Lots of our children are unhappy. They are defensive against each other, against teachers catching them out, against their own situation. They have so little to be happy about, so disempowered that they ferociously attack anything that threatens the little happiness and power they have.
So they swear. So they smoke. So they throw food. So they disrupt. Swearing, smoking, violence, disruption – our kids gain empowerment in this way. These kids gain status in their world. And what do teachers do? They step in to stop it. They take away the children’s only power.
Let’s say for a lesson, sweary, smoky, disruptive Jenny plays ball. She shuts up in class, she answers and asks questions, she does more than the minimal amount of work. She does it for an hour, but then she’s frightened: What if her peers tease her? Where will she go? She can’t be friends with the good kids because she’ll feel inferior, and they’ll probably reject her anyway. And how do you talk to those kind of people? She can’t work too hard in class, because what if she gets things wrong? She can’t let down the barriers for too long, because what if the teacher asks her a question she can’t answer? What will everyone say about her?
She’s trapped. The bad kids have too much power in the school, so neutral kids become bad kids and good kids play down their goodness. They’re all trapped.
Do you know what all of them want? ALL of them? They want to be happy. They want to be empowered. They want to know what to do and how to do it. They want to be proud of themselves.
At this school, the culture isn’t led by adults who know what they are doing. It’s set by children who don’t. Who do you follow, Jenny? Which direction do you go in if you want status? If you want to be somebody? Not in the future, because for God’s sake you’re fourteen and you have not the slightest idea of what the world’s like now – never mind what lies ahead. No, if you want to be somebody now, you fit in with your school culture and you gain status by doing whatever reinforces that culture.
Unfortunately for Jenny, the culture isn’t led by adults who know what they are doing. It’s set by children who don’t.