Lately I have been thinking about the role that power plays to inhibit the learning in our classrooms and schools. This has led me to think back…back ………back to my early impressionable years at university, as I studied justice and law and visited the works of such thinkers as Michel Foucault and german cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche. I remember being caught up in the ‘rise of the institution’ as a construction of power and control. At the time it wasn’t the institution of schools that I was most intrigued by, it was in fact the prison and psychiatric institutions I was more obliged to investigate. The system of education was secondary but still of interest due to my reliance on being part of that machine to complete my degree! It is now that my memories of such studies comes to the forefront as I consider why it is that our classrooms often preside as the playground of power struggles and control and how the systems we work within constrain and restrict originality.
Foucault saw schools in the 17th century as functioning to contain disorders, prevent ignorance, idleness, and insubordination (see Discipline and Punishment). He then saw it develop with the rise expanse of the factory and population increase into the more modern system.
Schools began to develop, first, functional spaces, and later, separate classrooms; and pupils were distributed spatially and serially, not only according to progress, age, or level of achievement but also character, cleanliness, even morality.
The twentieth-century shift from traditional didactic or teacher-centred to more co-operative or child-centred instructional formats has not dissolved or tamed power relations but merely reformulated them.
I can walk around my school on a daily basis and see this in action. We have some amazing teachers in our school, yet if you asked each one of them who owns the power in the classroom, who controls the learning, I am quite sure most, if not all, would say they do.
George Couros recently suggested reading Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant. It was quite serendipitous that 2 days from starting to formalise these thoughts on here, George would make this suggestion.
Notter and Grant declare that we are in fact struggling to be “fully human within our organizational lives” as they explain that our organisations have been “modelled after machines”. Foucault would assert that in fact they ARE machines and we are but cogs within it.
Notter and Grant see that the “revolutionary breakthrough in technology” (the internet) has enabled us to become “more human”. The social connections and implications creating transparency and enabling the line between professionals and amateurs to be blurred.
Yet our organisations (schools) remain rigid and our classrooms structured to maintain the machine. The struggle for control and power continues despite the mechanics failing those it is trying to ‘produce’. Most would agree and most schools would even impart in their vision that their objective is to support students to be innovative, creative and successful. How many of our schools are actually able to support their staff to be innovative, creative and successful? Does it start there? Shouldn’t our principals be able to be innovative, creative and successful too?
The challenge as Notter and Grant see, is “to make our organizations more human”. They suggest:
Taking more chances
Giving up control
Thinking about old issues from new perspectives
Bringing in new voices
I would love to see these ideas being discussed within faculties, within schools, within executives, within regions. I would love to hear about and see schools challenging the machines and transforming themselves to become more “humanized”. Most emphatically I am excited about challenging my own classrooms, my own staff, my own peers and my own leadership, to see how WE can become more “humanized”!