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Seattle school displays names of those in detention: does shame work?

(AP file)

As harsh as the principal in The Breakfast Club was, he never displayed the names of everyone in detention for the entire school to see.

But that’s what Seattle’s Washington Middle School did recently, by projecting a list of seven middle-schoolers in the lunchroom under the title, “Detention Today.” It didn’t go over well.

“I don’t know if it works. Can you show that public humiliation changes behavior? I don’t think it does,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley. “Because here’s the distinction: there’s guilt and then there’s shame. As my therapist explained to me: guilt is I made a mistake, shame is I am a mistake.”

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“Guilt is you’re driving down the road, the speed limit’s 50, you’re doing 80 and they give you a ticket. Are you guilty of going too fast? Yes, you pay the ticket, and then it’s finished,” Curley said. “Shame is there’s no way out of it. Shame cannot made whole for the individual, so the shame stays with you.”

The displaying of those in detention spurred a protest from Washington Middle School students and parents at the last Seattle School Board meeting, reports The Seattle Times. As a result, the principal of the school has since apologized for the detention list.

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Similar tactics have been applied in a few schools across the country, with schools using boards displaying scholastic achievements as a means of keeping students accountable to each other.

Still, things were much different when Curley was in school, when he faced his own strange shame tactics.

“If your hair was below your collar, you had to wear a bow in your hair all day,” he said. “If the nuns caught you chewing gum, you had put the gum at the end of your nose all day.”

Curley has since recovered from such treatment, and retains a short haircut to this day.

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