Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Horizontal Violence, School Discipline, and Restorative Justice

I recently saw the movie, The Class, a French fictional film (in documentary style) that depicts the classroom of a white male teacher in the city of Paris. While there is not a singular plot line, one student that the movie follows is Souleymane. After several incidents at school, for which he recieves "punishment," he is eventually expelled. The teachers knew that the approach wasn't working and didn't seem to believe that expulsion would solve the problem either. But they had given up--they had to do something, it was the principle of the matter, and the protocol was expulsion.

Why do we expect punishment to work? Those students who are afraid of being reprimanded or punished typically do not act out in the first place. Those that are not afraid of punishment will continue to act out. I hate to compare schools to prisons, but sometimes they aren't that different. So I'll refer to research that shows that harsher punishments for juvenile offenders (trying minors as adults) do not deter youth from reoffending, in fact, it does the opposite:
A 1996 Florida study authored by Northeastern University researcher Donna Bishop also found that juveniles transferred to the criminal system were not less likely to reoffend, but in fact often had higher rates of recidivism. This research compared the recidivism rates of 2,738 juvenile offenders transferred to criminal court in Florida with a matched sample of nontransferred juveniles. Bishop and her colleagues found that although juveniles tried as adults were more likely to be incarcerated, and incarcerated for longer than those who remained in the juvenile system, they also had a higher recidivism rate. Within two years, they were more likely to reoffend, to reoffend earlier, to commit more subsequent offenses, and to commit more serious subsequent offenses than juveniles retained in the juvenile system. The authors concluded that:

"The findings suggest that transfer made little difference in deterring youths from reoffending. Adult processing of youths in criminal court actually increases recidivism rather than [having] any incapacitative effects on crime control and community protection."

Following the same offenders six years after their initial study, the researchers again found higher recidivism rates for most juveniles transferred to criminal court. The exceptions were property felons, who were somewhat less likely to reoffend than those tried in juvenile court, although those who did reoffend did so sooner and more often that those tried in juvenile court.
At one point in the film, a student describes teacher discipline as "revenge." Isn't this sometimes the case? I'm reminded of a scene in Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The local Christmas tree vendor has a yearly Christmas Eve ritual in which he throws left over Christmas trees at children. If the children withstand the throw, they get to keep the tree. If they fall, no tree. As he's about to throw the largest tree at two small children, the man ponders "Why don't I just give'em the tree?" He eventually concludes that he isn't "big enough" to do something of that nature: "'Oh, what the hell! Them two kids is gotta live in this world! They got to get used to it. They got to learn to give and take punishment. And by Jesus, it ain't give but take, take, take all the time in this God-damned world.' As he threw the tree with all his strength, his heart wailed out, "It's a God-damned, rotton, lousy world!"

Why are students acting out? One possibility might be to consider the notion of horizontal violence or self-depriciation. (This could also be a reason for the terrible treatment of students by some teachers as well...) In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire says:
Submerged in reality, the oppressed cannot perceive clearly the “order” which serves the interests of the oppressors whose image they have internalized. Chafing under the restrictions of this order, they often manifest a type of horizontal violence, striking out at their own comrades for the pettiest reasons.

The colonized man will first manifest this aggressiveness which has been deposited in his bones against his own people. This is the period when the niggers beat each other up, and the police and magistrates do not know which way to turn when faced with the astonishing waves of crime in North Africa. ... While the settler or the policeman has the right the livelong day to strike the native, to insult him and to make him crawl to them, you will see the native reaching for his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him by another native; for the last resort of the native is to defend his personality vis-a-vis his brother.

It is possible that in this behavior they are once more manifesting their duality. Because the oppressor exists within their oppressed comrades, when they attack those comrades they are indirectly attacking the oppressor as well.

Self-depreciation is another characteristic of the oppressed, which derives from their internalization of the opinion the oppressors hold of them. So often do they hear that they are good for nothing, know nothing and are incapable of learning anything — that they are sick, lazy, and unproductive — that in the end they become convinced of their own unfitness.
In the report, "Teachers Talk: School Culture, Safety and Human Rights," the authors discuss the pitfalls of reactionary and punitive discipline and offer recommendations.
"Teachers Talk" proposes a human rights framework as an approach to reforming discipline and improving school climate. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, an important human rights treaty that is widely adopted throughout the world, recognizes discipline as part of an educational process to develop the social skills of students, encourage learning, increase school attendance, and protect the dignity and safety of the child.

