The Compliant Child

Sep 5 2013 @ 8:30am

Elizabeth Weil thinks schools should dial back the focus on self-control:

[We’ve] crossed some weird Foucaultian threshold into a world in which authority figures pathologize children instead of punishing them. “Self-regulation,” “self-discipline,” and “emotional regulation” are big buzzwords in schools right now. All are aimed at producing “appropriate” behavior, at bringing children’s personal styles in line with an implicit emotional orthodoxy. That orthodoxy is embodied by a composed, conforming kid who doesn’t externalize problems or talk too much or challenge the rules too frequently or move around excessively or complain about the curriculum or have passionate outbursts. He’s a master at decoding expectations. He has a keen inner minder to bring rogue impulses into line with them.

She says the growing emphasis on self-discipline is “very convenient” in an age of slashed budgets and standardized tests:

[H]ere in 2013, even as the United States faces pressure to “win the future,” the American education system has swung in the opposite direction, toward the commodified data-driven ideas promoted by Frederick Winslow Taylor, who at the turn of the century did time-motion studies of laborers carrying bricks to figure out how people worked most efficiently. Borrowing Taylor’s ideas, school was not designed then to foster free thinkers. Nor is it now, thanks to how teacher pay and job security have been tied to student performance on standardized tests. “What we’re teaching today is obedience, conformity, following orders,” says the education historian Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System. “We’re certainly not teaching kids to think outside the box.”