Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Empty Show of Force: Behaviour

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Empty Show of Force: Behaviour

Article excerpt

Authoritarian approaches to school discipline create little more than a sideshow of control, argues Paul Dix.

I am sickened by insidious suggestions that discipline can be "enforced". From heads suggesting school leaders act like Dirty Harry, to calls to bring in the Army and hints that teachers might (again) grab hold of children who disrupt lessons.

A more aggressive response to poor behaviour is being encouraged. It appeals to a primal and emotional urge, to the ignorant, unenlightened and ugliest right-wing traditions. It suits their purpose to pretend behaviour change is not built on relationships, but pure unadulterated control.

Standing up when the teacher walks in is a good example. This does not change behaviour; it just further emphasises the division between teachers and pupils. It is a sham - a pantomime of false respect played out in classrooms that are never replicated in the adult world.

I stood up when my teachers came in the room. I never thought twice about it. It was habit, a minor inconvenience. It did not stop me telling the aggressive ones to "fuck off". It did not make me trust, like or respect them. Why do we put up with this ridiculous pretence that doffing your cap to authority makes you behave better? It teaches hierarchy, not personal discipline.

"Tough guy" heads get their needs met. They rarely meet the needs of the most damaged children. As they showboat with politicians, they pretend all that is needed is the biggest roar. The truth behind the public relations is often that the most difficult pupils are shoved into other schools.

In the brave new world of 1950s behaviour management, those who will not do as they are told are shunned with unpalatable enthusiasm. Control, discipline and force are the hardy perennials of populist politicians. When are we going to shout about humanity, respect and kindness with the same vigour? What kind of models of the adult world are we encouraged to be? What kind of seeds are we told to plant?

When I raised the question of behaviour with a leading Swedish educationalist, Anders Hultin, he was shocked that it was even an issue in the UK. It certainly is not in Swedish schools. And I do not recall seeing boot camps, Portakabins for the "naughties", segregation cells or screaming sergeant-majors in Dutch, French or Spanish schools. I see mutual respect, equal status, excellent relationships, personal discipline, care and love.

The British insistence on enforced discipline leaves us in reverse gear as other nations speed away. …

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