In surveys and focus groups, New York City teachers call for policies and practices that protect these basic human rights standards and reflect a holistic approach to improving safety. Teachers call for smaller classes, more engaging curriculum, more access to guidance counselors and social workers, classroom management and conflict resolution training, mediation programs and restorative practices.

The report highlights positive models being used in three New York City public schools - Eastside Community High School in Manhattan, Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx and the James Baldwin School in Manhattan. At Eastside Community High School, for example, the 100% RESPECT Campaign involves students and staff in a process to discuss and define what respect means in their community. Six months after the campaign was implemented in the middle school grades, suspensions dropped by 45%.
More Resources:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Demasking Stereotypes Workshop at The Brecht Forum

The Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory Presents: Demasking Stereotypes
A Two-day Workshop in Healing through Storytelling

Saturday, March 7, 2009 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and
Sunday, March 8 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm

Facilitated by Potri Ranka Manis

The Brecht Forum
451 West Street
New York, New York 10014

A practical workshop combining the Paulo Freire methodology and storytelling to look at how people are stereotyped, how such stereotyping affects people's behavior and psyches, and how people can be healed from the damage such stereotyping does.

While there is no formal application, PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. Please register on line using the form to your right, or call TOPLAB at (212)924-1858 (leave an email address) or email

Potri Ranka Manis is a member of and facilitator with the Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory and is the Artistic Director of Kinding Sindaw, ) a Filipino indigenous dance, drama and martial arts ensemble. She created and choreographed several Kinding Sindaw dance dramas and has trained since childhood in all the traditional dance, music, and martial art forms of the Maranao people of the Philippines. She is an award winning poet and playwright, and has performed throughout the Philippines, Middle East, Hong Kong and the United States.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Diane Ravitch on the (Not) New Education Approach

NYU Professor and education historian Diane Ravitch comments on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (via Politico). I, like Ravitch, wish Obama had selected Linda Darling Hammond...
But along comes Arne Duncan, our new Secretary of Education, and everything he has said to date might have just as well been said by Bush's Secretary Margaret Spellings. Duncan paid his visit to New York City and toured a charter school, not a regular public school. He declared that the nation's schools need more testing, as though we don't have enough information already to act on our problems. He declared his support for charter schools, where only 2% of the nation's children are enrolled.

The one educator close to Obama who actually has experience in the schools--his chief policy advisor Linda Darling-Hammond--was demonized by the new breed of non-educators and their media flacks, and she has returned to Stanford University. There was no room apparently in this administration for someone who had been deeply involved in school reform for many years, not as an entrepreneur or a think-tank expert, but as an educator.

It looks like Obama's education policy will be a third term for President George W. Bush. This is not change I can believe in.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Workshop with Cecily O'Neill - Great Video

Here's a great video on of Cecily O'Neill's work. Enjoy!

"What fun it is to learn in a more playful way," -O'Neill says. "Drama is pretending. It is essentially playful."

Process drama is a process-based dramatic art that engages both teachers and students in roles that create and explore various situations. Teachers are encouraged to go where the kids want to go.

O'Neill reminds teachers not to take on the most powerful role and not to go overboard in their believability/acting expertise (in order to keep from intimidating the students), along with other useful tips. Books on the topic.

