Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Of Form and Function: Exploring what the Paradigm of “Control” looks like

There’s an old saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.”

As teachers, we know that  children seldom are fooled when adults’ actions do not conform to their words.  In my last post, I discussed the 19th-century connections between schools, child labor, and the juvenile justice system–and the way in which I believe this history predisposes schools to follow a paradigm of “Control.”

We all know the good things that we want to do for children in our schools.  That is the “What I say” part.  Now please suspend your objections for a few moments, and come along with me as we do a purely visual comparison, to see what we do:

The women at left are seated at punch presses, working sheet metal in a St. Louis factory around the turn of the 20th century.  The images of kids at computers come from a library and a school in California.
L-R: British child factory workers in the 19th century; a contemporary math class, and a contemporary science class.

L-R: A 19th century sweatshop; a contemporary civics class, and a contemporary elementary classroom.

L-R: A minimum-security prison in Oregon; the former Central Junior High in Ames, IA, and a contemporary hallway in an unidentified school.
Walk-through metal detectors look much the same, whether they are in a school (L) or a prison entrance (center).  And surely the student spread-eagled against the lockers feels his school is a safe place to learn.

No matter how nice the man wearing the gun in the school library, or the one using the handheld metal detector on the elementary student may be, they, their tools, and their uniforms still look a lot like the prison guard at center.

L-R:  “Rikky” the Labrador is a member of the security team at Lubbock-Cooper ISD, Lubbock, TX.  At center, an unidentified prison guard and his dog search for bombs.  At right, “Dutch” is the newest drug-sniffing dog for the Nampa School District in Boise, ID.

Please understand that I am NOT saying our schools are “just like” 19th century factories or prisons.  But perhaps you’ll agree with me that some of the visual parallels are a little eerie.

I think it is certain that many alert students have not failed to notice, as well.

PHOTO CREDITS: I have a lot of people to thank for these images!  Click the links to get context for each:  “Factory/School #1”: Women at punch presses-Northern Illinois University; Library computers-City of Huntington Beach, CA; Classroom computers-Brock University.  “Factory/School #2”: British child laborers-South African History Online; Math class-Moving with Math; Science  Factory/School #3: Sweatshop-Fundamentals of Finance; Civics; Elementary classroom-Paladin Post.  “Prison/School”: Prison hallway-The Oregonian; Historic Central Junior High-Ames Historical Society; unidentified school hallway-Parent Society.  “Metal Detectors”: Walk-through at school-American Studies Wiki; Robben Island Prison entrance-Charles Apple; NYC metal scan-Gothamist.  “Uniformed Officers”: SRO Officer Psilopoulos-Johnston Insider; Unidentified British prison guard-The Daily Mail; Unidentified officer with schoolchild-“Snippits and Slappits.”  “Police Dogs”: Rikki the Lab-Lubbock Online; Prison guard and bomb dog-K9 Pride; Dutch the drug-sniffer-KBOI-TV.  


A Thought Experiment Begins


If Not “Control,” then What?


  1. I appreciate your comments, Dale. Thank you for caring enough to do battle with the interface and post them here!

    I agree that many unrelated contexts bear superficial similarities to each other. Indeed, any human-frequented and -designed space will have common elements. It also is true that none of these settings is necessarily something that should automatically inspire dread or negative feelings.

    Basically, you seem to agree that children should be just as controlled and regimented in schools as people are in factory or prison (or other institutional) settings.

    On Facebook, several readers also have expressed doubts, essentially asking, "If we don't control children in school, aren't we courting disaster?"

    My point is not that it is bad to exert judicious control over children, or that factories or prisons are bad to have. All of these things are pretty much essential, in our culture.

    I simply believe that there are much better models upon which to build a context for educational experiences than those of a factory or a prison. In my next post I will begin to expand on what I'd rather see us do.

    I hope you'll continue to explore these ideas with me!

  2. First set of pictures reminded me of 20th century telephone operators, or 21st century calldesk/help desk setups, used for cost considerations and efficiency of operation and supervision.

    In the second, the child laborers look very little like the classroom pictures. I see no correlation.

    While in the third set, there is some correlation, I'll go back to the first about space and supervision. In a classroom, you don't want the kids spread out too much or you have little control and they're too far away to see well enough to pay attention.

    4th set of hallways also looks like some of the expensive office buildings I've been in, including the Ranger's Ballpark in Arlington. Somewhat surprisingly, though because we have an interior atrium, the Police HQ building that I work in doesn't look like that. I think I'd just conclude that a hallway is a hallway.

    Metal detectors have become a way of life. We have them where I work (for the public entrance), at courthouses, federal buildings, airports, and other public buildings. The kid spread-eagle may not feel safe, but some of his classmates may have suddenly felt safer.

    Uniforms are uniforms. "Barracks" style military uniforms are also very similar. Show me some uniforms that aren't…well…uniform?

    Reminds me of the K9 Health & Welfare inspections we'd do in the barracks in the Army, or what the Canadians did at the border the last time I drove into Canada.

    The classrooms look like classrooms, or adult training rooms, and will probably always look something like that. Trying to fit something else into these isn't quite working for me. An acquaintance who just came back from visiting churches and schools in India said that in the schools, the kids sat on long benches behind long tables, so this seems an improvement.

    In general, I could take pictures at Dallas City Hall that would compare to any of these, so isolating schools vs prisons or factories isn't working well for me.

  3. Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't know it would do that. I guess one must be prepared with a strategy?

  4. One, we have a problem in that if I go to enlarge pictures, I lose what I just wrote, so this isn't going to work well for anything very thoughtful where I go back to re-look at the pictures. I just lost about 3 paragraphs of thoughts and am annoyed enough at the moment that I don't want to go back and try to recreate them. Maybe later.

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