Principal Skinner


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.