"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The School Culture of Control

For fascists, policing is the preferred alternative to trusting. As the Business Roundtable and Achieve, Inc. re-write, state by state, the curriculum for the American high school, complicit state legislators and the teachers' organizations sit on the sidelines collecting their contributions and promissory notes and nodding assent to the hostile takeover of American education by the anti-democratic and cut-throat culture of un-checked corporate corruption.

In the meantime, high school administrators are getting their minds right for the looming learning lockdown that will undoubtedly accompany the brave new world of teaching by testing that Achieve, Inc. has put together. Today, the Washington Post reports that a culture of control has begun to permeate the school climate in Maryland high schools. While students are encouraged to watch the ever-present idiot boxes hanging from the classroom and cafeteria walls pumping out Maury Povich and MSNBC's endless stream of prisoner-tainment, the same students are no longer allowed to have iPods or to have the unapproved kinds of spirit days. As trust recedes from the public sphere, policing assuredly advances:

At Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, students can't just randomly stroll out to their cars to fetch a textbook or some other forgotten item. They need a pass because authorities worry about what might be stashed in the parking lot.

At McKinley Technology High School in the District, students are banned from listening to iPods during lunch. But much to their mystification, they are allowed to watch ESPN or "The Maury Show" on the television hanging from the cafeteria ceiling.

"We can watch people fight on TV about who's the baby's father, but we just can't listen to our music. That's kind of weird," said Letia Childs, 15, a McKinley sophomore. "When we listen to our iPod, that's our world. It's calming. Everyone gets rowdy when they watch Maury. Sometimes, in our own way, we just want to do our own thing, but we're limited."

A culture of control has Washington area campuses in an ever-tightening grip, many students say, extending beyond the long-standing restrictions on provocative clothing, cellphone use and class-time bathroom visits. Akin to the omnipresent "helicopter parents," these students say, are helicopter administrators who home in on their smallest moves, no matter how guileless or mundane.

Some administrators acknowledge that the list of rules meant to ban, limit or deter potentially inappropriate or dangerous actions is steadily growing.

"Where to start? It's getting huge," said Linda Wanner, a Blair assistant principal. "The word of the day is prevention. We're on high alert all the time." It's a result, experts say, of the many pressures on those who lead a modern campus with anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 teenagers and the potential for violence or a lawsuit around every hallway corner.

But teenagers, nothing if not skilled in the art of asserting their adulthood, say the accumulation of these little laws can be the most frustrating part of their high school experience. They feel micromanaged and nitpicked at every turn.

The rules are especially maddening when one school prohibits something that another allows. Or when the rules contradict themselves and students can't tell which one they should obey. Jerome DeMarchi, a McKinley assistant principal, said iPods are forbidden because they are easily stolen valuables.

At Forest Park Senior High School in Prince William County, students sought to rejuvenate Spirit Week with funky themes. They were over Twin Day, so they proposed Bling Day, which gave school officials visions of property -- i.e., pricey necklaces -- getting snatched at school. So that idea was a bust. Then students dreamed up Salad Dressing Day -- cowboy garb for ranch, togas for Caesar, Hawaiian shirts for Thousand Island.

Yes, even Salad Dressing Day was cut, for reasons that remain mysterious to some students. . . .

Ever wonder why Dewey's Democracy and Education is on the 10 Most Harmful Books List of conservatives? Policing freely advances in the absence of trust, and trust is the only dependable lubricant for democracy to work.

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