Controlling Our Children

Hegemony and Deconstructing the Positive Behavioral Intervention Support Model

by Thomas David Knestrict (Author)
©2019 Monographs XIV, 130 Pages


Controlling Our Children: Hegemony and Deconstructing the Positive Behavioral Intervention Support Model represents the first steps in a protest movement. It is a microscopic look into a system that educators take for granted as a positive force for children. In a thorough and detailed fashion, Thomas David Knestrict deconstructs the troubling history, development, and eventual embrace of a ubiquitous system of control that our public schools and government now mandate for use. Knestrict uses a powerful social justice lens to reconstruct the framework of a more responsive and just system of supports that result in autonomy, not scripted control. Controlling Our Children is perfect for pre-service teachers learning how to manage a classroom that fosters autonomy and an internal locus of control. It is also a perfect book for a graduate-level course in discipline discourse or disability studies. This book is for anyone who is at all worried about imposed systems of control that hinder the development of free will, freedom of choice, and personal autonomy in an age of false news, political manipulation, and control.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Controlling Our Children
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Five Core Problems
  • Five Core Problems With PBIS
  • Overview of the Current Model
  • Within the Child
  • References
  • Chapter 1. The Genealogy of Positive Behavioral Supports
  • Pillar One—The Genealogy of the Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports Model
  • PBIS as We Know It Now
  • The Multitiered Model
  • PBIS as Policy and Practice
  • PBIS and Special Education
  • Pillar Two—The Legacy of Behaviorism and ABA
  • Pillar Three—Oppression and the Explicit and Implicit Curriculum of Banking Education
  • Pillar Four—The Historical Significance of the Concept of Normalcy
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Deconstruction of the Behavioral Foundation of PBIS
  • Hedonic Adaptation—Increasing Rewards/Ever-Harsher Punishment
  • Unequal Relationships (Rewards Damage Relationships)
  • Kills Quality and Creativity
  • Discourages Autonomy
  • Awkwardness of Using the System
  • Fundamental Attribution Error
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 3. The Ultimate Goal: Autonomy, Inner Locus of Control
  • Importance of a Constructivist Perspective: Language and an Internal Locus of Control
  • The Importance of Positive Relationships in the School
  • Intellectual, Emotional, and Behavioral Autonomy
  • Montessori Method
  • A More Responsive Classroom
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 4. The Context of School Culture and the Prevention of Behavioral Internalization
  • The Separateness of Behavior
  • Ecological Models and Fundamental Attribution Error
  • The Example of Travis
  • Valuing Obedience and Control
  • Heteronomy and Autonomy
  • Political Pressures and Hierarchy
  • Capitalistic Models
  • Capitalism and the Efficacy of Special Education
  • The Heuristic Nature of Changing Behavior and Learning
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Change Not Control: Reconstructing a Socially Just PBIS Model
  • Theme #1—Inside-Out Change—A Microsystem-Infused Ecological Change Model
  • Theme #2—Responsiveness
  • Daily Conversations
  • Theme #2—The Cosmic Classroom and the Human Potential
  • Whole to Part Learning
  • Imagination and Learning
  • Theme # 3—Autonomy Is the Goal of Education
  • Students Forming the Rules
  • Theme #4—Preparing the Environment
  • Rules, Rituals, and Routines
  • Preparing the Individual
  • Spiritual Preparation
  • Joyous Observer
  • Theme # 5—Growth Mindset
  • Theme #6—Intervention Is “Outside In”
  • Travis and the Tantrums
  • The Change Continuum
  • Left Side Characteristics
  • Preparing the Environment
  • Preparing the Curriculum
  • Right Side Characteristics
  • What Necessitates a Shift to the Right Side?
  • Deon and Assaultive Behavior
  • Difference Finding in the Current Model
  • School-Wide Frameworks and Foundations
  • Difference and the Deemphasis of Special Education
  • The Continuum at the Classroom Level
  • Conclusion and New Begininngs
  • References
  • Index

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I would like to thank Mary Lisa Vertuca, Dr. Teresa Young, and Dr. Paul Gore of the Xavier School of Education for supporting me through my sabbatical to research and write this book. A special thank you to Dr. Laney Bender-Slack and Dr. Frank Fitch for their dedication and feedback in this project. Last, and certainly not least, the teachers, special educators, school psychologists, and students in the Cincinnati area schools that allowed me to witness these processes first hand.

