Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Anarchism in the classroom

I'm trying to put together a post on authoritarianism in public schools and how I try to use anarchist principles in my classroom, but I'm afraid it's not coming out as very coherent. Maybe I'll get into it another night. For now I'll just say that so far my students are responding very well to how I conduct myself and what I expect of them in the classroom, even if they do seem to be very, very cautious about things. I've noticed that when I give them freedom and choices, they tend to stop everything and look up at me for reassurance that, no, they won't get in trouble; that yes, I do mean it when I say they can decide for themselves when they need to leave the room to go to the restroom. It's a sort of sobering experience for me, to have a concrete example in front of my face of how kids are only being taught to "think for themselves" under extremely limited, controlled circumstances. I know that part of it is them feeling out what my limits and their limits are, but I also feel that they honestly haven't had the opportunity to make any real decisions in a school environment. No one has ever extended them any trust, and without that, I don't know how they will be able to develop the good judgment we in education keep saying we expect from them.

On another note, one of my students has been talking about a lot of gun violence in his journal. He is a small, bright, boy who has been writing very frankly about seeing friends and family members get shot and shoot back in return. It amazes me, how quickly I start to care about my students. One week and I am already worried. I write back to them in their journals, but I was at a loss about this entry. I just told him that if he wanted to tell me how he felt about seeing those kinds of things, that I would listen.

[note: Our classroom rule about journals is that other students must ask permission first before looking at any part of someone's journal. However, the teacher may show it to or discuss it with other adults. My classroom came to a consensus that the rule was something they could live with. I believe in following my own classroom rules and wouldn't ever mention, even anonymously, something that was in a student's journal unless our class agreement allowed it.]

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