet attacking the school by name. There was not one abusive tweet sent to those staff members. There was only condemnation of the ideas.

I have repeatedly blogged about school shamings: when named schools and their staff are criticised on social media or in the press and it leads to online abuse.

There have been three main counter points given in defence of school shaming (if you ignore the endless pedantic responses asking me to define every word I use to describe the phenomena).

  1. Schools are publicly funded, therefore, they should be scrutinised and public criticism is part of that.
  2. The school being shamed has sought publicity for itself, therefore, as its name is out there, critics of the school should name it too.
  3. Traditionalists do the same thing too, you only object because you support the ideology of the schools being shamed.

We now have an example that shows that it’s possible to criticise a school, and object to the ideas and activities there in the strongest terms, without naming the school. We now know that it’s possible for people to be really angry about what a school does (and let’s be clear, I am very angry at the suggestion that teachers just accept abuse and violence) without provoking abusive messages on Twitter to staff at the school. We have now seen that even when a school publicises its terrible idea, it is possible to respond with criticism without using the school’s name. And finally, we can now observe that Twitter traditionalists do not react in the same way as progressives to things they dislike in schools; we can actually criticise at length without trying to shame or abuse. The difference between the insults and accusations schools get for having strict discipline policies, and the response this school has had for a ludicrously lenient one, is striking.

So I’m going to say it:

  • There is no excuse for school shaming. You can always criticise ideas without naming schools or people.
  • School shaming is something done by supporters of progressive education, and it is progressives who need to stop.

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4 comments

  1. Wow I am in agreement with you for a first time! Well said.


  2. […] credentials when it comes to bullying. Strangely enough, many of those who mock and, indeed, shame schools that have supposedly adopted “zero-tolerance” discipline codes are quite sanguine, if […]


  3. […] School Shamings: Why they are unnecessary and who is to blame for them […]


  4. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.



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