Jake Frackson

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Shame is a hinderance to education.

In Brené Brown's "Listening to Shame," she describes the difference between guilt and shame: guilt is "I made a mistake" and shame is "I am a mistake." By accepting these definitions, can it not be assumed that shame is not needed in schools? If shame is a personal opinion of oneself, is it not then only a hinderance to gaining an education?

In an article that I wrote recently(jakefrackson.wordpress.com - You Should be Ashamed of Yourself), I discuss shame and its role in education systems. I explore the use of shame and why, I believe, it is not necessary.

Working with the definition of shame above, is shame a hinderance to education?

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    Nov 2 2012: Just a personal humble opinion. Shame is not a hinderance to education because Shame doesn't derive solely from the mistakes made or opportunities missed in school. It happens anywhere and everywhere in circumstances where you feel you could've done better as an individual. It is an emotion and a state of mind, we can't just dismiss it as unnecessary. It can only be a hurdle to run away from, or a stepping stone. Its a development we all go through and before anyone can say its unnecessary, half the world has learnt/ gain from feeling ashamed. Cos sometimes you learn so much more when it hits you where it hurts. If 1 has no sense of shame, we'd all be running around naked in Walmart.
    • Nov 9 2012: As funny as the idea of people running around naked in Walmart is do you really think that's what kids would do if their teachers decided they shouldn't feel like mistakes? Because having a sense of dignity (and remaining fully clothed) isn't the result of shame.

      Where else does shame come from if not from mistakes or any effort someone else has deemed unacceptable? It's sourced in other people's reactions to you not your conscience.

      I do agree that you can use shame as a learning opportunity- to learn not to be ashamed of yourself.
  • Nov 7 2012: The educational system is based on the manufacturing model. For over one hundred years, interchangeable parts, assembly-line production, and standardization have represented the efficient way to supply markets with affordable merchandise and job markets with compliant workers. For the most part, the United States can attribute its current philosophy toward public education to John Dewey. Dewey’s goal was“. . . to turn public schools into indoctrination centers to develop a socialized population that could adapt to an egalitarian state operated by an intellectual elite" (Waiting for Superman http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/action/)..
    However efficient such a system may appear, schools do not produce merchandise; they foster creativity and educate America’s youth so that they can construct promising futures. Current educators recognize the pessimistic metaphor and refer to a large percentage of our nation’s schools as “drop out factories” (Balfan Waiting for Superman http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/action/).

    Once the system sorts and labels students, they lose any desire to learn. They have been conditioned to recognize only their limitations. The negative conditioning does produce shame, but worse than that, it produces apathy. Additionally, it reduces learning to the lowest common denominator.
  • Mats K

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    Nov 6 2012: Very much so and it's crucial to work out where shame stems from. We know that shame often is a byproduct of failure or feeling like a failure, well guess what; most schools are competitive in nature. That means if only one student gets way ahead all the others students and gets awarded for it, that could potentially leave all the other kids in despair thus shame because of the feeling of failure. So, we need to look at the fundamental level of where shame stems from and how to get rid of it. In this case, getting rid of competition in schools. Is this possible? Finland did it and they scored number one in the world in education.

    Check out this video for more information about the Finland education system: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlOfZL_J5fo
  • Nov 5 2012: There are many contributions to someone experiencing shame. Abuse, bullying, as well as being shamed by the teacher. Any of these can hinder education, and usually do. Not to mention the pressure some kids feel to always be the best at whatever they do. When a student has shame, something as simple as writing a report, a poem, or story or doing a presentation can be problematic. Then they have lower grades, and the cycle of shame continues.
    • Nov 9 2012: I totally agree with you. When shame is the only result to any effort no matter how humble or grand how can there be any progress? Why can't the work you create be a reward in itself instead of working for someone else's approval or to avoid feeling worthless?
  • Nov 2 2012: Shame does have effect education. Whether it is someone who regularly struggles with learning or someone who normally excels, it can have a very negative impact. For students who may not be the top in the class, shame could cause them to drop out. It is just as hard on the student who is driven to get that 100% too. I saw a presentation recently on the book, “The Overachievers” by Alexandra Robins which had a very similar theme to this topic. Some of the facts and cases from it were quite appalling, but it showed how far this concept of shame from education can go.