Emotions & The Classroom

A new university study explores whether or not students comprehend the affects of positive and negative feelings on school performance. What's interesting is that students appear to understand the relationship between negative (sad, bad) feelings and poor performance, but the relationship between positive feelings and positive performance is less clear. Do Children Understand How Feelings Affect School Performance?
They found that children of all ages understood that negative emotional and physical states would lead to poorer school performance. The fact that young children knew that negative emotions could cause poor school performance was especially surprising, since parents and teachers often focus on the physical side of getting ready for school (hence the advice to get lots of rest or eat a good breakfast), and rarely talk about the emotional side (for example, advising children to try not to feel sad). The researchers also found that children understood that levels of interest, effort, and classroom noise would affect performance.
When it came to positive feelings, however, only 7-year-olds recognized, as adults do, that positive feelings could improve school performance. For the younger children, seeing the tie between positive emotions and school performance was difficult; it was easier for them to grasp how positive physical feelings would lead to doing well in school.
The older children also had a better understanding of why emotions and physical states affect school performance. In explaining their judgments, they described how such feelings influence concentration, attention, the brain, and other aspects of thinking.
"Changes in emotional and physiological states are an inevitable part of children's everyday experience in the school setting," according to Jennifer Amsterlaw, research scientist at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, who led the study. "If children know how and why these experiences affect them, they will be better able to prepare for and control their ultimate impact on school performance."
The classroom is not a neutral space. We can't say that we can only focus on what happens within the classroom. If negative feelings affect performance, we must address feelings in the classroom too. "Try not to feel sad" is not enough. Perhaps it begins with addressing feelings and what they are caused by. Next, it's allowing students to discuss and understand that they can interpret situations in different ways. It is okay to feel and to feel negative feelings. Still, we can choose to let our feelings affect our performance or not.

One interesting piece on the subject is The Philosophy of the Limit and Emotions in the Classroom by Debra Shogan, University of Alberta.
In their paper, "Caring for the Emotions: Toward a More Balanced Schooling," Clive Beck and Clare Madott Kosnick emphasize the connection between a "rich emotionality" and well-being. They argue that this rich emotionality depends upon the creation of classrooms and schools which are "genuine communities" in which students and teachers are able to experience emotional living. Genuine communities are ones in which conversation is encouraged, there is opportunity for open celebration of what makes students happy or joyful, and in which there is tenderness and hence security. Each, say Beck and Madott Kosnick, contributes to friendship and mutuality. Beck and Madott Kosnick do not detail how conversation, celebration, and security might be accomplished, referring instead to Nel Noddings's The Challenge to Care in Schools and to Jane Roland Martin's The Schoolhome. Beck and Madott Kosnick's concern is to highlight what they believe to be the effects of emotionality in the classroom as well as conditions which will make emotionality possible.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Remember": A Sixth Grade Poem

Today, I stumbled across this poem, by a student in Astoria, Queens, on the NYC Department of Ed's website.
"Remember," Katherine Huynh, Sixth Grade, PS 122Q

Remember when we were small,
when we haven't met at all?
When we didn't worry about other things,
That you'd think of as too much?
When we didn't worry about homework?
When we didn't worry about tests?
When we had no troubles?
When we thought none of pain
No worries here to taint us,
I wished it was that way we stayed.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Jeahn Clare's I Wasn't Born A Mermaid

I was recently introduced to the work of artist Jeahn Clare. Clare suffered a spinal chord injury at the age of 20. Currently, she works as a theatre teaching artist and is affiliated with VSA Arts.

I was moved by an excerpt from her play, I Wasn't Born A Mermaid.
A colleague once asked, “Do you consider yourself an artist, a woman artist, or a disabled artist?" My immediate response is, "Which day? What time?" I am a theatre artist; woman; person with a disability. None of these qualities encompasses the sum of my being; yet each expresses something true about me. And Survivor; I didn’t know that prior to my injury. I do now; I value that. I’m not saying I would have chosen spinal cord injury as a path to personal growth, but the depth it has brought to my life is undeniable. After all the pondering, praying, reading, therapy, weeping, whining, blah-blah-blah — one day I bite into a strawberry, and I get it: Utter certainty that this Life is no accident. My injury may have been an accident — but that strawberry is no accident! And I believe that living is something I can do from the seat of a wheelchair.

I wasn’t born a mermaid. I evolved. It was a dramatic moment, not quite a fall from grace, but a fall nonetheless. But then, that’s another story. This is a tale of a different sort, a transformative tale — transformation not of the outside-in, but of the inside-out.
VSA will feature the work of 16 artists with disabilities at The Armory Show in New York City from March 5-8.

