Principal Skinner

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The Judge Rotenberg Center is a private special-ed boarding school in Massachusetts. For decades, it has hosted a bizarre experiment in behavior modification, described here by Jarrett Murphy of The Village Voice:

The only thing that sets these students apart from kids at any other school in America–aside from their special-ed designation–is the electric wires running from their backpacks to their wrists. Each wire connects to a silver-dollar-sized metal disk strapped with a cloth band to the student's wrist, forearm, abdomen, thigh, or foot. Inside each student's backpack is a battery and a generator, both about the size of a VHS cassette. Each generator is uniquely coded to a single keychain transmitter kept in a clear plastic box labeled with the student's name. Staff members dressed neatly in ties and green aprons keep the boxes hooked to their belts, and their eyes trained on the students' behavior. They stand ready, if they witness a behavior they've been told to target, to flip open the box, press the button, and deliver a painful two-second electrical shock into the student at the end of the wire.

The device is called the Graduated Electronic Decelerator, or GED. Its goal, as Murphy summarizes it, "is to deliver punishment immediately so that even a student with a low IQ or a severe psychiatric disorder might be made to understand that whatever he just did was unacceptable."

[T]he GED isn't only used when a life is at stake, or when a student hurts himself or another, but also for "noncompliance" or "simple refusal." "We don't allow individuals just to stay in bed all day," says Dr. Robert von Heyn, a Rotenberg clinician, in a video for parents. "We want to teach people. So we may use the GED to treat noncompliance." Other behavior that doesn't appear dangerous also could earn a zap. While it might seem excessive to shock a student for nagging his teacher, [school founder Matthew] Israel asks, what if the kid nags all the time, every minute, every day?

The whole story is here. A follow-up is here. The school's website is here. Bonus link: a brief history of the punishment box.

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  1. I want to see a demonstration video.

  2. Pwned by Skinner/Marvin Monroe.

  3. Don’t tell Trent Lott. Or Nancy Pelosi.

  4. Score one for public schools.

  5. This is about the creepiest idea of all time. Torture? Sounds pretty much like it.

  6. It boggles the mind that any loving parent would send a child to these wackos!

  7. That is fantastic… imagine how much better behaved I would have been as a child if my parents could have zapped me.

  8. So they’ve proven that even retards don’t like pain and can be classically conditioned. Woo.

  9. I have taught for fourteen years, and have joked about such a system for all fourteen years. I never in a million years thought that such a system existed. I haven’t clicked on the link but would not be surprised to be taken to the Onion.

    As much as the vindictive bastard in me would love such a device, I know that in the long run, it would be at best ineffectual and at worst counter productive.

    Regards

    Joe

  10. /geek

    Mr. Kyle your agonizer please

    /end geek

  11. I haven’t been this upset since I found out that there was no such thing as Scotchtoberfest.

  12. Feh. Cops have been doing this with TASERS for years.

  13. Any chance we can strap these devices to congressmen?

  14. A low tech version of this–called “Aversion therapy”–was popular in the 70’s. It called for a light smack on the thigh or butt when the student didn’t comply, and some type of reward for good behavior. It’s made a comeback recently, although without the smack. Teachers are supposed to deliver a non-physical punishment now (frowning, or an unpleasant noise).

    While criticized as cruel, Aversion Therapy worked on those with low functionality. Kids learned to stop throwing food, pooping their pants, and made real progress. Helen Keller wouldn’t have learned to read without a few dope slaps from Anne Sullivan.

    Of course, the potential for abuse is there, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But if the shock is relatively mild, and the system is not abused, is it more cruel to damn these kids to stagnating in a low-functioning state?

  15. Yes, aversion therapy works, but there’s definitely less fucked up ways to go about it.

  16. While criticized as cruel, Aversion Therapy worked on those with low functionality. Kids learned to stop throwing food, pooping their pants, and made real progress.

    Let’s be accurate and say that Aversion Therapy worked on some of those with low functionality. Some kids learned to stop their negative behavior. For others, it was simply hell, as I’m sure it is for many students at the Rotenberg Center. As someone who worked with kids like this, I think it represents simplistic thinking, a failure of imagination, a lack of compassion, and downright laziness.

  17. What ever happened to the ol’ swat on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper?

    Oh, wait…

  18. ” think it represents simplistic thinking, a failure of imagination, a lack of compassion, and downright laziness.”

    So can we use it on Congressmen/Members of Parliament or not?

  19. You guys beat me to it, so far as congress-critters go, but it would make a truely spiffy accessory to my other idea:

    http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/2006/11/i_will_support.html

    Interactive reality TV!

  20. So can we use it on Congressmen/Members of Parliament or not?

    Absolutely!

  21. Souns like it’s just a high tech version of Sister Holy Water and her 18 inch ruler…

  22. What ever happened to the ol’ swat on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper?

    That’s been replaced by the electrical shock of the Invisible Fence collar. Works just as well on dogs, too.

  23. From the website: Some of our key features include consistent behavioral treatment; no or minimal psychotropic medication; near-zero rejections/near-zero expulsions; powerful, varied rewards; one computer per student; behavior charts online; digital video monitoring; and beautiful school and residences.

    I particularly like the “no or minimal psychotropic medication; near-zero rejections/near-zero expulsions;”

    Given the population if the kids aren’t chemically zapped into submission faculty needs some form of immediate sanction. What would be a good alternative?

  24. “That’s been replaced by the electrical shock of the Invisible Fence collar. Works just as well on dogs, too.”

    Not on my dog Hambone, it didn’t. He was a dog of reason, who quickly learned that the only thing separating him and liberty, was a single brief jolt of juice.

  25. Larry Wrote:

    Given the population if the kids aren’t chemically zapped into submission faculty needs some form of immediate sanction. What would be a good alternative?

    You mean for the faculty?

  26. Roberto:

    A student acts out inappropriately. A faculty member needs to apply some negative sanction. The sanction must not physically harm the student. Preferrably the sanction should be applied immediately, temporary, simple to administer, unequivacal, and effective at discouraging repeat behavior.

    What would you substitute for a zap from the electric box?

  27. Is very nice. I like.

    I would use on my retard brother when he try escape from his cage. Only, I would be arrest for witchcraft if I using that device in my village.

    High five!

  28. The skin shock is often the only way of getting the attention of a child caught in a compulsive, self-destructive behavior so that other therapies can work.

    For example, one girl was brough to the Judge Rotenberg Center suffering from compulsive head-banging. She’d hit her head so hard and so often on the floor that she detached her retinas. The skin shock enabled her to break this self-destructive pattern.

    Other means, such as drugs or restraints, carry harmful side-effects. Restraints can cause lethal embolism. The skin shock has no known side effects, and no one has ever been injured due to it. It also has a track record of clinincal success.

    Skin shock is administered only after parental consent, peer review, review by a human rights committee, and the consent of the probate court. It is not given lightly. It is proposed only after other therapies have failed.

    For those who receive it, it is often the only efficacious life-saving therapy. In other words, it is the treatment of last resort.

    If we were dealing with cancer or AIDS and proven life-saving treatment were denied, the denial would be a crime against humanity. There is a double standard for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled, however.

    Many in society would rather wharehouse these people under inhuman condititions provided that they are out of sight and out of mind rather thank deal with the reality of their ilnesses.

    That approach, to my thinking, is criminal.

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