    I think that the shame of not excelling in school is given in the hopes that it will make someone try harder and strive to do better. But I don’t think that it isn’t often taken in by the student like that. It is considered instead as something more personal, because a judgement of something you have done is like a judgement of you.
  • Dec 1 2012: All human emotions including shame are like knives. A knife can be used either as a tool or as a weapon, but that depends on the user not on the manufacturer. Just in the same way, a person is not responsible for what other people do or say to him/her, but he/she is responsible for the way he/she (unconsciously) chooses to feel and respond to those feelings. If you ask my opinion I would say that any emotion can be a hinderance or a boost to education, I've seen people who dramatically improves in school while they're in love, but also have seen the exact opposite. It is the person who makes the difference.

    In my opinion a very effective and efficient way to improve education would be to teach students from kinder garden to college to handle their emotions in a proper manner.
  • Nov 14 2012: Gone are the days of the "Survival of the Fittest", but the modern day slogan should be "Survival of the Shameless". Because one who is the shameless can only survive in this world. For clever people Shame is a tool to belittle and humiliate the other person. This way the clever person forces the other person to feel shame , and when the intensity of the shame increases in the person who has been belittled and humiliated he ends the life through suicide.This way the clever people reduce competition in their life.
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      Nov 17 2012: Some corporate giants seem to function just the way you described, see Monsanto in India for example. It seems to me that "survival of the fittest" is still the MO of too many individuals and organizations.
      • Nov 18 2012: Just like we have vegetarians and non-vegetarians , same way "Survival of the Fittest" is still valid for some , and those who are driven by shame for them "Survival of the Shameless" is good. Survival of the Shameless ultimately leads to the Survival of the fittest.
  • Nov 9 2012: Shame has been used for generations to intimidate free thinkers (public humiliation for what the town does't approve of comes to mind).

    Shame is not the normal response of a "good conscience" because shame is the result of someone else telling you how to act, not from knowing yourself what is right.

    Shame isn't motivating, it's degrading.

    Why would you want to improve for a teacher, a coach, or anyone else who makes you feel so bad even if shame didn't leave you feeling like you are incapable of becoming better?
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    Nov 4 2012: Your statement meets the requirements for a palindrome, of sorts: Education is a hindrance to shame.
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      Nov 5 2012: Interesting, idealistic to say the least.
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    Nov 3 2012: It is the job of a teacher to attempt to assess and maximize your potential. It is not the job of anyone to use shame as a tool to achieve results. Using a open grading system by defination could be a part of shaming a student.

    There appears to be a mix of replies regarding shame and what I term as regret. Regreting that I did not catch the winning TD is not the same as the shame of not doing it.

    I do not see shame as a hinderance to education usless the teacher is the one who is assigning the shame publiclly.

    Shame would imply total failure and if a teacher is heeping that burden on a student they need to be reported. Education is about being given the opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed and all efforts should be to arrive at those goals. Some will assimulate faster than others and that is natural. Some will require a little more guidance from the teacher to reach the goal.

    If the "shame" is of a non-educational source it is still the job of the teacher to not judge but to ensure that the student is in a caring and nuturing environment that is concerned with their mind and given the same opportunities to excell as all other students. If the student continues to show problems that are interfering with the class or the learning environment then the student should be refered to the proper authority that is charged with counselling or mental health of the student.

    Remember that no one can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission.

    All the best. Bob.
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      Nov 4 2012: Teachers and other authority figures can often make children feel bad about themselves. With children, the maxim that "no one can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission" is not quite fair, I think. High school students are still children and shaming students is one reason they may drop out of school or 'shut down" in a subject.

      I agree fully with your statement: "if a teacher is heeping that burden on a student they need to be reported. Education is about being given the opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed and all efforts should be to arrive at those goals. Some will assimulate faster than others and that is natural. Some will require a little more guidance from the teacher to reach the goal."

      Students learn best when they can see evidence of their own growth and successes. It is the teacher's job to make sure this happens.
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        Nov 5 2012: I agree that part of a teacher's job is to ensure that a student is aware of their growth and success, but I believe the teacher's job extends further in this area. When a student fails, or rather attempts but does not succeed at something, I believe that it is vital for the teacher to motivate the student to persevere. When this motivation and support is not provided, I believe, shame begins to develop in the student.
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          Nov 5 2012: That is a big part of what teachers are, in fact, trained to do as well.

