Patrons and Clients, II

It seems yesterday’s post sparked a lot of conversation, both here and on Google+ .

Factory-model schools train students to depend on authority (I said) the same way Roman clients depended on their patrons.

Monday was a holiday in some American schools, but it was “business as usual” (a telling term!) in my face-to-face teaching world.  And it felt like a factory day!  It was a chilly, blustery day; attendance was low; and some students (and teachers) seemed angry and resentful.  I “had to” step in with authority sometimes, but I kept trying to use the personal form, not the positional.  I’m sure that many of my students in the “badly behaved” class were puzzled.  “Why doesn’t he just punish us?” they were thinking.  “We’d stop if he’d just punish us hard enough!”

But they wouldn’t … not really.  They might stop the presenting behaviors, but the underlying issue, the refusal to use self-control, the insistence on other-control by an authority figure, would remain unaddressed.  That’s why I don’t want to use pain-punishment tools with them.  When you have such an external locus of control, the last thing you need is more external control.  What’s the metaphorical equivalent of methadone for an external-control addiction?

As I was about to start working with that “problem” class, Pam commented and reminded me that I haven’t acknowledged a major influence on my work and thought.  If only I had independently “constructed Bill Glasser’s work” as she generously assumed!  In fact, I’ve been deeply, profoundly moved by several of his books, especially  The Quality School.  I find it sad and ironic that schools often associate quality with sets of graphic organizers – sad and ironic, but not surprising, since American manufacturers ignored W. Edwards Deming almost as well.  Why? Because both Deming and Glasser pointed out “why boss management fails,” to quote Pam – and we don’t want boss management to fail!  As Pam asked,

[I]f we know that what we’re doing isn’t working – for us or the kids- why don’t we stop doing “it?” What motivates humans to persist in doing things that don’t work? Is it that we perceive because of a false sense of intermittent reinforcement that it is working? Because we are driven genetically to sustain status quo mostly? Because it takes generations for a new idea to spread and become norm? Because it takes a disruptive influence so great that the need for change can’t be ignored? All of the above? Some of the above?

Here’s part of the answer, I think: Once you’ve had the thrill of being the boss, of using the pain-punishment tools, it’s hard to stop.  We know it’s wrong, but it just feels … so good.

Like an addiction.

Does pain and punishment feel good to my “problem” class, or do they just not know anything else?

While I was trying to help that group with their addiction, anarbitraryauthor brought up a great point about the patron-client image. Clientēla was a system of mutual obligation, mutual respect between patrōnus and clientēs, but that’s not how factory-model positional authority works.

I wonder if it is at all possible for some kind of “patron-client bond,” one of mutual obligation that you discuss here, to be truly incorporated into the lives of students in regards to their authority figures? Admittedly, it is strange for me to view myself on the same level as a teacher, differing in obligation but not necessarily importance. I have always been “taught” to place authority on a high level. I know other students who feel this way as well, and it would likely be very difficult for us to collectively switch from positional to personal authority.

Poor Roman clients turned to their patron for handouts (and legal representation), but he turned to them for votes, for a cheering audience, and for other things he needed.  Unless he was the Emperor, he also had a patrōnus or two that he consulted.   But the factory model promotes one-way dependency on positional authority, not a web of mutual obligations and interdependence. Is that part of the pain problem?

Of course bosses need someone to boss … but we don’t like to talk about that.  Is pain-punishmentmutual addiction?

And Ann noted that even if the metaphor is apt, the teacher isn’t really the patrōnus.

I don’t feel at all like a patronus at school, far from it; I feel more like the owner of a popina whose clientele demands that I provide the goods they want. Or maybe like the hired hand of a farmer whose job it is to fatten up the swine for market! And the swine themselves demand that I fatten them faster and more efficiently! I have “authority” but it is, as it were, imposed on me from above; I haven’t earned it or asked for it.

Even if the factory model inspires client-like dependency, the foreman or the shift supervisor isn’t a powerful, independent figure!

As for Ira’s and Brendan’s comments, they’re so profound – and this post is getting so long – that they need a post of their own.

Can you think of a better or different image for the dependency factory-model schools encourage in students?  And what about the image of pain-punishment as addiction?

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Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 11:04 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] I want to keep a promise from Tuesday’s post and address some comments from Ira and Brendan from Monday.  As Ira pointed out, “[T]he hidden […]

  2. […] had never been at our school before.  I was apprehensive after the struggle I described in Tuesday’s post.  Would my “problem” class take their assignment seriously?  Would they follow our […]


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