The Situation of Punishment in Schools
Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 24, 2009
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Colgate University psychologist Kevin Carlsmith looked at the consistent support for the University of Virginia’s legendary honor code–an example, he posits, of a policy that “assigns extreme punishments for minor offenses.” Under the code, any case of lying, cheating or stealing leads to expulsion. No lesser punishments are possible in the system. Carlsmith wondered why that system remains so popular and he theorized that people love the clarity and simplicity of the approach in the abstract, even if they are often offended by how it plays out in reality.
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Carlsmith decided to look more closely at our attitudes toward tough punishment schemes.
Carlsmith found that most people choose punishments designed more for retribution than to create any deterrence against future wrongdoing. People often endorse punishment systems that they later decide–after they see them in action against real people–are unfair. “A person focused on deterring future crime ought to be sensitive to the frequency of the crime, the likelihood of its detection, the publicity of the punishment, and so forth,” the professor writes.
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