          When I taught in lower education, teachers had signs up that said "Mistakes are falling FORWARD."

          Unfortunately some teachers substitute other frameworks for motivating students.
  • Nov 2 2012: GREAT topic Jake!

    I feel that shame is generally unproductive in the classroom. I heard the message "You are not trying hard enough" repeatedly. I felt deeply ashamed that my earnest efforts where never enough and I internalized the feeling as "I am never enough." I was a perfectionist and this added to the toxicity of my experience. When I finally graduated form high school and proceeded to enroll in a community college, I was able to get evaluated for learning disabilities and it was discovered that my functioning levels were very asymmetrical. While my language skills placed me in a clearly gifted category my spacial skills were abysmally low ... The mystery was solved but the damage had been done. I had survived multiple head injuries due to childhood abuse in my home and I wonder if the teachers had asked more questions about the underlying reasons as to why I was not performing well (in the area of mathematics, in particular) instead of assuming that I was simply "not trying hard enough", if some of my suffering and brain trauma could have been avoided. What is clear, is that the shame that I felt for failing to meet their expectations only compounded my problems.
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    Gail .

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    Nov 2 2012: I was probably in 2nd grade when I realized that teachers and neighbors called me by my first name, but I was required to call them Mr./Mrs. LastName. I realized at that young age what they were saying ABOUT me by using that shaming method. When authority figures such as teachers are incapable of treating students with adequate respect, shame is a natural consequence and it is inculcated into us in the indoctrination program that is called education.
    • Nov 9 2012: I agree that mutual respect is absolutly necassary.
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    Nov 1 2012: Shaming people has no legitimate place in child-rearing, in schools, or anywhere.
  • Nov 29 2012: We strive for greatness in order to escape mediocrity and in doing so we are in a perpetual footrace, if you will, to avoid the "shame" of living what our individual subconscious considers "shame."

    In that token, we thrive because of a fear of failure. Thus, "shame" is the most basic catalytic agent responsible for success. Taken to the context of education students will immerse themselves in study in order to reside above the status quo. Therefore, shame is the emotion responsible for competition and competition is the great inventor of progress. Without shame we lose our primal fear of losing. It seems only natural that it would exist as a natural emotion to drive us to be better at whatever field we attempt in life.

    However, when an individual dwells on shortcomings instead of simply redressing them or doing something different that they are more inherently versed as persons to accomplish we see self-loathing which is a detriment botht o the person and the progress that person might derive within their brief time in existence. Shame should be embraced for its sheer horror and then displaced by either redress or understanding that not everyone will be good at everything. So it goes...
  • Nov 26 2012: I feel shame,for i have nothing to say.
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    Nov 17 2012: /

    Nice article, Jake.

    I agree with you in that shame is not a useful tool in education nor does it have any rightful place. I think it is more of a symptom of a larger problem than a problem in and of itself. The design of the educational system has to be rebuilt on a new foundation in order to encourage what you rightfully see as beneficial free-thinking creativity and vibrance.

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    Nov 11 2012: I'd say you have something here. When I was growing up, I was told it says in the Bible you can say a person did a foolish thing, but don't call him/her a fool.
    What are the implications of your division for the death penalty, in other words, when we put someone to death we are saying that person didn't just make a mistake, they are a mistake.
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      Nov 17 2012: I agree. (Death penalty works under false assumptions based on shame)

      We can't claim the other person is a mistake and when we say so of ourselves it is actually not helpful. I am a mistake in the sense that two college students in the 50s had sex without intending to cause me. They did. But they bore the lion's share of shame by getting married, having two more "cover up" kids, and never telling me the truth about my origins. Even though I was shielded from shame this way I know that everyone that has at least a little shame swamp tumor lurking about in their personal baggage.

      BTW I'm not a believer, but the principles you speak of seem sound.
  • Nov 7 2012: shame can be an extremely positive thing as it encourages self-improvement. students who are ashamed with a poor test score or shoddy work tend to make an effort to do better next time. the problem is with kids who have no shame!

    the single case where i'd agree with you is that kids should never be ashamed to have a guess. making an attempt even when unsure if you're right or not is important.

    this is the very reason why education in america has declined so much in recent years. instead of helping students improve and achieve, teachers are forced to push the tolerance of mediocrity. we should always strive to be the best we can be, and be ashamed when we've done ourselves a disservice by not trying to live up to our potential.
  • Nov 5 2012: 2nd people should not feel obligated to take a certain career path simply for money. No that's how people get midlife crisis, because they don't appreciate there life. But does that mean u should quit and pursue dream job not necessarily. Why because people need financial stability in order to sustain their way of life. Depends on what satifies you, and if anyone depends on u. For instance if u dreamed of being a rapper all your life then one day get this opportunity to do it. Then think about this how this effect my relationship, will I be able to take care of my kids if any, Most important if I fail how will I support myself, then consider if the risk is worth it. Another story I took a class with a finely aged man who was going back to school to be an engineer. I asked what were his goals with this degree, he didn't have any. He just wanted to go back to make some more money. You see he had already pursued a forfilling job as a carpenter but since the industry didn't make a lot of money he went back to school to find a job that supported what is now his carpentry hobby.
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    Nov 5 2012: I have not yet read the other comments, but after reading your question, I think the difference between guilt and shame is whether you feel like you need to change something relatively fundamental to your identity (shame). A useful function of shame could be causing the person to make a fundamental change to their personality, if such a change is in fact needed.

    The danger is that shame is a social and subjective phenomenon, and this brings in to play individual vs. social morals. If you feel shamed by others, it's quite possible that YOU are right and the OTHERS are wrong. Or not.

    It seems we all have personal blind spots - areas of our own personality that we are blind to. And we rely on our friends to help us see ourselves, when we can not see ourselves. When we've done something and feel shame, we must judge whether the shame is legitimate. It may well be, or it may not. But I think it's worth looking into. If it is, it's worth considering whether a personal change is needed.
  • Nov 5 2012: Ok here's what I have to say to that. In 2 aspect your right student's shouldn't be failed because they questioned if the answer was right, and I believe if the teacher can not valid why without having a open mind then they should not teach. I never had that problem in life whenever a student questioned what they learned they were smiled upon by teachers because the student had an interest and expressed his opinion. Then the teacher would listen and explain their answer or may give them more points because they agreed with the student.
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    Nov 3 2012: Shame is hinderance to many things & like other emotions it can be used or abused.
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    Nov 3 2012: jake, i personally feel that shame decreases ur confidence level. if a child gets scolded among his classmates so often he would feel that he is not upto their mark as a student and he is not eligible to be in that grade.. this thought would create some pshychological effect in him.. this would make him to be in the bottom position. Rather he could be encouraged by telling him about his positive traits to make him reach a good position..
  • Nov 2 2012: Definitely, I think shame comes from low self esteem, long chain of failures, lack of supportive relationships.
    That's when the concept "complete failure" is presented.
    But what a student can do with such a daily mood? Reside in a depression?
  • Nov 2 2012: Shame is not all bad.

    The shame that one is not perfect. Nothing wrong with this and it can be a guidepost when one becomes so prideful or arrogant that they need some kind of come-uppance in order to learn that balance.

    But, the shame whereby an individual feels they're being alive is a mistake of some kind, or they feel they are wrong, bad, not good enough and so on, (such as Original Sin), simply by birth or their upbringing, is known as toxic shame and that shame is very bad and not needed.

    I think the differences need to be known and understood.

    Certainly there has been way too much intentional toxic-shaming of humans, using gender, sexual orientations, beliefs, social status, religion, race and others, that are so extremely narrow-minded, and done so over centuries, that in their almost absolute blindness, look at the results in the world, over time.
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    Nov 1 2012: Shame could hinder an individual from going to school. Arrogance is also an hindrance. There are so many things that could be hindrances to the desire to attend a school (like expensive fees, sickness e.t.c) ; but gaining an education depends so much on individual choices than on school attendance.
    If someone really desires to be educated there is a wealth of resources in books, libraries and online that could be helpful in launching one on the path of education.
    As for shame; there is no reason for an individual to be stuck in a rut because of some past mistake/circumstance, or because of the words and attitude of someone else.
    • Nov 2 2012: I think sickness is a big hindrance to education.For example,the lasting headache makes a lot trouble to the process of reading a book.