Lesson 8- Show Tell And Discipline
At the end of my last program, I had just finish describing the operation performed by Dr. Roger Sperry back in the 1960s in which he split a living human beings brain at the corpus collosum. The corpus collosum, you might remember consists of two large bundle of nerves which crisscross at the top of our brains. Its function is to act as a communication network between the left and right hemispheres or lobes of the brain. When this was cut, his patient began to act like two persons who seemed to have different personalities with different views, opinions, and skills that were related to the two lobes of the brain. As a result, these lobes were often in conflict. The implications of this operation are far reaching and, since this discovery brain researchers have been fleshing out the two different personalities of the left and the right lobes of the human brain.
It seems that what they have discovered is the basic difference between humans and animals. It appears that all mammals have a double lobed brain but the basic difference between human and other mammals is that in their brains the two lobes are duplicates while in humans each lobe specializes in a different function. Our right lobe, like other mammals, is unable to read, write, or talk and it is what we share in common with the animal kingdom. It expresses its feelings nonverbally through facial expression and bodily postures. Our left lobe, on the other hand, which, functionally speaking begins as a duplicate of our right lobe, as time passes, is modified and begins to specialize in speech and logical thinking. Because of this, it becomes a reflective agent on the thoughts and impulses of our right lobe. Without it we would be animals. With it we become rational beings. It is what changes us from arational, impulsive animals into rational beings with reflective minds that are capable of logical judgment. Maya Pines, whose article in the New York Times Magazine first brought this to my attention writes:
In animals, a split brain may prove relatively unimportant, for the left and right halves of their brains do exactly the same job. But this is not the case for human beings. Alone among the mammals, man has developed different uses for each half of his brain. This asymmetry which we all recognize when we say whether was are right or left-handed, is the glorious mechanism through which man is able to speak. It is what separates us from the apes. There are various theories about how it developed and whether it is present right from birth, but it is quite clear that by the time a child reaches the age of 10, one hemisphere- usually the left- has taken over the job of language.
Thus, we could rightly say that our right lobe is connected to our animal nature and our left lobe is connected to our rational nature. We could also say that, in terms of communication, that both lobes are connected to the childrens game named Show and Tell. The nonverbal right lobe communicates by showing others what it feels through facial expressions, gestures, and body posturing. When its happy it smiles, when its sad, it cries, when it disapproves, it frowns, and when its angry, it threatens. Because it is related to our animal nature, it tends to evaluate reality according to feelings and thus subscribes to the philosophy of hedonism that says, whatever gives me pleasure is good and what gives me pain is bad. If your were to ask it what the purpose of food was it would say taste and if you asked it what the purpose of sex was, it would say pleasure. Because it doesnt seem to understand nutrition and reproduction as the primary purposes of food and sex respectively, it operates according to the secondary purposes of "taste" and "pleasure." Therefore, even when it does the right thing, it does it for the wrong reason. Whatever it knows, it knows intuitively, that is, without conscious thought. It has inborn knowledge such as passions, drives, instincts, and impulses which it doesnt logically understand and therefore lives in a world of "mental darkness" or unconscious thought.
Its partner, the left lobe, which, when we were children was a duplicate of our right lobe, has, because it has specialized in logic and language, consciously figured out the logical connection between food and nutrition and sex and reproduction. Therefore, it knows primary purposes, and because of this, it now possesses the "Knowledge of Good and Evil." It has moved from the amoral, unconscious world of the right lobe, to the moral, conscious world of a rational being. Because it knows real purposes, it is now capable of sinning because, as I have mentioned in previous programs, the word sin, as used in the New Testament, is a Greek word that means to "miss the target." We can't be morally responsible for "missing the target" until we know what the target is, and, it appears, that only our left lobes possess this knowledge. Therefore, it is the left lobe which says "a thing is good or bad according to how well it serves the purpose for which it was created" while the right lobe says whatever gives you pleasure is good and whatever gives you pain is bad." Where the right lobe shows you what it feels through nonverbal communication, the left lobe tells you what it knows through language.
As a young boy, my son, Joe, hated beef stew and whenever he learned that we were having it, he would try to get himself invited for dinner at one of his friends home. Whenever this failed, he had to eat with us and, to watch him eat was an audio/visual presentation of the right lobe in action. First he would look at the plate with disgust. Then we, representing the left lobe position of logic, would explain that beef stew was full of important ingredients that were necessary for his proper growth. It didnt seem to impress him. Then we would drop the logical approach and take the more forceful one that appealed, not to his reason that was weak or nonexistent, but rather to his hedonistic, animal logic based on pleasure and pain. We would say, "You are not going to leave this table until you eat every bit that is on your plate and, after dinner, you are to go to your room for the rest of the night." A frown would appear on his face as he reluctantly picked up his fork. Then began the ritual. First, he separated all of the ingredients into separate piles: the peas in one corner, the potatoes in another, then the beef and carrots. Then, he would take his napkin and pat the gravy off of every piece. After this was done, he would screw up his face and begin to force feed himself. With each mouthful, he looked as though he was about to throw up. As parents, we thought that we had to teach him that he had to do the right thing even when he didnt feel like it. However, it was a terrible ordeal to view and, after seeing it once or twice, we didnt have beef stew too often and, when we did, we gave him a token portion. This was a classic conflict between the views of the right and left lobes of the brain and life is full of them.
