PBIS: The Control Movement, Part 1


I am cranky this morning. Yep, like Roz in Monsters Inc.

This week has been all too full of examples of school adults making really goofy decisions, full of school adults tightening the grip of control using behaviorism, not only on the students they serve, but on the parents as well.

Nothing good can come of it. We all know when you squeeze something to control it, you either lose control completely or the stuff you were trying to control pops out from a different place. Think trying to remove a hook from a slippery fish or wearing those jeans that are a bit tight in the midriff. Fish squirts out of your grasp or the extra girth you were hoping to conceal pops out the top of your waistband.

images-2And that is exactly what is happening in schools. Heavy reliance on behaviorism is hindering, not helping. Behaviorism squelches independent thinking and problem solving.

We are currently so preoccupied with controlling kids and their teachers that we have lost our way and the future will prove how lost we have become.

I have given this much thought. I blame the PBIS (Positive Interventions and Supports) movement. I blame test scores determining the worth of teachers and schools. I blame fear mongers.

I have never embraced the PBIS movement. I support the need for using systematic approaches to determine when some students may need academic and behavioral intervention and I  agree we should be observing students closely and encouraging themimages-3 to make positive choices. What I do not agree with is how and why we are doing these things.

It’s the HOW we are arriving at these decisions, HOW we are identifying defecits that is the problem. We have limited the menu of ‘positive’ choices to a point that looks, feels and acts like racism, intolerance of differences. It disenfranchises way too many kids, excludes, disrespects, dishonors.

Let me make something clear before I go on. I am no trained expert on PBIS. I sit on the sidelines and observe, I experience the effects of PBIS on students, including my own, and I hear from parents and teachers weekly about the absurdities.

imagesBut here is the thing. Just because we use the word positive, doesn’t mean there is anything meaningfully positive about it. You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still gonna be a pig.

PBIS is just a cover for controlling  with the use of behaviorism. I will spare you all a quick explanation of behaviorism. Google it. Basically if a kiddo does something we like, we reward him. If he does something we do not like, we do not reward him and hand out a negative consequence in hopes that he will be motivated to make the right choices to get a positive pat on the head or an M&M.

Yeah. That’s about it.

So the PBIS movement believes it is THE way to go to increase positive behaviors. You see, PBIS is all about teaching  coercing the kiddos to walk down the hallway, use the bathroom, control their bodies so that all negative behaviors just go away. Because, if they know better, they will do better.

Unknown-3I call bullshit.  I know better about a lot of things, but I still make choices that would indicate I don’t know better. You can train me about eating right, you can have me practice eating right, you can positively reward me when I eat right, but when the opportunity to divert from eating right presents itself, I am choosing the Unknown-2cheesecake.

Every time.

So, let’s say I eat the cheesecake after you taught me all about how to eat right and you gave me plenty of opportunities to practice eating right. Sigh. It is clear that I need to be moved up to tier two of the intervention pyramid. I need remedial reteaching of how to eat right. I need more chances to practice eating right. I need more positive reinforcement for eating right. But I promise you, I am still gonna eat that cheesecake. Now it is clear I need extra help with this. I am moved to tier 3 of the intervention pyramid. I need an IEP to help me eat right. I need supports. I need goals and objectives and accommodations. I Unknown-1need a specialist to find ways for me to correct this behavior.

But I assure you, I am still gonna eat that cheesecake because the goals are all about getting me to stop eating the cheesecake. They have nothing to do with me as a whole person with likes and dislikes, family and cultural preferences and norms. And you have just made it worse. Now there is shame associated with eating cheesecake. So it becomes something I have to do in secret, another reason to dislike myself. A reason to distrust what my parents have modeled to me- it’s OK to eat cheesecake whenever the notion moves me.

And that, my friends, is PBIS. A need to control, through positive reinforcement and teaching, every move our students make. So you see, the focus is now on finding all the places and ways in which our students are causing trouble,images-1 not performing in ways WE find acceptable, not learning at the rates WE have determined normal. Then we show the students exactly how to perform in ways we find acceptable, we reward those marching along as we taught. And that is supposed to then motivate those little buggers NOT catching on to pay attention and march along like the rest.

Tomorrow I will share some of the ridiculous rules and regulations schools inflict on kids as part of their PBIS programs.

You might not believe a lot of it.



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