By Rita Argiros, Ph. D.
What about holding others accountable? Why do the kids need to do that? Isn’t it enough for the adults at the school to enforce the rules? Watch the dogs. When they know one of their pack mates isn’t following the rules they bring that pack mate into line. Sometimes it looks like they are saying—“hey, its not fair, how come she gets away with this.” Other times it looks like the older dog is telling the junior dog to, “ Knock it off, get with the program, stop wasting time. Everything goes smoother if you just follow the rules.” Again, I am anthropomorphizing but that is really what it looks like and the analogy holds for the students.
This is not to say that we never intervene in student culture. The opposite is the case. We keep constant watch. Just as the master trainer keeps an eye on novice dog handlers. The master trainer knows that the dogs aren’t the problem. The lack of emotional control in the handlers can sometimes be. How the correction is delivered is important in dog training. With most obedience exercises the less angry and emotional you are, the easier the dog learns. But the dog doesn’t like the control no matter how mater-of-factly, kindly or compassionately you require her to hold her position. The novice dog trainer can’t give into her dog with sweet talk and cajoling. Neither can she take her frustrations out on the dog.
Pointing out to their friends where they are rule breaking helps both students, reinforcing or teaching for the first time. At its best, a reminder from a classmate says, “Hey—don’t give in to your impulse. Do the right thing. I am here to support you.” Yes, the reminder is sometimes given with an immature tone—“ If I have to, she has to.” That can be worked through. Either way, the student who is hearing the correction has the chance to change her behavior. She may also get a chance to learn to separate the message from the messenger. Throughout life, we are going to hear many things that we need to take in delivered to us with an unpleasant emotional undertone. Nothing wrong with learning that skill now.
And at first, the student who breaks a rule is resentful and angry. Everyone feels a sting when they are corrected. But when her life becomes less chaotic just because she went along with a few rules, she beings to mature. Self-mastery feels good. It becomes easier for her to accept advice and it becomes easier for her to do the right thing without reminder. She stops procrastinating—most of the time. It becomes easier to deal appropriately with worry or resentment before it ruins her day. And when she leaves, the strength of will and character she acquired following these small rules will make it easier for her to triumph over more salient distractions. She will get to her 8AM philosophy class and tell her friends she can’t go out clubbing when she should go to a meeting. She will spend her money on textbooks instead of a new purse.
This process is only just started in most of our students. 18 months is really a very short time. When they graduate doing the right thing probably isn’t second nature yet. She gets a sponsor. The AA cliché to borrow someone else’s brains is right on. Her sponsor will continue the process we started. Lots of the little rules in AA seem stupid and controlling to outsiders as well. More opportunities to practice self-control safely.