After spending some time in what current education trends would call a school with a No Excuses discipline system, I’ve watched first hand how these schools are able to achieve such levels of taciturnity. They enforce a public discipline system that values strict adherence to rules and procedures, to the point that students are often directed to silence their voices at all moments of the day: walking through the hallway, at lunch, or on the way to recess. There is no moment in which students are expected to be heard, unless it is after their young educator instructs them to turn and talk with a partner for 30 seconds in order to summarize how Golding’s use of allegory in Lord of the Flies demonstrates his position on human civilization, society, and desire for power. If students do not simply follow, and instead, have the urge to push back they a greeted with a simple: “We don’t talk back.”
Some readers will see the last four words and be as alarmed as I was the first time I heard them. Others may not immediately establish the connection. I’ll try to underscore it here: What system values silence so much, that it would create the collective idea that speaking for oneself is the same as being disrespectful? Who are we attempting to educate and raise? What sort of citizen--in a time where the world needs more voices, activists, and chroniclers--are we trying to educate? Why do we fear the voices of our youth? The responses I fear is that these schools do not realize that they are our youth, that we have a collective obligation toward them and our future. Or, worse yet, they have more Machiavellian goals at their core.
It goes almost without saying that the student population that is most impacted by this educational philosophy of Discipline and Compliance is not those in suburban, affluent neighborhoods. Instead, it is students of color, and/or, those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds who are routinely exposed to this brand of education. An education whose final destination I’ve seen in action: the loss of critical thought. The same students that are able to memorize multiplication tables and the definition of a metaphor, find that they’re unable to think for themselves or analyze a book beyond the dictates of their teacher. It is not as surprising, then, that we often see test score jumps fizzle out once students reach secondary education. So not only are students losing out on social development, but the academic gains cannot be sufficiently argued for either.
The irony in all this is that educators understand that speaking is necessary for learning. Or at least, they demand it on a regular basis. Consider any professional development or training that you’ve attended over the past few years and felt it was worthwhile. Did you spend the whole time taking notes? Did you only listen to the facilitators thoughts as she executed a script that she was provided? Unlikely. Effective facilitators often try to get participants to engage through speech: turn and talks, ice breakers, and sharing personal reflections. We understand the necessity of speaking when it comes to andragogy. And yet, some schools’ goals appears to be to deprive our children of the very thing they need in order to learn and have true academic achievement. To be full citizens in the world.
What does this mean? For now, it’s to encourage voice. Push students to speak out, ask questions, and be reflective both internally and externally. And educators must also make sure to do this ourselves. Educators cannot simply prepare students to change the world. We must help make the world right for them, create a real foundation for them to inherit.