Got to Have a Clean Slate Baby
I got to have a clean slate baby,
I’m goin’ to wipe away all my mistakes
-Tower of Power
When looking back over your life, or even a season, have you ever even once wished you could start over, and do it all over again. Most all of us have, at one time or many others. But, does it really happen? Can it? Or is it just wishful thinking?
NO, it’s not like you can actually erase your past, and start over like you were never born, but, YES, you can change your mind about things you once believed or how you used to do things, and think about and do them differently in the future. So, what are the benefits?
The Skinny on Having a Clean Slate
“The process of getting past a lie or a letdown can benefit both the wrongdoer and the wronged,” says Abigail Fagan, of Psychology Today, in December 2017.
Tila Pronk, the lead psychologist in a current study being conducted at the Tilburg University in the Netherlands, says, “Being exposed to situations in which forgiveness is required—and noticing the benefits of it--helps you” to become more and more merciful.
“We may overestimate how intentional an offensive act was and underestimate the guilt felt about it,” says Gabrielle Adams, a psychologist from the University of Virginia. “Even if someone wants to forgive, they might not think the transgressor wants it.”
Recently, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin reports that “Forgiveness can backfire…as less agreeable people tended to offend more if they had forgiving counterparts.”
The “fresh start,” or the “begin again,” option offers a tremendous opportunity to form new beliefs and patterns of thought, and thereby give birth to new behaviors and actions, said Gretchen Rubin in a 2014 issue of Psychology Today.
But What About in Schools, Could it Work?
What about with misbehaving students in our schools? Could showing greater mercy work? Which works better, doses of judicious mercy, or hammering away early and often?
Teachers and school administrators will tell you, it depends on the kid. Some students will gratefully run with a clean slate and “turn over a new leaf,” while many others will keep making the same bad choices and build up an entirely new record of behavioral mistakes.
“I have felt that screaming at a student to stop a behavior is not the best way to put them on the right path,” said Peter Dewitt in 2011, in Education Week. “Having a conversation with children is the best way…It doesn’t give them carte blanche to have bad behavior, but it does teach them that we all have bad days where we don’t make the best choices.”
Dewitt, an ex-principal, went on to conclude, “Some students need to experience tougher disciplinary measures…and then there are those who do not learn the lessons through suspension, and ultimately no longer attend our schools.”
As an ex-principal myself, I think we all too often underestimate the damage of labeling students as “bad kids,” and leaving them there to languish in disciplinary hell.
All too easily, we look unfavorably upon, in a knee-jerk manner, students speak up in opposition to something a teacher says, or to how they say it. We do the same with students who don’t always finish their work or do their homework. Class clowns get the same swift boot in the rear end too. And what about those who don’t always get along with others?
What if we set aside the hammer in the early instances of such misbehavior, and talked more with students about how to better fit into the expectations of society, especially for the time being…school? Then, if such behavior continues or even escalates to greater and greater disruption of their learning, namely theirs and of others, and including the instructional efforts of the students, we can resort to the pain of punishment to get their attention.
“We all deserve a fresh start,” said Margaret Berry Wilson in 2010, in Clean Slates, posted on the Responsive Classroom website. “So, I challenge you to clean your slate [w/re to your students], open your mind, and embark on your own adventure as you launch your [new] school year.”
The bottom line is that if given a clean slate, some students will indeed make a genuine effort to wipe away all their mistakes. I think we need to show all students this mercy, give them all this chance. And for those who take advantage of such grace, and manipulate the opportunity to keep on truckin’ in the path of disruption and destruction, let the full weight of whatever hammer is available to fall on their stubborn little heads. Bam! Thunk!