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Monday, October 20, 2014

The Discipline Games

Patrick Finn describes a teacher preparation class roll playing exercise, where he has the students (all teachers) play a student, teacher, and jury.  They have dialogue regarding the negotiation of student desires, and teacher responses, and after a pre-set amount of time, the jury rules on the item at hand.  I found this to be an interesting exercise, and I loved the idea of dialogue vs. anti-dialogue, but I opened with this description, because I thought the title "The Discipline Games" would make an apt title for the article selection. 

Finn opens in chapter one, discussing various considered titles for his book, and while we did not have access to the entire book, the selection we read could have been titled "The Discipline Games" because of the in-depth study and description of the set-up and inequality found in schools and how that inequality funnels students into their roles in life following.  The set-up of schools, and the idea that it could be intentional (conspiracy GASP!) by those with privilege, evokes powerful connections to that other title so popular in today's classrooms and society "The Hunger Games."  So in honor, I will be peppering my blog today with movie references for those of you who love the cinema.

In "The Book of Eli" Denzel Washington's character carries a bible through the apocalyptic world, where very few can read, and those who can hold all the power.  The main antagonist, is on a mission to collect and/or destroy all books, especially the bible, because it is the most dangerous of all books.  When he finally gets it from Washington's character, it is useless, because it is in Braille, which renders the villain functionally illiterate.  Eli continues on the a society of pacifists, and proceeds to recite, word for word the entire contents of the King James Bible, which he has memorized.  Finn opens by telling us of the power of literacy, and access to books, and continues throughout his book to describe "literacy with attitude."

We go on to read Finn discuss how students in working and middle class schools are taught to follow directions, get the right answer, and exhibit acceptable levels of resistance, mixed in with some hope for opportunity.  This type of learning is directed toward a future of wage labor, or service labor, such as teaching, law enforcement, nursing, and "accountantry(my word)."  There were two phrases that stuck most with me in this section, the first, concerning working class students and a science experiment was:  "what did we find" of course this came after the teacher performed the experiment in front of the students who were expected to sit quietly at their desks and observe.  The second was "There was more excited patriotism around holidays here than in any other school." when referring to middle class students.  This screams to the "caste system" of our society.  While hourly wage workers and working class people have little reason to look forward to the holidays, and those who are affluent don't need to have their holidays and gift-giving dictated to them, the middle class "managers" grind ploddingly forward, waiting for a chance for a little extra moment of what appears to be joy, in the form of a three day weekend.  What more appropriate image than a Disney classic:

The ants pick the food, the grasshoppers eat the food, and nobody gets squished.  These ants don't even know enough to know that they are oppressed, or to question their lot in life, until one renegade ant screws up and has no choice but to force change.  I think Finn and Friere might have moonlighted on Disney's writing team for this one.

The last idea I wanted to touch on was the idea of students from working class schools being hosted by those in affluent schools, and the differences between the food, and the classes, and the hallway expectations, and the rules, etc.  I have often rebelled against the popular idea that if you took a student from a poor community, and dropped them in an affluent one, they would prosper, or that if you took a teacher from an affluent community and dropped them in a struggling urban school, they would fail.  I'm just not sure the issue is that simple, but I do understand how he felt that he had let the urban students down by reinforcing the image they already have of sub-ordinance. Here's two last hollywood pics that deal with that idea:

Can't wait for class this week!


  1. Brian,

    While reading your post I noticed something today and maybe you can relate to this since we work in the same city. We had a lot of college students and adults come into our school over the past couple days. All the visitors debriefed with teachers and students at the end of their visit. All of the students and adults said that they were so amazed at the performance and behavior of our students. This stayed with me for a while after they left- was the behavior of students suppose to be "bad" or was the curriculum suppose to be easy? Is this why the adults and students were mind-blown when they came in because they were expecting something else? Would they make the same observations about students who came from a privilege setting, suburban, and majority White setting? I feel that the the observations about our school might differ, from the observations at another. It seems like a common theme when we debrief with visitors, the anticipations and expectations before they come to our school, always seem to be lowered because we are in a certain setting. Is this something that you observed at the high school level?

    1. Ken,
      We constantly have people walking through our classrooms, and have since I started teaching in CF, I have always felt a sense of their anticipation for mischief and behavior problems. I have also often found visitors to be incredulous at the performance and behavior that they actually see when they sit in class, then debrief. Another common theme with people I meet, when asked when the find out what I do and where is the phrase "oh!" which I have finally stopped being defensive about. I now operate under the assumption that most people are swayed by public opinion of CF, and just don't understand the incredible group of young people we have. Check this web search result about our schools:

      I think this is what outsiders mostly think. I do not think most people would find what happens in many of our CF classrooms unusual in a privileged/affluent setting unusual. Unfortunately, I think there are still too many classrooms, district wide, who still work under the industrial, follow the rules, learn to be capable of hourly wage jobs, that Finn talks about, so it is very hard to change that image.

  2. Brian, I loved your references to movies. I thought about Antz too when I read the article too! The mindlessness of teaching students how to do the repetitive jobs and follow the rules is out dated. I also thought back to your post last class, about how the structure of our education system is set up for the wrong era. We do not need so many factory workers, but we need innovators and creative minds, we need problem solvers. Teaching the high class these skills is not enough anymore, we need more minds who can problem solve and innovate. I also think that people who are low-income can be the best innovators because they have had to survive with so little, they have to work really hard for the little that they have, so why aren't teachers of low-income areas completing the problem-solving sections of texts or having discussion with their students?

  3. Although I am not a movie buff, I appreciated your connection to other texts, especially The Book of Eli. Reading your summary also reminded me of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. As you said, literacy and access to books brings power. And in the novel, the firemen, led by Captain Beaty, must destroy the books because they contain conflicting ideas and are therefore dangerous to society.

    However, I think we are all in agreement that conflicting ideas are what make us grow. We want to avoid anti-dialogue and have real conversations. Otherwise, like the villagers that Freire worked with, we become too caught up in our daily lives that we don't realize how enslaved we are to the systems that exploit us.