A few years ago, I bought a course by Brené Brown through Udemy. The course is no longer available for purchase, but I still have access to it and go through part or all of it from time to time.
At one point, she said (paraphrased), “85% of adults interviewed remember something so shaming from school that it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners.”
That’s a lot of power. “Forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners.”
I know more people than I’d like who were explicitly told by their music or choir teacher that they can’t sing. My mom was told to stand in her spot and lip sync.
That horrifies me.
People discouraged from taking certain classes or career paths, regardless of content or grade level. (I know stories kindergarten through grad school.)
(There are just as many stories of people who were totally lifted up, inspired, or saved by teachers as well. And there’s a difference between “these are skills you need to work on and it’s going to be a lot of work” and “you’re not good at this and shouldn’t bother.” The second is both mean and pedagogically lazy.)
Of course, it’s not just teachers. Parents use shame all the time. There are awful (and, unfortunately, widely celebrated) videos of parents publicly shaming their children.
Culturally, shame is a national pastime.
The thing is: shaming is not an effective means of punishment. It doesn’t work—not the way we do it. And it’s strongly connected to addiction. (Coincidence that we have an enormous addiction problem in this country?)
My therapist told me once that we’re the only animals who shame their offspring and don’t follow up with love. The shame becomes internalized. We learn that this failure is who we are instead of something we did.
Unless you’re feeling secure in what that love follow-up ought to look like, bypass shame as an intentional attempted motivational technique.
What people feel shame about varies; different people feel shameful about different things. Your family of origin is typically where those seeds are planted, though as we just learned, school can do it as well, or really anywhere/anyone influential in childhood. So something that doesn’t seem shaming to you could feel very shameful to someone else. (There are oodles of cultural examples of this, no? Ask people if they change by their locker at the gym…)
As teachers, as parents, as people in a civilized place—skip the intentional shaming. We’ll all be better for it.