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Lamplighter
05-12-2004, 10:15 AM
One of the recent threads in this forum branched off into a discussion about teachers, which I found kind of interesting, or at least more interesting than Badiou or whatever the thread had originally been about. There seemed to be two, fairly extreme and very different, opinions: either that teachers are 'structurally evil', or that they are the 'exact opposite' of evil, and give people greater autonomy. I'm not too convinced by either of these positions, really, but I think it's an interesting area for discussion.
I teach kids, mostly six year-olds, and I'm also in charge of three other teachers and their classes. I'm sort of a deputy headmaster, I suppose. I'm reasonably certain that I'm not evil, even structurally, but I'm also not entirely comfortable, even after four years, with all aspects of teaching. I think Foucault is right in seeing school as a centre of discipline, as a place where useful, social beings are formed; I think it would be very hard for it to be anything else. I spend a lot of time trying to mould the way that my students, and students in other classes, behave, partly to make them fit in with my own moral beliefs (trying to persuade them that bullying is wrong, for example), and partly to get them to behave in a way that is useful for me (listening to their teacher, not fiddling with stuff in class). In order to do this I use an array of techniques, ranging from sheer volume to what could be seen as a kind of insidious propaganda. 'Are you a baby? Come on, you're almost seven, behave like a big kid' ... when, of course, they were just talking or running or something, which is a pretty reasonable way for a six year-old to behave.
It would be very hard for me to do my job without using techniques like this, and it would be even harder to do it without controlling to some extent at least the way my students behave. Of course, I would like to think that I also manage to encourage my students to think critically, and to have a fairly irreverent attitude to authority.
I know this post is slightly rambling. It's something I've thought about a lot, but not in any really coherent way, and hopefully discussing it will help me sort my ideas out. I'd like to hear what other people think of teachers, and I'd really like to hear from any other teachers who have had the same kind of thoughts. Why do you think teaching is 'evil', if that's what you believe? I mean, everyone has had a dreadful teacher at some point, but surely almost everyone has been lucky enough to have at least one excellent, inspiring teacher, too?

polystyle desu
05-12-2004, 10:50 PM
Hi Lamp

I'll keep it simple .
No, I don't think all teachers = evil
I had both bad teachers - watch the bad ones that appear good'
I had an art teacher in High School that stole a piece of my work once (saw it in her desk one time when she opened it)
and
good ones - last summer's Tai Chi teacher @ Battery Park comes to mind.

MBM
05-12-2004, 11:15 PM
I had an art teacher in High School that stole a piece of my work once (saw it in her desk one time when she opened it)

Which is kinda freakin' weird? Did this person have a crush on you or something?

Anyways, I think there a couple of things going on here:

1. What are the impacts of different instructional models?
I do a lot of "training" (ugh - don't like the word, reminds me of Skinner) with adults and I try to make it as involving and inclusive as I can. Yeah, there are things I want them to think and spaces I want them to go but I try not to make it an ego thing (which I have seen in a number of trainers/educators). Fiere had a great term for the "stand at the front and look at me" style of teaching - "The Banking Model". But then, he was a Marxist.

2. More specifically, how do you bring up kids? (Either as a parent, or in loco parentis as a teacher)
Much trickier one. I don't have direct experience of this - but I know some of the old farts on the board do.

Be interested to hear comments and experiences.

grimly fiendish
06-12-2004, 01:33 PM
a good teacher is a thing of wonder, and i genuinely believe many - a majority - of teachers out there are hugely dedicated to their work. i know a handful myself - some close friends, others passing acquaintances - and am astounded by their cheerfulness, optimism and perserverance against the odds.

i also know one "lapsed" teacher: a long-standing and much-loved mate of mine whom i imagine would have been truly inspirational. but in the end, he said, it became too much. no, not the kids themselves: the parents.

he'd spend the day trying to instil a sense of joy and wonder and a desire to learn in these slightly spoiled middle-class primary-school children: then they'd go home to these lumpen fuckin' idiot parents with their total and utter lack of values (unless venality, greed and ignorance can be counted as values) and straight away it was two steps back.

yes, ok: he could have moved schools. but this was a so-called "good" school. from talking to him about it, he just felt he wasn't making an iota of difference and decided to give up. a quitter, then? yes, but most of us wouldn't have the guts to even begin in such a career.

(he now works in crime prevention and seems to be loving it.)

jenks
06-12-2004, 03:09 PM
Having been a teacher for the past 14 years i can see many of the points lamplighter raises. all too often we are portrayed as either beastly fascists who hate children (the institutionally evil) or the poor benighted souls trying to deliver the impossible. most of the people in this forum have been on the receiving end of some pretty powerful teaching (some may say they flourished in spite of rather than because of). the quality of ideas is impressively expressed here, so much so that i have felt intimidated about posting.
i can't see how the educational institution can be anything other than a huge machine of power - the hierarchy explicit in terms of address, expectations of behaviour, sanctions and rewards, dress codes and a hundred other ways.
however it's a contract isn't? a trade off for what they get in return - some kind of access to knowledge at the cost of a degree of 'freedom'
yet this doesn't mean that those who decide to become teachers are those that wish to practise power over others - that is the result not the motivation.
i still feel slightly foolish for my missionary zeal (and yes i am aware of the irony and complexity of the phrase) with which i entered the profession and which i still have - i wanted to pass on some of the joy i feel for texts, the pleasure of discovery etc. i came from an unbookish family and wanted kids like me to be taught by people like them - (vanity, i am aware).
so, institutionally evil? i hope not, and if so aren't the workers within the institution equally oppressed - forced into modes of behaviour inside the institution that they wouldn't enact outside because that is what is expected of them by both the institution and the kids within it.
i'd be interested to see where this trand goes.

john eden
06-12-2004, 03:16 PM
The only reason I raised the issue of teachers being "structurally evil" was because it seemed to me that Mark was saying that his "teacherness" let him off the hook of being elitist. I don't generally bandy about words like "evil" without irony - Mark had been saying in another thread that lawyers are "structurally evil", so it was a reference to that.

