Things I Know 243 of 365: Teachers might be too institutionalized to occupy

We must rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation.

– Ivan Illich

In class today, we learned of Erving Goffman’s description of the structures surrounding the social relationships of mental patients and other inmates.

Goffman describes the structures as follows:

  1. Basic split between a large managed group, called inmates, and a small supervisory staff.
  2. Each grouping tends to conceive of the other in terms of narrow, hostile stereotypes: staff seeing inmates as bitter, secretive, untrustworthy and inmates seeing staff as condescending and mean.
  3. Social mobility between the two strata is restricted and the social distance is formally prescribed.
  4. Inmates are excluded from knowledge of the decisions taken regarding their fate.
  5. The institutional plant identified by both staff and inmates as somehow belonging to staff. Reference to the institution implies the views and concerns of the staff.

In the context of class, these qualities were presented as representative of Ivan Illich’s position of deinstitutionalizing schools because teachers have too much power in relation to children.

Replace “staff” with “teachers and administration” and “inmates” with “students” and you see where this was going.

My question was this, what if we replace “staff” with “policymakers and education officials” and “inmates” with “teachers?”

Professor Lawrence-Lightfoot said my point was well taken but challenged it with the idea that teachers have ample opportunity to use what Joseph McDonald refers to as their “teacher voice.” McDonald writes that teachers too rarely engage in voicing the intimate, complex and nuanced understanding of the practice of teaching.

McDonald posits it is this voice teachers must better mine.

José has an excellent post over at GOOD calling for #OccupyTheClassroom, and he’s not wrong. “Teachers live in a space where they worry about every move they make,” he writes, “fearful that some administrator might come out of the bushes with a rubric that decides they’re not proficient.”

This fear is a piece of it for some.

For others, it is a conditioning of supporting and listening. To teach is to help students, in the words of George Dennison, “discover themselves in more richly human terms.”

Unfortunately, teachers suffer institutionalized silence – an unofficial and unhealthy gag rule on the areas of our expertise.

Historically, and too easily in modern society, teacher become so focused on this act and honing their listening to draw out the better version of their students that they lose the voice that shows the better versions of themselves.

What José calls for and what McDonald advocates is the use of teacher voice to reframe how others see the profession of teaching.

Karl, one of the voices I read and listen to most closely wrote this:

…this thing we call school doesn’t happen without us.

What if we just said, “Enough.”

What if we just said, “Your reform is bad for our students. We need to transform.”

What if we just said, “Not in my classroom. Not to my students. Not to my own children.”

What if we did #occupytheclassroom?

What if I #occupiedmyclassroom?

What if you #occupiedyourclassroom?

Sadly, these ideas are revolutionary. One needs only look at the forfeiture of curriculum, scheduling, assessment, and learning to see how much the inmates have given up to the staff.

McDonald charges teachers are being irresponsible individually and collectively for not combining our voices of expertise with our voices of advocacy to speak against those who would demean and misappropriate the teaching profession and the learning of children.

What if we #occupytheclassroom?


4 thoughts on “Things I Know 243 of 365: Teachers might be too institutionalized to occupy

  1. Finding and exercising your voice is a choice. It is one some teachers and admins do exercise and it is fraught with personal danger. Speaking out can cost you your job and it tough economic times this can be difficult.

    • Each of your points is well taken. I'd also say it's about cultivating that voice, building from nothing to something substantial. Speaking out doesn't mean bullying, it can mean questioning, building consensus, and working to toward majority building.

      • A great ally I've found as I've cultivated my voice have been the parents of my students past and present. We shouldn't underestimate how valuable they can be as allies once they've experienced a little of what transformation looks like and then are confronted with a system that wants to revert to the status quo.

  2. Revolution means displacing old structures and creating new ones. The creating part is harder, as many revolutionaries have found out in the past, sitting on the conquered ruins with “Now what?” looming large.When the strong new structures are in place, on the other hand, old ones often become irrelevant, die from the lack of recruits, or change to match the times. That's how “velvet revolutions” happen.This is the path I am advocating for educators, in particular. Build your own structures and grow them strong.Here are local homeschool families occupying my living room and kitchen every week for math clubs:

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