Because other mammals have a right and left lobe, that are duplicates of each other, whatever one lobe is thinking, the other is thinking the same thing. Therefore they have no dialectical or no reflective brains because their lobes are unable to dialogue with each other since they both are the same person with the same point of view and personality. One of the possible consequences might be that this causes their behavior to be impulsive. When I was discussing this in a previous program, I offered the example of standing on a subway platform when suddenly an impulsive thought like "I wonder what that man's face would look like if I pushed him off the platform?" came rushing into your mind. If both of our lobes, like animals, were duplicates, then the thought would occur to both of them and, therefore, become a command for action. There would be no dialogue about the "rightness or wrongness" of the act or of the possible consequences. In other words, it would be an amoral act because rational reflection didnt take place. However, since we now know that we have a dialectical brain with two lobes which are capable of dialoguing with each other through the corpus collosum, the same impulse would be subjected to a rational review and evaluated in terms of its "rightness or wrongness" and possible consequences.
Unfortunately, this does not always take place. It appears that the brains of young children do not specialize at first and, like, animals, their lobes are duplicates. Maya Pines again writes:
"The young child has speech and language on both sides of his head," doctors believe. "He is, to some extent, a split brain whose brains tend to develop independently and duplicate each other." At birth, the "corpus collosum" is only partly developed. It isn't until a child is about 2-years-old that the link between his two hemispheres becomes really functional, so that everything experienced by one side is instantly available to the other. At `that point, duplication of learning becomes less frequent, and true specialization begins."
Every parent knows how impulsive children are and that is why they are constantly correcting them. We might conclude that, since the childs left lobe has not yet developed into a reflective, moral agent on his right lobe, that parents are surrogate left lobes for their children. The children cant be allowed to be free because freedom to them means "no control" and this would lead to chaos and destructive behavior. Therefore, they must be put under "other control" until they learn the real meaning of freedom which is "self control." In other words, most children are impulsive, little animals dominated by the non-verbal right lobe and, being little hedonistic animals, adults are forced to resort to "reward and punishment" as the motivating agent in getting them to behave properly. They are potentially rational animal but its a potential that has not fully actualized. Some parents, hoping for the quick actualization of this potential, try to reason with the little monsters and refuse to discipline them. With some rare kids, it might work. However, if they favor the impulsive right lobe more than the rational left lobe, sooner or later it will be "reward or punishment" that will work, rather than rational explanation.
Other parents, impatient with their childrens impulsive behavior, skip any attempt at rational explanations, and simply beat or bribe them into submission. Its a quick fix but, in the long term, it has its problem. Its the same problem that God had with the Law in the Old Testament and why He finally had to replace it with the Spirit in the New Testament. Law changes behavior but it doesnt change the heart and the moment the threat of punishment or the promise of reward is removed, the person reverts to the forbidden behavior. In other words, the person never understands or internalizes the reason for following the rule.
Catholic schools, which are known for their strict discipline, often reap this consequence. In my years as a public school teacher, I have often heard my students say that whenever Catholic school students get away from the disciplinary forces of their school, they go "wild." I hoped that isnt true but I had to admit that when I used to take my inner city students on debate weekends with the Junior Statesmen of America, it was a Catholic high school from northern New Jersey whose students ripped up their hotel rooms, broke all the rules, and created havoc for the other guests in the hotel. On a few other occasions, I have read where buses loaded with Catholic students who were being transported to some event, had to be stopped because of the rowdy behavior of the students who were throwing things on the highway. In all of these instances, it appeared that whenever the law enforcer was missing or lax and the opportunity to avoided punishment was absent or diminished, they fell apart. Mentally and morally, they were still arational children who didnt know how to control their impulses and still needed "other control" because they hadn't learned "self control." Someone needed to remind them of St. Pauls statement in Corinthians I 13:11 where he wrote: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways." Obviously, in these instances, although having reach physical maturity, the students were still mentally and morally children.
Now, I dont want to paint all Catholic school students with the same brush because I am sure that there are many more unreported instances of well behaved students and I know many graduates of Catholic schools who are fine, upstanding people and would never participate in the behavior that I have described. However, I used these examples to show that "discipline is not enough." It's a short-term fix but it fails in the long term.