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Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) is a commonplace term these days in education. It is largely seen in a positive light and as something that works to the benefit of children. After all, it uses the word “positive.” But it is the word “behavioral” that peaked my interest. As I investigated and deconstructed this framework and how it is implemented in the field I was disturbed by several facts. The first was that they chose the word “behavioral” for good reason. Most of what the research states as effective is behavioral in form and is premised on an “If, then” agreement. IF you do these things in this way, THEN you get this. That fact alone is a problem. Secondly, while typically school districts will front a very well-developed, three-tiered intervention system it is almost never used for children experiencing behavioral difficulties. Response to Intervention models for academically related interventions tended to follow the model fairly closely. However, even then intervention teams are very quick to pull the special education trigger. Doubly fast for behavioral issues. If one of the goals of intervention was to prevent special education identification, I did not see evidence of that. I also saw a dramatic discrepancy between what PBIS is stated to be in the research and what it actually is in practice. There seems to be an inevitable reduction to its lowest common denominator: simple bribes. ← xi | xii →

Lastly, and most disturbingly, I saw a tremendous discrepancy between the way districts dealt with poor and brown skinned children as compared to middle-class, affluent white children when it came to the issue of behavior and discipline in schools. This “disproportionality” is well researched, but there is little meaningful and contextually sensitive research completed when it comes to the efficacy of the very system that is sanctioned by districts, special education, and the federal government itself (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]). PBIS sounds innocuous and helpful. But is it? What was the history of its development and formation into a federally sanctioned framework? What are its origins and how does it manifest in schools today? Who does it benefit or harm? If it’s not working why continue to use the model? A deconstruction of the system was called for.

This book represents the first steps in a protest movement. A microscopic look into systems that educators take for granted as positive forces for children. Breaking open biases that change the personal future for thousands of children every day. Dr. Pamela Taylor of Seattle University taught me a very simple model when considering the social justice of an issue. I try to answer these three questions:

The PBIS system is intertwined with special education and our societies focus on fixing what it sees as broken. It is also heavily influenced by educators and politicians’ obsessive need to measure all things. It is hard to see where one ends and the other begins. Finally, PBIS is both a product of and enmeshed with the continued faith and dependence on behaviorism and the usefulness of the carrot and the stick. It is time to understand why and develop a new, more responsive, and socially just framework of understanding. A model that helps develop autonomy, self-control, and self-reflection and helps in the development of individuals who will not be controlled by others.

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Five Core Problems

According to research the ubiquitous multilevel behavior intervention model known as Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) is said to have great potential to create different futures for many children. It is said that it has the potential to delay or prevent special education placement and labeling as well as offering a clearer and more direct route to behavioral support for students, allowing them to engage in academic instruction and in learning (Sugai & Simonsen, 2012). Sugai and Simonsen (2012) define “Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) as an implementation framework that is designed to enhance academic and social behavior outcomes for all students” (p. 1). However, the framework of PBIS is derived from a solidly behavioristic brain trust and continues to manifest itself as a system of glorified bribes to children to manipulate them into adopting behaviors, seen by the adults in power as desirable and appropriate. Likewise, these outcomes, guided by an obsession with obedience centered on white, middle-class, achievement-based values, largely developed independent of children’s input, void of cultural sensitivity, and proven to not only be ineffective at helping children develop inner controls and autonomy but may also cause harm. Practice also suggests that PBIS is ironically most often used to hasten special education labeling and placement. ← 1 | 2 →

The discussion centering on behaviorism and constructivism is old and tired. One might ask why we are choosing to go down this road again. The pitfalls of behaviorism and the like have been well documented and well researched. However, these techniques are still widely used. Behaviorism and its various forms are still the primary modes of managing behavior in schools and are now sanctioned through Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This normalization of control by school districts, states, and the federal government should be examined and discussed.


XIV, 130
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XIV, 130 pp., 2 b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Thomas David Knestrict (Author)

Thomas David Knestrict received his Ed.D. in 2000 from the University of Cincinnati and has been an associate professor in the School of Education at Xavier University for 15 years. Prior to that he was a special educator for 15 years in Ohio. He has received several awards for his teaching, including teacher of the year at Xavier University in 2013. Knestrict is a highly published author in the areas of behavioral interventions and parenting of special needs children. He has also produced several education films dealing with these subjects including the documentary Welcome to Holland.


Title: Controlling Our Children
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146 pages