I made a special trip up to the central branch of the Wichita Library on Monday to pick up a copy of Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. I had heard about this book before, as I've read a few things by Kohn about schools and education. He believes that the school system, force learning and grading discourages children from actually wanting to learn. I could definitely see that. He's not a homeschooling advocate, though, but a "fix the system" advocate.
I thought this book, and the whole idea of unconditional parenting, which he believes should not involve punishments or rewards was pretty extreme. I've known others who advocate "no punishment," and I know that they don't believe in catering to their children, or refusing to set limits on behavior, and I generally think the discipline techniques they advocate work, but I didn't know why they were so set against punishment.
When someone on one of my forums, whom I respect greatly and who is generally a very level-headed, intelligent person, recommended this book I was intrigued. Several of us have since borrowed or bought the book and have started a "book club" style discussion about it. I have not yet finished the book, but I have been very pleasantly surprised and impressed by the book as a whole.
Kohn argues from two perspectives: first, and fundamentally, the most important thing that children need is to know that they are loved unconditionally by their parents, and he believes and punishment and rewards interfere with that, especially what he calls "love withdrawal" techniques like time out. Even if parents don't intend to do so, these techniques can give the impression that children are loved only when they are doing what the parents' want. Second, Kohn cites a great deal of research that show that punishment and rewards don't work, even in the short term, and in the long term interfere with children's moral development, what we Catholics might call formation of conscience.
The research is really what sets this book apart. This isn't just some guy arguing for his philosophical beliefs, although those certainly play a part, but he also cites numerous studies that have been done on discipline and parenting over the years to bolster his position. He does have some practical ideas in the second half of the book, which I haven't finished yet, but I've read better "practical" ideas from the same perspective. What I haven't read is such a good argument for this position itself.