If Not “Control,” then What?

        
It’s enough to make a principal commiserate with Moammar Gaddafi.

Fires in trashcans
at SWECC have
occupied the
Kansas City Fire
Dept. many times
since August.

All too many of our schools are teetering on the edge of violent anarchy, these days.  In Kansas City, we have kind of a “poster child school” in regard to school chaos. Southwest Early College Campus was conceived as a college-prep magnet, but last fall it was merged with another urban high school during a massive consolidation in the district.

It is fair to say the merger did not go smoothly.  Since August we’ve seen multiple fires, countless fights and arrests, and a sad procession of principals who arrive full of plans and leave a few months later in defeat.  They’re on their third one now, but he’s already announced he’s leaving at semester’s end.

So, honestly.  DO I still really think we need to move away from the Paradigm of “Control” that I identified in my April 2 and April 7 posts?

School can erupt into a place of violence with shocking ease.  L-R: a student is arrested in the library at the University of  Montana; students in India join a revolt against a professor; the aftermath of vandalism in a Wyoming school.

You bet I do.  I think the Paradigm of “Control” is the taproot feeding this whole contemporary downward spiral of violence and low achievement.  This is because the Paradigm of “Control” was born of fear and loathing, and it continues to be perpetuated by fear and loathing.

Remember that back at the dawn of US public schooling in the mid-19th century, one of the most compelling reasons why industrialists backed the public education movement was protection.  Rich white people genuinely needed protection from roving gangs of juvenile delinquents.

19th century gangs of juvenile delinquents in Northeastern cities were possibly even more numerous and dangerous than the gangs we have today.  Because everyone lived near each other in cities then, they also posed a more immediate threat to rich white people.  This inspired influential support for new laws mandating compulsory universal education.

The uncontrolled bands of young people that vandalized and stole things were offspring of the workers who toiled all day and half the night in the mills and factories of the time.  Their parents couldn’t supervise them, because they weren’t free to do so.

Factory owners already controlled the parents’ lives.  Confining and controlling the kids probably seemed like a logical extension, and a good idea.  Better yet, it served multiple purposes: it sounded benevolent, it taught children basic skills, and–not incidentally–it kept them off the streets.

And really–what’s wrong with that?  Educating kids while keeping them out of trouble hardly sounds like a Work of Evil.  I’m not saying it is.

What I am saying is that if you are seeking to design a system that promotes creative curiosity, critical thinking skills, and a lifelong passion for learning, you can find vastly superior models to build upon than those of a 19th century factory or a prison.

I believe there’s a key ingredient missing, in the Paradigm of “Control”–a vitally important element called RESPECT.  Fear and loathing cannot coexist with respect.

And without feeling respected and affirmed, it’s hideously difficult for a child to confidently try new things, expand his/her vision, or explore the fearsomely wonderful world of learning.

PHOTO CREDITS: Trashcan fire demo by the National Fire Sprinkler Association; University of Montana student arrest from Indy Media; student mob attacking professor from the Times of India Online; vandalized school library in Wyoming from Muskegon News Archive of MLIVE; 19th century street gang from The Young Campaigner blog; 21st century gang members from Gang’s Dangerous Life website; “Respect” graphic from Jemima’s Journal blog, by Jemima Kameyo.

Published by

jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

3 thoughts on “If Not “Control,” then What?”

  1. I lost another long reply, so I'm giving up. It's telling me that a Required field must not be blank, but I don't see what it is. My guess is that it's the CAPCTHA, but it's not visible and wasn't, so I'm giving up on this.

Leave a Reply