Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's Not Necessary to Control Children {Even Though Schools Try To}

I'm not a big fan of Public Education.  Maybe you've already noticed?

Let's talk today about another of the hidden agendas of education.

Classroom Management is a euphemism for control.

Which is fine if you think that children need to be controlled. Which I don't.

Teachers' reputations are defined by whether or not they have good classroom management, which means whether or not their students are orderly, do as they are told, are 'on task' when required to be, don't get too noisy and more or less get along with each other in the room. It also means that teachers are expected to make their classes comply with school rules, even when the rules don't have much context within the confines of the classroom.

For example, if it's 5 minutes before the students are dismissed for the day and the principal walks into the room to deliver a message to somebody, and she sees one kid eating an apple and another kid wearing a baseball cap, then this makes the teacher look bad because apparently wearing hats and eating apples are forbidden under the school rules, even though the teacher might find it perfectly acceptable. So the principal may come in and enforce the nonsensical rules in the name of 'maintaining control' but it's really all about her having the power and the student's having none.

If someone would like to leave me a comment to explain why children should NOT eat when they are hungry and NOT wear outdoor attire 5 minutes before going outdoors, I'd love to read it.

I don't find it necessary to control my children. I'm not the mother at the playground yelling "Why don't you go on the slide?" or the mother at the grocery store trying to force her child to say "Thank you" to a total stranger who happened to pick up her hat off the floor. I instruct my children regarding their behaviour only when there is an issue of safety or when there are certain social considerations. For example, they know that if they burp in public they should say "Excuse me" but at home they don't have to if they don't want to. Why have a double standard? Because it's not worth fighting about.

But at school the teacher can't have some rules for some kids and some rules for others. And the teacher can't pick some rules to allow to be 'broken' in the class, but 'upheld' elsewhere on school property. There are two reasons for this. One, as I mentioned before, is that the teacher's reputation has a lot to do with how well-controlled the class is. Two, it is nearly impossible to administer the required curriculum without keeping all the children under the teacher's thumb by way of enforcing a lot of otherwise arbitrary and demeaning rules.

Let's take the rule about children not being allowed to eat in class. Why is this so important? Don't most adults eat when they are hungry, regardless of where they are? Is it because of the potential for a mess to be created? Then why don't we just expect the kids to clean up after themselves, and then enforce that rule? Is it because when a child is eating, he isn't working? Well, who can learn anything on an empty stomach? Is it because it's not fair if some kids didn't bring something to eat? Well, in that case, the hungry kids will likely remember to bring a snack for the next day if they feel jealous of the kids who are eating!!

The only place I've ever been as an adult with my children where eating is forbidden is the Royal Ontario Museum, where the rule is not arbitrary, as food residue could lead to the deterioration of the exhibits.

What about the rule about standing in a silent straight line? The only time I've ever been silent in a straight line was at a funeral and it didn't take me from Kindergarten to Grade 8 to learn how to stand still and be quiet.

What about rules regarding bathroom breaks? Can you imagine as an adult being told by your boss that you weren't allowed to go to the bathroom? Yet children are denied bathroom privileges all the time. They are expected to go at recess or lunch, unless it's an emergency. Like any kid is going to admit in front of the whole class that it's an emergency.

In my opinion, parents and teachers try to control children because of their own fear. The adults are afraid of what the children will do if they are not controlled. For teachers responsible for large groups of children who all come from different backgrounds and experiences, the fear is somewhat legitimate. But as a parent, I don't fear my children's behaviour. Mostly, I'm delighted by their behaviour, even when it is unexpected, unusual or unbecoming. If they act in a way that is generally considered to be 'socially unacceptable' then I am there to connect, instruct or console, depending on the circumstances. Since I accept that they act on the outside because of how they feel on the inside, I usually try to determine the inner feelings that precipitated the behaviour. Then I deal with the feelings, which always solves the behaviour problem.

The more rules a child has to follow, the more rules she is likely to break. That just makes sense. And the more nonsensical the rules are, the more likely she is to ignore them. Especially if the rules happen to make her feel physically uncomfortable or emotionally vulnerable.

I have no worries whatsoever about my children growing up to have manners, to recognize and show respect to authority at appropriate times and to get along with their peers and associates. They don't have to spend 10,000 hours (the approximate number of hours a child spends in school from Kindergarten to Grade 8) having it arbitrarily and dictatorially drilled into them by strangers.


  1. control is something that we are struggling with letting go of in our family...particularly when it comes to the children. it is especially hard for my husband who feels like it is the parent's job to "control" their children. your posts are always insightful and well written. thank you for sharing them!

  2. I could use a lot more information and practice in identifying and dealing with the feelings behind behaviour. Do you have any favorite resources?