School and Student restraint and confinement

I watched this CBS special report about the use of “solitary confinement” and restraints in US schools and have been thinking about it all week. Disturbing. View it below.

It was a good reminder, disturbing as it is. A reminder to me that our schools must be abandoned. They can’t be fixed or repaired. They are broken and must be replaced. If I hear the word school reform one more time, I think I’m going to burst …..


My sister and I often have the same argument (she’s also a teacher and I’ll offer the disclaimer that she thinks I’m detached from the reality on the ground, in academia, training teachers etc… but forgets I spent years in classrooms long before she ever thought of teaching.). My sister would be all in favor of these kinds of “treatments”.  I think a lot of practicing teachers would also. Of course they would never do things “so extreme”, or so they’d say. But it is a very, very slippery slope – controlling students in these manners.

My sister is at school for and loves the obedient, eager students. The insolent, disobedient, disrespectful students she detests. And she’ll tell you there are so many of them! She feels they are the product of a society that gives them too many rights, that allows them too much freedom. What they need is to do a good days work, discipline and to see how the real world works.  I disagree.

Student behavior (or misbehavior) is a product and reaction to the present wider society and culture. No amount of coersion, shock therapy or force will change that. If teachers want “better” behaved students in school – they need to join a wider revolution within society and make for change. As it stands our society, our families produce these “problem” students.  A teacher, like any citizen IS part of the problem.  We can’t punish students and make the world turn back into 1953.

Furthermore, we have an environment in school and out that treats children as second class citizens. Students today grow up so fast, gain so much “intelligence” so quick – of course they figure out quickly how irrelevant school is in this day and age. How they have no rights and are daily ordered like prisoners to do this, go here, be that. What might Carl Rogers say at how ill school is at the most fundamental feature of education – creating strong social relationships and personal “value”.  As he says, student must feel “at a deep level that their subjective experience is both respected and progressively understood.”

The cure is not more restraints, nor more punishments. Education, teaching is about “doing no harm” and creating citizens and a society we want. Why do we continue down the road of competition and ranking students by intelligence when the end goal is to create a well adjusted individual? Shouldn’t the students we applaud be those who are happy, who have independent personalities and inner strength and will?

I look at our society and I feel shame. Perhaps besides being a teacher, that is why I am a poet. I want the world to see how shameful it is, as it is.  I’m shamed that we would do these things to children. I’m shamed that our culture is so militant and violent, passively violent.  I’m shamed how the Ultimate Fighter can be part of school curriculum yet peace is given such short thrift. I’m ashamed that teachers don’t have the freedom to teach nor students the freedom or permission to learn. I’m ashamed how students spend hours and hours in school and learn all the wrong things. I’m ashamed how teachers the world over never, ever, ever ask their students what they’d like to learn today.

Last week, took down Summerhill from my bookshelf for a read on the toilet. I read over his thoughts describing the difference between license and freedom – the free and unfree child. They should be required reading for all teachers. I’ll end with a few quotes

I believe to impose anything by authority is wrong (in school). The child should not do anything until he comes to the opinion – his own opinion – that it should be done. The curse of humanity is the external compulsion whether it comes from the Pope or the state or the teacher or the parent. It is fascism in toto. pg 114.

It is this distinction between freedom and license that many parents cannot grasp.  In the disciplined home (school), the children have no rights. In the spoiled home (school), they have all the rights. The proper home is on e in whcih children and adults have equal rights. And the same applies to 107

People who protest the granting of freedom to children (students) and use this argument (that life is hard, we need to teach children to obey and have discipline – my entry), do not realize that they start with an unfounded assumption – the assumption that a child will not grow or develop unless forced to do so. Yet the entire thirty nine years of experience of Summerhill disproves this assumption.  pg. 109

People are always saying to me, “But how will your free children ever adapt themselves to the drudgery of life? I hope that these free children will be pioneers in abolishing the drudgery of life. pg 114.

Call me a rosy, academic idealistic, my sister certainly would. But look around, do you see much else working?  I do hope one day to have my own school and “cultivez ma jardin” and be the change through some boots on the ground. Until then, these mere words and a beating heart must suffice.

 PS. I wanted to throw a lot of links/references into this post but decided against. Used my own voice and that should suffice.

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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