Saturday, November 04, 2006


One of the things that alarmed me when I went to parent-teacher night at Sweet M's school was that they've instituted something called "responsibility room."

If a child doesn't finish his or her homework — or if, in the estimation of the teacher, hasn't done his or her best work — then they go to responsibility room instead of going to recess.

These kids are 8-year-olds. With learning disabilities. With sensory processing issues. Many with multiple psychotropic medications.

Responsibility room?

I can understand having a study hall or homework make-up room — though I'd question even that for 8-year-old LD kids. I can understand having a breakroom or a "crash room" if you don't feel like going to recess. But responsibility room?

Onto the fact that someone is having some sort of troubles getting their work done, the school is loading a whole load of assumptions — and guilt — about individual agency, about individual self-control. Contrary to popular delusions, humans actually don't have a lot of self-control. We are creatures of habit and creatures of instinct, and exercising self-control is something that is far more difficult than any of us are willing to say. But we are a culture that has large-scale fantasies about individuality and self-control and self-making. And Sweet M's school has bought into that idea big-time.

When I expressed my concern about responsibility room, I was told that our kids need some sort of discipline.

Fair enough. But if you're like me you've probably noticed that the word "discipline" comes from "disciple." The root of any sort of discipline worth engaging is a relationship, a loving, engaged, affective and sometime passionate relationship.

But something happens when the relationship is not a loving relationship, but a relationship of bureaucracy to individual, or institution to individual. Then discipline is anything but loving. Instead it is punitive.

If I'd felt that Sweet M's teachers had a loving and engaged relationship with her I might have been less alarmed about this construct, but seeing what I've seen so far, responsibility room looks like the first lesson in Kafka's Metamorphosis, the first lesson in acquiescing to institutional power.


KathyIggy said...

I don't agree with the "responsibility room" at all. That kind of negative approach never works with Megan, and it's just asking for trouble. This year, her class has a positive reinforcement system where the kids earn "smiles" during each class period. If they get all their smiles, they earn a break where they can play with some small toys in the class, or go to the adjacent "sensory room" that has a trampoline, dizzy disc, and all kids of fun things. If they don't get their smiles, no break, but they can read silently or work on schoolwork during that time. If the class as a whole earns a certain number of smiles throughout the week, they have "Friday fun" which is an activity the whole class votes on (like ice cream floats, or watching a short video, or even having the teacher do something silly for the class). It's worked the best of any school discipline program for Meg--she is really motivated to earn those smiles. I think isolating her in a "responsibility room" would NOT teach responsibility--it would cause lots of stress about school as she could never see it coming. And she hates to be isolated if it's not her own choice to do so.

David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

Responsibility room?

Sounds like yet one more stupid misapplication of 'time out'.

Sounds to me like the staff at that school do not know their arses from their elbows, to be honest. A negative approach - such as any punishment is actually a poor approach to getting children to behaviour in a desirable way.

Maybe we need someone to behaviourally analyse schools more than kids these days to find out why many kids end up with a weird idea of what reasonable behaviour is.

And I'm not even a behaviour analyst! Just an ordinary Ed-Psych.

Tera said...

Oh, lord.

This "responsibility room" sounds like a glorified quiet room to me (i.e. a small room in institutions and psych wards where they isolate "non-compliant" patients "for their own good")

That would be bad enough without the whole "teaching responsibility" veneer. I don't think "responsibility" is something you can measure across environments in children, especially not special-needs children. (I had a friend with motor problems whose PE teacher told her she would never amount to anything because she did so poorly in PE class).

I agree that a "responsibility room" creates feelings of guilt and general "badness" (as in, "I am a bad person because I didn't finish my homework"). What BS

kristina said...

And "discipline" and "disciple" both stem from the Latin word disco, which means "I learn"---what does the school say the students "learn" from the "responsibility room"? (And what kind of a physical space is it?)

mumkeepingsane said...

oh my. Sounds like a glorified and dangerous version of time out to me. This is a very very bad idea. *shudder*

John Best said...

Right, let's get rid of the time out rooms and go back to beating the kids.

Julibean said...

Hey, I just found your blog, really great to read the personal experiences of a parent. Just curious, what kind of school does your daughter go to? Is it a program for kids with autism? Also I am not clear on the difference between a homework make up room and "responsibility room", what are the kids doing in responsibility room that makes it different?

MothersVox said...

Welcome to all who are new here, or recent to the site. Sweet M goes to a school for LD kids. It has the reputation of being one of the best, if not the best, for so-called hi-functioning LD kids.

But they don't consider themselves a school for kids with emotional, sensory, or other health issues, or, perhaps as their reputation has grown over the years, they have been able to be increasingly selective about what sorts of kids they're willing to work with.

Sweet M doesn't have an ASD Dx — but does have about 7 others — so it's possible that we'll have to look for another school for her . . . even if I didn't find this responsiblity room thing an issue.

I'm quite sure that the choice does not need to be between going back to beating children or throwing them in timeout. There are other choices.

Thanks to all for your thoughts on this.

232sam said...

Then tell me, what are we to do with those children who really are being defiant and not completing their work? Letting them continue to behave this way will only teach them that they don't need to work to the best of their ability. I definately believe in the benefits of rewarding positive behavior, but what should we do when that alone does not work?