Consistency and Fairness

When we are consistent in imposing the same consequence on every student, are we being fair or unfair?

Although consistency is important, imposing the same consequence on all students is the least fair approach. When a consequence is imposed—be it called logical or naturalpeople are deprived of ownership in the decision. And ownership is a requirement for responsibility.

A more effective and fairer approach is to elicit a consequence or a procedure that will help students redirect impulses so they become more responsible. This is easily accomplished by asking students if they would rather be treated as individuals or as a group. They will have a preference to be treated as individuals and have ownership in the decision that will help them—rather than hurt them. This approach satisfies the consistency requirement and is in each person’s best interests. In short, consistency in process (procedure) is fairer than consistency in outcome.

The process is quite simple. Inform the student that the unacceptable behavior is on a level that is unacceptable and ask, “What do you suggest we do about it?’ Then be ready to follow-up with, “What else?” “What else?” “What else?” until the youngster comes up with a procedure or consequence that you both agree will help the youngster in not repeating the inappropriate behavior. Another basic factor is also at work here. People do not argue with their own decisions.

If parents insist on knowing consequences ahead of time, use the same approach. Simply ask the parents if they would rather have their child treated individually according to what will help their child in the future, or would they rather have their child treated as a part of a larger group where usually everyone will have the same imposed punishment. Many parents do not realize that imposing punishments is based on the antiquated idea that a person has to be hurt to learn, to be harmed in order to change. It is the responsibility of the teacher, the professional, to teach parents in such cases. This is easy to do. As noted above, simply ask the same question to the parent as is asked of the student.

The point is important enough to repeat: Consistency in process (procedure) is more just and fair than consistency in outcome.