Tuesday 8 December 2015

Can there be too much discipline in schools?

When I was a child living off the Finchley Road - north London, come on - we used to live next door to a very nice German man who had been educated in the Nazi school system.

The main thing I remember him telling us is how much they had to practice jumping up when the teacher came into the room so that the seats all banged back at once,  Over and over again.

It was one of those kind of vacuous disciplinary tests that tyrannical regimes seem to like. And I thought of it today listening to the Radio 4 feature on the new academy Ark Boulton in Birmingham, which has taken over one of the schools involved in the so-called Trojan Horse affair.

Because it was worrying and I've been trying to pinpoint why the extreme discipline should have bothered me for the rest of the day.

It isn't that an element of self-discipline is unwelcome in school. Quite the reverse. I think Ark's chair Paul Marshall is right when he says we have neglected children by expecting so little of them over the last few generations.

It's just that I'm not sure that extreme versions of keeping still and listening, while we pour learning into their unformed souls, is necessarily the right way to go about it.

The hour's detention they get when they forget their personal manuals, where the tutors write notes about them, reminded me all too much of the Toyota One Best Way model of industrialisation.  Not exactly the "British values" that the new school claims.

As for practicing going fast into class without speaking. Well, maybe once or twice. But at the end of the day, I'm sure the teachers of my next door neighbour in the 1930s might also have claimed that they were "maximising teaching time".

On the other hand, I can understand the rule about not having gatherings of more than six children in a playground. I'm just not sure abut their ban on tag games.

Two things worry me about this trend of ever stricter control over children in school, their wandering minds and their unruly bodies. Because this goes way beyond Birmingham. My children's last school banned speaking in the corridors as well.

First, it only seems to go one way. My son's school - outstanding and pretty strict - is not at all strict with itself.  They get cross when the children leave their books or homework at home, but they seem to let themselves off the hook for not having enough tables to eat lunch at.

Second, I'm not absolutely sure that the new wave of iron discipline is as educational as its promoters think it is. Can you really inspire children with a lifelong love of learning if you treat them like recalcitrant computers that really need to be plugged in and switched in? Can you get the best out of people when we are returning to a Victorian idea that childhood is something that requires curing? Or when the schools are so big that they require regimentation?

Most of all - can we create the next generation of creative citizens that we so badly need for economic survival?

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1 comment:

Joe Zammit-Lucia said...

You might also want to apply this thinking to how corporations treat their staff