If reward and punishment are the only motivating forces in our lives, then we will always be children and will always need the control of others to make us do the right thing. God, however, will never be happy with us if we never grow beyond this point. He wants us to replace "law", which only changes our behavior, with "spirit" which changes our hearts. We find these sentiments in the Act of Contrition that many of us learned to recite after making a good confession. It goes like this:
"Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell this is a childish motive which is unworthy of a mature person and indicates that we are still in our infancy as a Christian. Then the prayer continues and the more adult level of motivation kicks in: "but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, do penance, and to amend my life, Amen." What this last section is saying is that when I fail to do the "good", I offend the source of all goodness, or God, and one should do "good" for its own sake, independent of any promise of reward or threat of punishment.
Would we expect anything less of our children? Do we really want to raise children who have to be bribed and threatened in their adulthood to do what any rational being knows is the right thing to do. We will tolerate it when they are young and lack understanding but we will not accept it once they have grown. And, it appears, neither will God.
Then there is a third type of parent who realizes that young children are not rational beings and are not affected by rational consideration. At the same time, they realize that it is their jobs as parents to lead these children to rational adulthood. Therefore, they use whatever method of control that works. They use a modified form of what Teddy Roosevelt used to say, "Talk softly but carry a big stick." First, Ill tell you what I want and why you should do it but, then, if that isnt enough to convince you, Ill make your disobedience a painful experience."
Anyone, who has ever closely and honestly watched children, will admit that, even the best of them, are capable of erratic and deplorable behavior. Once we understand that we are dealing with little animals then we can develop better strategies as parents. I dont believe that any parent enjoys "beating up" on their kids. In fact, we often say, "This is going to hurt me more than it does you" which simply means, "I don't enjoy seeing you suffer." Yet, there have been times when parents have lost control of themselves and have administered beatings that went far beyond what reasonable discipline required. Those parents, who in their own upbringing, we never taught to control their own emotions, sometimes end up doing serious and permanent physical and/or psychological harm to their children. However, parents, like policemen, are supposed to use "reasonable force", which means, that they should be in control of themselves when they are exerting their authority. The reason why some parents dont do this is because they dont understand the nature of the animal or the legal principle which comes from the center Ages which say " Punishment, to be effective, doesnt have to be severe; rather it should be immediate and certain." The reason that some parents reach the point of "blowing up" is because they keep threatening punishment and never follow through until the childs behavior becomes so intolerable that the parents lose control and do and say things can really harm the child. Fifteen minutes sitting on a chair or an immediate and consistent loss of a privilege may be more effective than a severe beating. When delayed and inconsistent punishment occurs, it often leads to a blowup in which the parents impulsive animalistic right lobe is punishing the childs animalistic right lobe, and the whole scenario lacks rational thought.
Punishment has to be immediate because the animal brain cannot see any logical connection between events that are too separated in time. If you want a dog to jump through a hoop, dont promise him a doggie biscuit next week or if you want teach him not to mess on your rug, dont hit him with a rolled up paper the following day. Both reward and punishment must be immediate if the animal nature is going to make the connection. Punishment and reward must also be certain when dealing with an animal nature. If the discipliner keeps on threatening or promising to punish or reward but seldom or never follows through, the animal nature will ignore both. Teachers and parents both have to learn that you must always follow through or you will lose your credibility. Thus, punishment, in order to be effective, does not have to be severe; rather it has to be immediate and certain.
I think that the situation with crime in the United States is a good example of what happens when you violate the principle of "fast and certain punishment." Time after time, we hear of a young criminal being arrested for a serious crime which will result in him either being executed or spending the rest of his life in jail, both of which, I am sure you will agree, are severe punishments. Then we learn that this horrendous crime is the tail end of a long string of less serious crimes going back to his preteen years for which he received a warning or probation. His animal nature learned that there we no sure consequences and, like any animal, decided that the pleasure that was gained was worth the uncertain consequences to follow.
As a teacher, I can assure you that the same thing has happened in our schools. We have created an environment without any consequences and thus our credibility is lost.
Shortly after I began teaching, I became the Social Studies teacher for seniors in an inner city school. I told my students that anyone who failed to do the work would not graduate. However, they had been told this many times by other teachers throughout their school careers and, yet, they were always promoted to the next grade. That year, I failed 25 seniors who needed my course to graduate, and I never had to do it again. My credibility had been established and the word went out that "I said what I meant and I meant what I said. Later on, I learned that my reputation had drifted down to the center schools where students were being told that "if you get Reilly, dont mess around in his class or he'll fail you."
Like any good teacher, you have to understand who your clientele is. Anyone who believes that teenagers are rational beings should have their head examined. The reason they become so problematic is, as I have said, because, although they have adult bodies, they still have the minds of children and their impulsive behavior becomes more dangerous to themselves and to others.
