The Pain Test, II

In the Google+ thread that grew out of yesterday’s post, my Personal Learning Network raised enough issues for dozens of blog posts.  Debbie noted,

… I was thinking the other day about how often we, as educators/parents/mentors, work with children/youth as equals on projects or discussions. (rarely). I was envisioning projects or activities at the schools where teachers were part of a group, sharing, learning, listening, etc. How empowering this would be for the students, for the teachers, and for the schools as a whole.

Now, from what you have posted I can see that some teachers would have a difficult time releasing the need for power within the group (at some level). I think that, perhaps, for some there is this need for the position of superiority.
Does this come from a wound, a pain as you state, is it something they have been trained to think or is a personality trait of being a leader that has morphed into something else?

I spent some serious time on Monday thinking about that need for power or superiority and its causes – partly because one of my classes had been “asking” for a display of power.  They started off loud, unfocused, disengaged, and unpleasant to me and to each other  – but as soon as I powerfully and assertively expressed my anger and disappointment, they calmed down, focused on their assignment, and went on to have a pleasant, productive day.

Were my students actually asking for anger?  Did they need anger to know the boundaries?  And if so, was it a cultural need, or related to personalities? Did the time of day play a part?  Is it that many of them are highly intelligent boys with poor work habits?

I’m not sure.  And even if they actually needed or wanted a display of anger, was it an inherent need or one that they’ve developed over their years in factory-model schools?  Does a hierarchical system build or grow fromneed for power and for differences in status?

Once again, I’m not sure.  And I’m not sure why a class that began with anger and power ended with peaceful, happy productivity. Perhaps I modeled controlled and purposeful anger rather than the reflexive and unfocused anger they were expecting.

I’m still not sure.  But I’m pondering why students, as well as teachers, choose the pain-punishment route.  To rephrase Debbie,

Does this come from a wound, a pain as you state, is it something they have been trained to think or is a personality trait of being a follower that has morphed into something else?

I’m sure the answer is at least as complex for students as it is for teachers. But if anger, fear, and punishment are necessary in the factory system – and everybody seems to think they are –  that strikes me as a terrible flaw.  As Laura pointed out,

That whole constellation of pain/anger in both teacher and student is really dangerous – not just because pain and anger are in no way conducive to learning but because they are so FREE-FLOATING.

The anger-pain-punishment toolbox is all about control. We feel out of control ourselves, hate that feeling, and want to make it go away by controlling others.  My students had been struggling with tasks like the one we were doing on Monday; maybe they wanted to control that unpleasant feeling by making me get mad instead!  And when I saw that “my beautifully activity” wasn’t working well, maybe I wanted to control my out-of-control feeling by making them do the assignment!

What do factory-model schools make?  They make people do things.  That’s very different from a joyful learning community that makes meaningful things together.  Ownership and control are tightly linked – and as much as I talk about and model the importance of owning your learning, my students spend the rest of their school day in a totally different paradigm.

That’s really hard for them, and maybe the clashing expectations and paradigms contribute to the anger and pain that they were feeling.  And maybe, just maybe, they needed someone – someone with power and control – to express anger and disappointment for them.

I’m still struggling with the complex implications of something that seems so common and simple.

In a non-factory learning system, where you’re not making people do things, would there be a place for anger as a form of control?  And within a factory system, is it possible to get away from anger as control?  Do the anger and control needs flow from pain, or do they actually cause the pain, or is it a complex, reciprocal system of anger and pain?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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Published in: on September 25, 2012 at 9:54 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] My head is still spinning from the conversations here, here,  and here on Google+ about pain and punishment in factory-model schools – and from thinking and writing about the inherent pain in the system over here.  Meanwhile, it was a really great day for my formerly-distracted class on Tuesday – no need for anger or punishment or pain – and I kept wondering why they seemed to need and crave an angry response from me on Monday. […]

  2. […] that’s where factory-model schools often fall short – and where I fell short on Monday in a different way.  Educators in factory-model schools often want to address underlying […]

  3. […] if you’ve read last week’s posts, you know that interest and engagement don’t seem to eliminate all forms of pain and […]


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