Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Enduring Practice of Negative Psychology


If constructivist theory is what all learning and teaching is based upon how well do we know and understand it? How do we help students understand the philosophies they have constructed and how they by and large determine the choices they make and the emotions they experience? If a child has given up on herself and has reasoned that she is hopeless how then can she develop her potential? If she has hit a psychological brick wall and can’t push through it or clamber over it what can be done? This psychological impasse has a negative affect on the student and if schools are not equipped with the means to support her then nothing changes for that student.  Could educators unwittingly be peddling a brand of negative psychology in schools? If educators are addressing behaviours only and applying consequences to them this is not enough as the underlying individually constructed beliefs that give rise to dysfunctional behaviour and emotions aren’t being addressed.  We can ask children to ‘believe in themselves’ and have posters on walls around the school but what philosophy underpins such self-belief?  How do we teach it?

Recently an educator (Ms. Di Namic), a self proclaimed ‘passionate teacher’ and a strident critic of ‘poor’ teaching believes that a ‘good’ teacher (like herself maybe??) can compensate for the psychological barriers that students have developed over a life time. Well-prepared, knowledgeable and passionate teachers can achieve this according to Ms Namic. These students can be ‘inspired’ out of the doldrums by the teacher’s passion and verve! A more enlightened educator commented that ‘I had a great physics teacher at school. Loved him but I didn’t learn a thing.’ The point is that teacher competency; enthusiasm and dedication in themselves are not enough to help disengaged students who are emotionally and behaviourally unwell.

Dr Albert Ellis founded Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy in the 1950’s, a philosophy based form of psychotherapy, the forerunner of other cognitive therapies like CBT and Choice Theory amongst others. Martin Seligman acknowledges the influence Ellis’ work had on his Positive Psychology approach. Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance helps people to identify the errant personal philosophies they have constructed, how these affect their moods and behaviours and how they can deconstruct them and replace them with more helpful habits of believing.

This approach is educative and empowering and is used the world over to help people sort out their emotional and behavioural problems and has great potential for students from preschool age upwards. It enables teachers to help students understand why they feel and act as they do. It is not enough to focus solely on the behaviours we observe (behaviour management?) but also on the underlying beliefs students have constructed (behaviour education).

The Whyalla REBE School Cluster in South Australia delivers the REBT mantra to students across all year levels i.e. THINKING FEELING and BEHAVING are all linked. The behaviour we observe and accompanying emotions are the visible (and audible) expressions of individually constructed personal philosophies, which can be rational or irrational (they either help or impede progress towards our goals). Rational Emotive Behaviour Education educators promote positive psychology in schools through Albert Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. They not only describe behaviours but teach students where their choices of behaviour come from, a very powerful teaching competency!

REBE Educators in Whyalla:

·      Understand constructivist theory
·      Know that we act and feel as we do because we think as we do
·      Teach students how they construct their core philosophical beliefs
·      Help students challenge and change destructive self defeating beliefs
·      Always give behaviour (not person) specific feedback
·      Teach students they are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but they are always worthwhile

To do otherwise is not enough as the status quo prevails where students remain in a mire of self-doubt and helplessness (a cycle of negative psychological disturbance) disengaged, alienated and at great emotional and behavioural risk. 


Some ways in which negative psychology is reinforced:

Having a step system (one size fits all) approach to behaviour (behaviour management)
Publicly admonishing students
Saying things like ‘you make me angry’
Using person specific feedback e.g. ‘you are lazy/naughty’
Referring to student as ‘a shit’ in the staffroom
Inflexible, undifferentiated curriculum
Exclusive curriculum
Saying good boy/girl

Any others?

Whyalla Foreshore Friend

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