For years, the schools have tried to prevent drug taking by exposing the students to rational explanation as to why drugs are harmful. Speakers, films, program after program were tried with limited success. In fact, in some instances the students used the information to try new drugs that they didnt know about. They are gamblers who are not affected by what happens to other people. They are more responsive to what happens to them, and they know that nothing really happens to them when they are caught with drugs.
Years ago, we decriminalized the use of drugs because center class parents, seeing that their own children were becoming involved in drugs did not want to see their children thrown into jail with hardened criminals. And, you cant blame them. I have taught in the prisons and I certainly wouldnt want to see anybodys child thrown into that environment. Because of this fear, it was decided that the selling of drugs would remain a crime but the use of them would not.
The federal government has spent billions of dollars trying to get Colombia and other drug producing nations to dry up the supply by destroying crops and arresting members of drug cartels which often are richer and more powerful than the governments which are trying to control them. Judges and other political leaders in some of these nations have been rewarded for their efforts by being assassinated. Add to the money spent on trying to dry up the supply, the money that is spent trying to seal up our borders to prevent the entrance of drugs and you start to get the sense that we are spending an awful lot of money for an insignificant effect. Any teenager could tell you that drug are in plentiful supply. Common sense knows that where billions are to be made in the providing of drugs, there will be no scarcity of people who are willing to produce, import, and sell them. The one answer that we, as a nation, continue to avoid is to dry up the demand by making it unprofitable to use them. As I have already mentioned, the reason we wont consider this solution is because it would be applied to center class kids who are dabbling in drugs.
This is a classic example where the principle of "Punishment to be effective does not have to be severe; rather, it should be immediate and certain" applies. It wasnt necessary to throw center class kids in jail for using drugs. Nor was it necessary to remove all consequences. No one considered using lesser penalties that were applied immediately and consistently. Why, for example, couldnt young offender be sentenced to three months of public service, sweeping streets, cutting grass, clearing lots, removing graffiti? I dont know many teenagers who wouldnt be deterred by three months of hard work every Saturday that could be increased with every repeat offense. Punishment should begin mild and escalate to harsh. What is most important is the it be swift and certain because only then will it be a deterrent
Having taught for 39 years in inner city school where some students can be very confrontational, I soon learned that the only way to deal with them was to give them a choice concerning how serious they wanted an incident to become. For example, one incident involved a girl who was walking the hallways while classes where in session. When I asked her where she was going, she pretended that she didnt hear me. Each time I asked her, she continued to ignore the question. Finally, I got in front of her where she couldnt deny it and she took a confrontational attitude. I remained calm and told her that she had an after school detention with me. She said that she wouldnt come. I said that was up to her but if she chose to not come, then I would choose to take it to the next higher levels. I outlined for her what they were ranging from a call to her home to suspension. She came once she realized that I meant it and that I would follow up to whatever level was necessary. When youre dealing with animal logic, you have to find what level of discomfort is necessary to deter it.
When my own children we attending a local Catholic high school, the principal informed the parents at a parent teachers meeting that they had a serious problem with lateness and that they had to change their policy. The original policy was that each lateness resulted in a demerit and, when the student reach 14 demerits, he or she was suspended. Well you can guess what the students were doing. They saw this as an opportunity to be late 13 times. As a result, the daily lateness under the old policy was 350 students a day, which is an unheard number in a Catholic high school. The new policy, the principal said, was that each lateness resulted in an after school detention that had to be served that day. The number of latenesss dropped to 35.
For years now, we have been reaping the consequences of some fuzzy headed, so called experts who keep telling us that our children are rational beings and that we should learned to trust them. Obviously, they forgot their own teen years when misleading our parents was our favorite sport.
Trust is something that has to be learned and earned and it comes with maturity when "self control" replaces "other control." We all want to be free, but our animal nature thinks that freedom means "no control." As parents we should look upon the teenage years as a minefield, containing mines with various degrees of explosives. Some, like firecrackers, have the potential for serious harm but, for the most part, frighten more than they harm. Others are high explosives that have the potential to kill or seriously maim. No loving parent would allow their children to enter such a mine field without guidance and control and to the childs impulsive demand that they be allowed to run ahead because they know the way, the wise parent holds them back, that is, unless they are silly enough to believe that the best way to learn that you shouldnt step on a mine is to have your leg blown off. True, we can learn from experience but a better and safer way is to learn from other peoples experiences. Jumping off a 10-storied building is not the best way to learn that it can kill you.
I used to tell my own children that my job, as a parent, was to get them through these difficult years without having them make any serious, life changing mistakes. However, I knew, in my own mind, that they would make mistakes, because we all do, but I wanted to minimize the seriousness of their errors. And, of course, if they didnt listen or obey and stepped on a land mine, then I, like any loving parents, would pick up their mangled bodies and nurse them back to health. But my first line of defense was a firm and consistent demand that my rules be obeyed and if they werent, there were always consequences.
Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom.