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Use the carrot or the stick?

I’ve never really understood the logic behind attendance policies. I mean, I understand that it’s necessary for students to attend class so they can further their education, do well in school, etc… But I also think there is a debatably more efficient way to go about it: positive reinforcement.

Researcher and psychologist B.F. Skinner stood true to the idea that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment. I couldn’t agree with him more. Here are a couple of perfect, personal examples of the benefit of using reinforcement instead of punishment.

I took my sweet little Yorkie to puppy classes. At puppy classes, they train via reinforcement. Each time the dog responds correctly to a command, you click the clicker once and reward with a small treat. And repeat.

You slowly eliminate the clicker and treats as the responses become more habitual, and from then on you use praise and enthusiasm to reward your pet. Through reinforcement, the dogs learn that their actions are correct and pleasing to their owners.

With that said, I trained my dog to behave properly within just a couple of months. However, one of my good friends was too stubborn to succumb to the methods of positive reinforcement. She chose to punish her pup for everything it did wrong instead of rewarding it for everything it did right.

Months later, my dog was politely sitting for guests, leaving my socks alone, respecting our carpet and doing her business outdoors. And my friend’s dog? Well, let’s just say her apartment deposit will be used to replace the carpet… in every room.

Next example: high school. My high school science teacher rewarded us for good grades and attendance. If we had an A and had missed no more than three days of class, we didn’t have to take the final exam; the same went for those students who had a B and hadn’t missed more than two days of class. However, we were not penalized for missing class. We were simply rewarded for attending it.

I think everyone can agree that the way to get people to do something is incentive. A child is more likely to do their chores when they receive money after completing them than a spanking for not really wanting to do them.

The same can be true for relationships. If your significant other does something nice for you, and you point it out and praise them for it, they’re more likely to repeat their actions. No one likes to be griped at. Punishment decreases confidence and therefore decreases positive responses.

I guess at this point in my rant, I should bring my argument full circle. College students will do anything for cash and better grades. By creating an attendance policy that rewards extra points for going to class, I think the professors would see a much better turnout. Threatening students with a grade deductions for missing class can cause many of them to flirt with their limits. And some students just take their losses and skip class all the time.

If there is someone out there bright enough to make good grades without being in class, let them. Just reward those who are coming to class consistently. After all, punishment never encouraged anyone.


Jessica Findley is a senior at Oklahoma Christian University

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