Section 7- (The CEDU/RMA Solution-continued)
Lon Woodbury MA. IECA. CEP
Everything you hear is opinion, everything you see is perspective.
Attributed to Marcus Aurelius – 2nd Century AD Roman Emperor
The students were kept busy virtually every minute of the day. Even down time was scheduled to fit the student-oriented mission of the school. Great pains were taken to ensure that each student lived with the consequences of his/her behavior. If a student did a good job at something, that was publicly and quickly recognized in front of his/her peers. If a student did something negative, the goal was for the consequences to be immediate and appropriate. For example, if a student lied to the other students, he/she had the opportunity to hear directly from the other students in a safe and controlled environment how it made them feel to be lied to (In Raps for example). Punishment was considered a weak and ineffective substitute for natural consequences and was frowned on. Routines and consistency in daily living were considered very important for healing emotional wounds and providing the safe environment absolutely necessary for the students to heal.
Healthy meals were a standard at RMA with a well-stocked salad bar as a central part of the serving of meals. Foods with sugar and food coloring were used as little as possible. The meals were planned by a dietician and the students usually were enthusiastic over how well they were fed, comparing it to the frequently bland fare provided at other schools and programs.
Consequences vs. punishment
Punishment was rejected as just imposing pain on a student to enforce the school’s will. And, that punishment is an ineffective way of discipline. The school explained the most common result of punishment will be an ego trip on the part of the punisher and resentment and resistance on the part of the student. Discipline was understood to be guidance or training with punishment having little to do with guidance. Instead, natural consequences were used whenever possible as a teaching tool. For example, a commonly used explanation of the concept of natural consequences was when camping out and a student refuses to spend his/her energy to properly erect their tent. If it rains on the miserable student, it is very hard to get any sympathy by blaming nature. The lesson learned is your comfort and success depend on your actions, a great methophor for life in general. Confrontation in a verbal manner from his/her peers in a “safe” environment for when a student was being negative was also considered a natural consequence.
Competence over credentials
RMA Staff selection was a long process. Initially resumes were reviewed primarily looking at life experiences. Degrees and credentials were secondary. Those that looked like good potential and lived within driving distance were invited for a short preliminary interview on campus. Based on those preliminaries, those applicants the school was interested in were invited back to the campus (with their spouse if any) for a three-day interview. The applicant was interviewed by most of the senior staff and several senior students. The same for the spouse. The purpose of the school was to get to know the individual (or couple) and see how they reacted to events at the school, such as how they reacted to Raps, or how the students reacted to him/her. The purpose of the whole hiring process was to assess their character and determine if their personal philosophy was compatible with the school’s. The final decision to hire was made after getting a consensus from all who had participated including senior students. It was a serious effort to make hiring decisions based on the person rather than on whatever credentials the applicant happened to have.
A major goal of RMA was to reunite the students with their family. While most RMA students had conflicted relationships with their parents, RMA’s assumption was that often rebellion was a cry for help and the student really wanted a good relationship with his/her parents. The school worked with both child and parents to find and ease the misunderstandings or areas of conflict. Some of the ways they did this was to promote the idea of the school being a home away from home. That provided the context for day to day living by the students in practicing respect for their “home away from home,” adults and other students. The school was subdivided into what they called family units. Major lessons came from learning habits necessary for a functional family. Habits like the importance of team work, striving for understanding, taking responsibility, being accountable, work ethic etc.
Parents negotiated directly with RMA about enrollment. The usual custom at the time of mental health facilities was for the parents to go to a professional (psychiatrist, social worker, etc.) for help. If the advice was for residential placement, the professional would work that out for the parent’s approval. Frequently, on their part, programs would require the referral to come from a professional and would not accept inquiries directly from parents. RMA was part of a new trend that empowered parents to take the lead in these decisions and the professional’s role was as advisor to the parent instead of the other way around. This enforced the idea that enrollment at RMA was considered a first step in empowering parents to reassert their position in being the parent and in rebuilding family relationships. This also was adopted from the standard enrollment practices of the time of private boarding schools.
Academic classes were radically different from what would be seen in mainstream schools. Many concepts and educational experiments popular in the 1960s were used. First among these concepts was experiential education. That is, learn by doing. Many academic credits were justified based on the student’s participation in normal activities at RMA. For example, most of the buildings were heated by wood, supplied by the Voyageur family (the newest students) jobs at the wood corral. Each building would order a certain amount of firewood from the wood corral, and the Voyageur students needed to figure out how many logs were needed to be cut in what lengths to fulfill the order. This required a practical understanding of basic arithmetic so mastering that step filled part of the requirements for math credit. Or, reading the Mark Twain book “Tom Sawyer” might include going to the nearby Kootenai river, building a raft and learning to guide it. They also played out some of the adventures included in the book. Another important custom was to have very small classes (eight students was considered a large class. Two or three students in a class was common).
The school referred to having a policy of “positive peer pressure.” Everything possible was done to encourage students to be a positive influence on each other. Often senior students would brag they ran the school, and in a real sense that was somewhat true. Students gained privileges through showing responsibility and positive leadership. A requirement for being accepted by the school was for the student to agree to three basic agreements (instead of rules since rules were considered too rigid and open to manipulation) as well as to agree to enrolling in the first place. The basic agreements were “no drugs, no sex and no violence or threat of violence.” Staff took very seriously a violation of any of these, which was very effective. All the other students were trying to learn how to overcome temptations toward manipulative and/or negative behavior, and seeing a student get away with it, or even try it, made the environment “unsafe” for the rest of the students. It worked because I rarely saw any violence while I was at the school. The reason was that the threat of violence was treated almost as if it were actual violence, and the students reported it to staff because they feared what they might do if another student got away with it, as well as avoiding suffering bullying like many had suffered from in their previous school. A consequence for the most serious incidents might be expulsion with the recommendation to the parents of enrollment in a more restrictive program, perhaps a locked facility. Short of expulsion, the other students had ample opportunity through raps, and other ways, to let him/her know their objections to that kind of behavior, providing a lot of “positive peer pressure.”
Comments and discussion welcomed
Continued in Part 7 – Results