Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Punishment, much less extreme punishment, does not achieve the goals sought

This Steve Chapman (Chicago Tribune) editorial is worth re-printing in its entirety as we consider domestic violence, drone strikes, and continue to turn a blind eye to the carnage in the wake of our 'war on drugs.'

CHICAGO: You think Marine Corps boot camp is tough? In the old days it was much tougher. Drill instructors often corrected recruits by kicking them, punching them or hitting them with sticks. Broken jaws and bloody noses were not unusual.

But in 1957, the Corps abolished physical, or corporal, punishment. Today, drill instructors may not even touch recruits. A DI who uses such methods can expect to be discharged, imprisoned or both.

There were those who thought the change would make the Marine Corps soft and cowardly. If you hold that view, I can give you directions to Parris Island, where you can make your case directly to new graduates of boot camp or combat veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Battle-hardened officers once saw these methods as indispensable in preparing men for the horrors of combat. The point was to instill in recruits habits that would enable them to engage in war and survive. Eventually, the Marine Corps learned it could accomplish that urgent, difficult goal without physically abusing them.

Americans have gradually come to the conclusion that educators can also fulfill their missions without hitting the young people in their care. Corporal punishment is forbidden in public schools in 31 states. The number of kids paddled in public schools has dropped by 85 percent since 1976. Catholic schools, reports the Washington Post, have also abandoned it.

In Sweden and 38 other countries, parents are no longer permitted to use corporal punishment on children. Here, however, it’s allowed and widely employed. Four out of five American parents say it’s sometimes appropriate. One-third of parents even strike infants.
The common view is that spanking is the only way to raise well-behaved kids. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was most likely acting on that view when he whipped his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, leaving the boy riddled with bloody welts.

The belief is as plausible as assuming that hitting was necessary to produce good Marines. What corporal punishment often produces, as it allegedly did in the Peterson case, is undeniable abuse — which often originates in an attempt to discipline a child and then escalates.

Most Americans were spanked as kids, believe their parents acted in their interest and take this treatment for granted. But the wisdom of our ancestors is often wrong.

In the 1920s, one popular child development guru was psychologist John Watson, who gave advice about child-rearing that we would find appalling. In dealing with children, he urged, “Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning.”

Watson didn’t mean to be harsh. He was afraid affectionate parents would produce weak children. Today, we regard the Watson approach as cruel and heartless. But the majority continues to embrace corporal punishment, in spite of reams of evidence confirming its harms.

Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, has done extensive research on domestic abuse, and he has reached a judgment about spanking of kids. “One simple way of putting it,” he told me, “is that all the effects of corporal punishment are bad.” More than 100 studies, he said, establish that it increases the likelihood that recipients will engage in violence as children and as adults.

One of the most arresting charts in his book, The Primordial Violence, shows the relationship between spanking and murder among the 50 states. Most kids who are spanked don’t grow up to be killers. But as the caption says, “The larger the percent of the population who approve of spanking, the higher the homicide rate.”

Internationally, more spanking correlates with more murders. Adults who were spanked are more likely to assault spouses or romantic partners than adults who were not. Kids who are hit by parents are prone to hitting other kids.

These correlations are not accidental. “Spanking teaches that it’s morally correct to use violence to correct misbehavior,” Straus explained. Someone who absorbs this vivid lesson, confronted with objectionable conduct, is more likely to resort to force to stop the conduct.

Of course, it’s always possible that if American parents abandoned corporal punishment, our kids would turn out spoiled, selfish, lazy and bereft of moral values. You know, like U.S. Marines.

Chapman is a Chicago Tribune columnist. He blogs daily at—chapman.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Violence & Accountability
There is much to be learned from the ongoing contortious NFL response to the sudden dramatization of a long-term problem, casting them and their players as the villains.  While there has already been some powerful analysis and will certainly be more, I am struck by the shameless hypocrisy surrounding NFL leadership claims about accountability.

I am not the first to point this out, but it strikes me as one of the lessons here that cuts across issue-areas and is rarely, if ever, the thematic thread our mass media focus on to tell and analyze a story.

The leader of the organization, speaking for the leadership group, (mostly men, all extremely wealthy, nearly all white) comes to the podium and--in his own words--tells us that the trail of mistakes starts with him and he is accountable.

What this means in this context is he is 'manning up' and admitting his mistake, so he can get on with his work.  He highlights for the moment that this work will include prioritizing addressing the problem on the table.  In this case it is domestic violence, but in other large organizations it is budgetary crises or downsizing or product recalls or the large-scale corruption and deception we saw in the recent financial crisis or in the ongoing pilfering of workers pension funds.

Anyway, to stay on point, the leader's comments about his own accountability reflect a remarkable about-face (that he hopes we do not see) on how to hold someone accountable.  In the recent past, when the person to be held accountable was not an elite among the leadership club the favored framing was zero tolerance to justify highly punitive responses targeting the individuals responsible.

In general, I do not support highly punitive responses, but I certainly do not support a system where accountability for the wealthy means they must admit they made a mistake so we can let them continue to lead us to a remedy, while accountability for the average Joe means something else entirely.

Just to be clear, in this case the average Joes do appear to deserve severe punishment, as does the leader of the NFL.  And while the average Joes have video footage to turn our stomachs so we have little doubt about the harm they caused, the NFL leader hides behind his apologetic accountability to make it harder for us to see the far greater harms resulting from his enabling, overlooking, and downplaying.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Always liked this...

Mind your thoughts, they become words;
Mind your words, they become actions;
Mind your actions, they become habits;
Mind your habits, they become character;
Mind your character, it becomes your destiny. 

-- Upanishads

Feels like ancient wisdom that cuts across belief systems.

Clear eyes, pure heart.

Thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, destiny.
In the news today...
Beacon Journal education writer provided a thoughtful summary of the new state report cards for the K-12 system, noting that most charter schools in Summit County earned a grade of F, with those managed by for-profit companies doing the worst of all.  All the talk, locally and nationally, about the innovative social entrepreneurs running charter schools does not seem to be even close to true when we look at the data here.
Beacon Journal staff writer interviews the Exective Director of the Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties about the firestorm in the NFL, a reluctant microcosm of society at large, that has resulted from Ray Rice’s brutal assault of his then fiancé.
Marc J. Dunkelman of the Los Angeles Times argues that America’s famous melting pot tolerance has become fragmented and politically dysfunctional.
Conservative columnist CharlesKrauthammer and Liberal Columnist David Ignatius both of the Washington Post respond to President Obama’s recent foreign policy speech, demonstrating the dysfunctional fragmentation Dunkelman describes?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Proud to be an American
There are many times I feel proud, and deeply fortunate, to live in the USA in 2014.  There are many times when I cringe at the ways some use 'proud to be an American' as a bludgeon to silence others (a very unAmerican objective) or to stand up for positions the framers or most Americans today would find offensive and not part of what being American means to us.  And we know there can be a fine line between loving our homes and destructive nationalism.

Why, for instance, do those who repeat 'freedom ain't free' in place of actual listening and thinking not then see paying our taxes as an essential contribution to our freedom?  And why can't we, the nation of immigrants, do the right thing on immigration?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Selective Accountability is Wasteful and Undermines Community
Virginia Postrel, writing for the Bloomberg View, provided a very interesting description of the gap between what the best available data demonstrates about the importance of patient-centered hospital architectural design and the ways we actually build hospitals. 

The existence of a gap is not what I find most surprising.  What is most interesting is her description of why decision makers fail to build hospitals with these data-driven design features known to increase patient recovery time and reduce patient use of pain medications.  

“The problem is not a lack of knowledge…. There are specialized architects and interior designers who have spent decades studying how to improve health-care environments. There are articles in peer-reviewed journals — even an “Evidence-Based Design Journal Club” to discuss new articles — and annual conferences.

In other words, there’s plenty of information on how to make hospital-design better.

The real problem is a lack of incentives and feedback. New hospitals that hire fancy architects tend to lavish money on public areas — the places donors see — and treat hidden departments, such as the imaging suites, as purely functional. Even when money isn’t an issue, they make choices that please administrators but ignore research.

The old-fashioned insistence on highly polished floors, a hazard to older patients with fading eyesight, is a pet peeve of health-care design experts. Evidence suggests that patients react better to landscapes than abstractions, and that “chaotic abstract art” and “close-up animals” looking directly at the viewer should probably be avoided. Yet the $1-billion Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, which opened in 2008, features a cafeteria mural whose violently jagged abstractions are made all the more threatening by other shapes resembling lions staring out.”

Because elite decision makers are excessively focused on impressing other elite decision makers (donors and other administrators in particular), even when these decisions undermine the mission of the institution, are contrary to the best data, and waste money. 

If hospitals are anything like universities—large organizations run by elites insulated from what happens on the ground to actually advance the mission—then these elite decision makers likely joke among themselves about the need to insist upon greater accountability from their front-line workers whom they assume act to undermine the mission, contrary to the best data, and waste money.