As has been said the position/profession of being a teacher in society as it is currently structured does include a disciplining role. That doesn't mean all teachers, as individuals are bad people who hate kids or are on a power trip.

Indeed there are obviously loads of great teachers who try to resist the role which is foisted on them and actually inspire people to learn.

luka
06-12-2004, 03:27 PM
yeah teachers are structurally evil if anyone is, hidden curriculum and all that bollocks, but the term is meaningless anyway.

i never had any good teachers but i know people who did. its like having a good childhood, most people don't, but ppeople who do seem to have really benefitted from it and i'm quite envious. you can obviously have amassve, positive influence on people.

jenks
06-12-2004, 03:43 PM
"yeah teachers are structurally evil if anyone is"
cheers that'll make the marking go with a zing!

"the term is meaningless"
which one? why?

Lamplighter
06-12-2004, 05:07 PM
I'm not sure it's really a matter of escaping the disciplinary role 'foisted on' teachers by society; I really don't know how possible that is. It's very hard to get children to learn, or at least to take in, understand, remember and use pieces of information, without to some extent moulding their behavior. Students who sit and listen, and are more inclined to listen to teachers than to whoever's sitting next to them, are a lot easier to teach than students who are jumping around or chatting to their neighbour about that grime music, or whatever. If you're trying to help them develop the way they think about things - to help them think in a critical way, to ask questions, to reach a stage where they can possibly teach themselves - then the potential for discipline, for shaping who they are and how they think of themselves, is clearly intensified. And that's probably not a good thing, really ... but is the risk justified by the end result, or at least the desired end result?
I actually only started to worry about this kind of thing when I realised I was using 'Discipline and Punish' as a guide when I was giving new teachers advice on keeping control in the classroom: 'You can't just use big punishments, you know, the whole spectacle thing, it's just not efficient - you need to have consistent, constant control'. I thought, that's not how you're meant to be using Foucault. It works, though, it's actually a pretty useful approach to classroom management. Next I think I'll try adapting Deleuze - war machines and lines of flight, and their relationship to preventing playground football from becoming rowdy.

grimly fiendish
06-12-2004, 10:50 PM
If you're trying to help them develop the way they think about things - to help them think in a critical way, to ask questions, to reach a stage where they can possibly teach themselves - then the potential for discipline, for shaping who they are and how they think of themselves, is clearly intensified. And that's probably not a good thing, really ... but is the risk justified by the end result, or at least the desired end result?

hang on, though. when did discipline become synonymous with fascism?

without discipline at its most basic - ie controlled behaviour, no more - you're left with anarchy. and not some philosophically pure notion of anarchy but real, practical, painful anarchy. the kind that's red in tooth and claw.

discipline is not inherently evil; it's a matter of how that discipline is applied. children need boundaries: ask any child psychologist. a good teacher (and both jenks and lamplighter sound like they'd be good teachers) will understand how those boundaries should be defined, and how to encourage their charges not to stray outside them/reprimand them if they do.

that said: the biggest problem is surely if those boundaries are destroyed at home. the best teacher in the world is still going to struggle to undo the effects of poor parenting.

matt b
07-12-2004, 10:43 AM
without discipline at its most basic - ie controlled behaviour, no more - you're left with anarchy. and not some philosophically pure notion of anarchy but real, practical, painful anarchy. the kind that's red in tooth and claw.

that'll be chaos then, not anarchy ;)




that said: the biggest problem is surely if those boundaries are destroyed at home. the best teacher in the world is still going to struggle to undo the effects of poor parenting.

it's when the boundries are not learnt in the first place that the real problems arise: reasoning with students who have no sense of right/wrong what is appropriate behaviour when in a room with 30 others etc is a touch difficult

jenks
07-12-2004, 11:02 AM
I found that i was (unintentionally) using more and more of the stuff identified by Fairclough in Language and Power, particularly consent and coercion, the dressing up of instrumental power as influential. I had a Damascus moment in a lesson when the penny dropped ( i was trying to make them do something by suggesting it would be a good idea, however i was not going to take no for an answer)- everything stopped for a moment - then it started again. Left quite an impression.

Woebot
07-12-2004, 11:10 AM
as john says his original remark was largely made to highlight the ridiculousness of branding a profession like law "structurally evil"

i'm really touched that you worry so much about having to discipline these little tikes ;) as a parent i'm in a similar situation except the tools at one's disposal are distraction and bribery! with a group of kids, aw it must be a nightmare. if i was you i wouldn't underestimate the fact that many (most) children respond really well to boundaries. boundaries are comforting aren't they? we just had to take our daughter out of a nursery where the teachers were so wrapped up in a completely pretentious laissez-faire philosophy that was completely innappropriate to the situation, that she was feeling terrorised by all the kids just running wild without supervision. they have a problem there actually, not enough staff.

i think that you're even considering the effects of your tactics in such honest depth proves you must be an excellent teacher. dont sweat it :)