Saturday, August 31, 2013

How to 'Cripple' Students

Recently, my next door neighbour gave me Stasiland by Anna Funder to read. It is a very moving and oftentimes horrific account of life in East Germany after the Wall went up, under the the constant monitoring and manipulation of the Stasi, the GDR secret police. The reign of paranoia, fear, obedience and acquiescence was not fiction from George Orwell's 1984 but actually happened to real people from the 1950's to 1989. A constant feature throughout was the insidious way the Stasi endeavoured to break the spirit of the populace in a calculated fashion (a theme covered so often in fiction by e.g. Orwell and Pink Floyd (for a tenuous link see Peer Review, Peer Exposure)). 

In the Notes on Sources at the end of the book, Funder reports that she later "found instructions to [Stasi] operatives on ways of crippling 'oppositional' people". The aims of these instructions were to:
      1. develop apathy (in the subject)
      2. achieve a situation in which in which his [/her] 'conflicts', whether of a social, personal, career, health or political kind are irresolvable
      3. give rise to fears in him [/her]
      4. develop/create disappointments
      5. restrict his talents or capabilities
      6. reduce his capacity to act
      7. harness dissentions and contradictions around him [/her] for [this] purpose
These are in essence, a list of ways to dehumanise someone. So getting to the point of this post in an educational blog: if any teacher, school leader, district administrator, politician or parent behaves or imposes an environment that achieves any of these aims, they are in fact contributing to the dehumanisation of the students in their care. I am not being melodramatic, this is happening in pockets (sometimes swathes) all across the Western world. Consider this, how many students:
      1. arrive at a school or a particular class invigorated and leave dejected and apathetic?
      2. find their social skills, personal lives, aspirations, abilities and individualism irreconcilable with 'school'?
      3. find that school raises their self-doubt, and they even fear attending?
      4. are set up to fail?
      5. have their wings clipped?
      6. find their opportunities limited and nonmeaningful?
      7. receive mixed messages about themselves such that they fade rather than flourish?
I am not suggesting that this is the plight of most students but it does happen and it shouldn't!

Turning a morose post on its head, if we use the antitheses of these points we empower students and let them 'fly'. Everyone in education and the establishment should strive to allow students to:
      1. develop a fervour for life and education
      2. find 'school' a place that embraces and adapts to their individual nature
      3. find their way through adolescence whilst feeling safe in school
      4. experience achievement
      5. find their individual talents encouraged and provided for
      6. be provided with meaningful opportunities and a genuine voice
      7. receive a consistent message of self-belief and self-worth and the necessary skills to be resilient and to flourish
Nothing but the best is good enough (see Nil Satis Nisi Optimum). Anything less is at best neglectful, or at worst crippling.


  1. How good it is to be challenged to think!! With a grandson (7) who is currently enjoying school (d.g), I confess to being a little concerned for his options in later schooling. One can't escape the reality that for most kids school provides essential social links ... peer group, somewhere to go & be supervised while parents are at work, contact with some of the wider world, sport team etc. ...... but more and more I wonder about the day to day environment and just what it is like! I have often said that educational administrators need to swap seats for a day with a typical Year 9 student and see what the day is really like!!!
    This is a good post Simon, thanks! We need people to continually challenge us as to what the day to day is like for many in our schools. I suppose most of the Stasi went to school somewhare when they were kids? :)

  2. Thanks Mick! I like your swapping idea, I wonder how the administration would go run by Year 9? ;)