In our existence so far, all of us must have experienced the negative feelings attached to statements like “You should be ashamed of yourself” or “Shame on you”. No doubt the individual differences make us deal differently with the consequences but the similarity exists in its dismissive impact on all of us. And this goes for people of any age group.
Shaming is simply an act of observing or critiquing someone in a disapproving manner and explicitly establishing that recipient deserves it. The obvious consequence of it is an extreme feeling of unworthiness, a sense of dread, hit to our self-esteem and in some cases it even induces anger.
So it’s safe to say, shaming is counter-productive to our holistic development. Considering that, such experiences in our primary years can prove detrimental to our future well-being and growth. Amongst the many arenas, the school environment, specifically the interactions in a classroom have a monumental impact on children’s overall development.
A teacher plays an integral role for a child. They are the ones to channel a student’s curiosity, creativity, motivation as well as individual differences to cater to successful academic participation. A classroom is a safe place for risk-taking and that being said it also requires regulation. Disciplining the students becomes less of a responsibility for a teacher slipping into a matter of gaining control.
This is where the edu-psyche induces practices of humiliation, shaming, or corporal (beating) punishment. Over the years, these strategies have become normative and have been even endorsed by school authorities as legitimate to deal with a range of behaviors. The expertise to judge a behavior as out of line doesn’t come easy and the impulse to verbally discredit a child comes naturally.
First and foremost, it is important to identify behaviors that invoke shaming punishments and how they are harmful for a student-teacher relationship. To get a general idea, let’s consider the actions below in two different setups (now that there is no way to escape online platforms)-
Adjusting to online classes has been a herculean task for both students and teachers.
In our culture, corporal punishment is something that is not only acceptable in schools but is also considered an effective disciplining tool in parenting practices. But a steady stream of awareness in the education sector has swept such acts into the limelight and various legislations and courts have taken a proactive stance in banning corporal punishment.
In the case of Parents Forum for meaningful education vs Union of Delhi, the Delhi High Court struck down rules against corporal punishment in violation of Articles 21 and 14. Further, the RTE act of 2009 has explicitly banned corporal punishments.
It should have been a welcome change but it brought forth another nightmare. In a survey carried out in the state of Maharashtra, 62% of private and government schools resort to shaming devices despite being asked not to, after corporal punishment was banned. 48% of teachers even stated the efficiency of shaming punishments. With the world switching to the online mode, employing this has become more convenient and justified than ever.
A student-teacher relationship establishes a zone where both the parties enter as learners and this naturally validates certain hit and miss attempts. Educators go through extensive and detailed training before entering the environment but unfortunately, it evades the importance of realistic circumstances and I am talking about dealing with almost 100 different types of behaviors in an hour. And there is a whole buffet of age groups so there is no chance for familiarisation. It’s understandable how shaming as a primitive coping mechanism can emanate as an impulsive response but do we ever stop to assess “At what cost?”
The way we internalize shame puts a huge impact on our identity. With children and adolescents, whose identities and personalities are in an embryonic stage it can be stirring. The external contempt takes the shape of self-hatred as they are yet to form self-views and “you’re so stupid” becomes “I am so stupid”. They cannot engage in self-reflection and confirm with what they have been labeled. As an obvious output, further scope of self-expression, self-accountability, or zeal to explore will numb down, taking a huge hit on learning.
In the primary years, learning through observation shapes our social skills, interpersonal interactions and educates us about norms. In a classroom environment, using shame as a regulation tool denotes the idea that it is acceptable to make someone feel humiliated and their misery gives us a sense of pleasure and control. Children realize the sense of authority behind it and this further nourishes practices of bullying or outcasting someone.
Children want to view teachers as someone safe and it is undeniable that in a comfort zone, regulations are important for channeling healthy discovery and behavior. When shaming comes into the picture it has a high potential to cause the child to be mortified and ultimately shut down. Fear of being ridiculed shuts the window to engage further and drives the child to self-isolation. They become reclusive and avoid any further participation in class.
The negative self-talk, social anxiety arising out of shame, can all blow up to aggression, defiance, blaming others, and even going to an extent that the child becomes disruptive in the class, causing havoc for other students. They start losing their inner rationale to feel any humiliation and conclude that they never deserved the criticisms. They push back in all ways visible and invisible and this erodes any chance for a workable relationship between the student and teacher.
For individuals who channelize it as a signal to modify their behavior to be socially accepted, shaming can act as a motivational factor. This can cause a certain form of inhibition. The efforts will be to avoid the criticism, it will be out of fear of not conforming rather than as an inner effort and desire to improve. A bargain is struck around some limits that will welcome appreciation. Not just the ability to experiment but the scope of being intrinsically motivated as an individual will be shattered.
When times get trying we could always condition ourselves to look at the alternatives. Shaming punishment, hurtful remarks do seem appealing but there is always another side to this coin. Of course, such expertise will require the backup of experience but it all needs to start at some point-
The list can go on for suggestions and advice. The crux of this discussion is simply to make an educator realize that they are not Superhumans. They won’t have it all in one go but on the other hand, students are not expendable either. Teachers hold a beautiful responsibility to carve out a self-sustaining, confident, and independent individual. The twisted approaches of shaming punishments will render a teacher’s efforts and education hopeless. The emotion of humiliation can shape a child in incomprehensible ways and nobody would want the consequences of their efforts to be so uncertain. A moment of reflection and you will have a smooth road ahead!