Also, check out Axis Dance Company, a contemporary dance ensemble that utilizes beautifully physically integrated dance (dancers with and without disabilities). You can find a short video of the group here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Sense of Direction: Connections to Teaching

I recently read "Relation to Actors" from  William Ball's book, A Sense of Direction. So many of his comments on directing are applicable to teachers or facilitators in any setting. Here are a few thoughts:

The rehearsal process, like the classroom space, needs to be a safe space to encourage risk. I remember being afraid of directors and constantly trying to please them. I remember them stopping me in the middle of what I was doing and saying “Why are you doing that?!” This type of interaction makes an actor (or a student) incredibly self conscious and unwilling to try new things. How can we expect students to take risks when they are constantly trying to please the director or the teacher and be “right?”

Failure is certainly a part of the creative process. Ball argues, “It is important to “Fail Big!!” Failing truly is a part of growth and learning; yet, within our society, failing is stigmatized. We are obsessed with being correct and this is typically what we reward. In working with students or actors, we must reward the willingness to take risks as well. Risk taking is so much more difficult than just finding the right answer. I recently spoke with a business consultant who is a serial entrepreneur with several successful start-ups. Someone asked what his strategy was. He replied, “fail fast,” put all of your cards on the table and don’t hide anything. We often hide our ideas, our thoughts, and feelings, but we are only waiting. Why not try it all?

I agree with Ball on his notion that praise (genuine praise) is important in the creative process. I know that I seek praise in my work as most people probably do. I like Ball’s suggestions on the general and gracious praise that can be useful for actors (and students), such as “It’s a pleasure to work with you.” Being gracious for people’s presence, time, and willingness to take risks is easy and important, but often overlooked.

Ball comments that “the artist is a person whose buisiness in life is to praise. Artists discover the wonders of nature and we call attention to those wonders.” He continues, “An artist is someone who draws attention to what is praiseworthy in the Universe.” It is interesting to think about the importance of looking deeply into what is praiseworthy and what is beautiful. Developing this constant awareness makes experiences infinitely richer. We often look for what is missing or what is wrong before asking what is beautiful. I like Ball’s advice:
If you have difficulty finding something praiseworthy, imagine that it doesn’t exist. One of my favorite expressions, and one that has pulled me out of many a difficulty, is this: ‘A thing becomes beautiful because of the possibility of its absence.’ When we imagine the absence of something, it becomes extremely beautiful.
A simple expression that he suggests: “How beautiful that is.” 

A couple other short thoughts:
  • Touching: Often times, we are afraid of touch. I know that I am sometimes uncomfortable with it. Making a small effort to touch everyone—on the arm, the hand, or with a hug can make connections stronger and acknowledge everyone in the space.
  • Interruption: “To interrupt someone who is trying to express himself is unforgivable. It doesn’t make any difference what he is saying.” To interrupt is not to acknowledge the importance of sharing, risk taking.

Monday, February 2, 2009

New Approach to School Discipline: Online Chat

Live Online Chat:

A New Approach to School Discipline
When: Tuesday, February 3, 2pm Eastern time
Frequent visits to the principal's office, detentions, suspensions, and expulsions are the established tools of school discipline for kids who don't abide by school rules. But according to Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child, they are ineffective for most of the students to whom they are applied. In a new book, Lost at School, Mr. Greene presents an alternative for understanding the difficulties of kids with behavioral challenges and explains why traditional discipline isn't effective at addressing these difficulties. When adults recognize the true factors underlying difficult behavior and begin to teach kids skills in increments they can handle, children are able to overcome their obstacles. When that happens, the frustration of teachers, parents, and classmates diminishes, and the well-being and learning of all students are enhanced, Mr. Greene says.

About the Guests:

Ross W. Greene is associate clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and the originator of a model of care called Collaborative Problem Solving. Mr. Greene lectures extensively both in North America and abroad. His research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Stanley Medical Research Institute.

Ray Grogran is assistant principal at Sanford Junior High School in Sanford, Maine, where the Collaborative Problem Solving approach has been implemented since January 2008.

Submit questions in advance by clicking here.

Creativity, Imagination, & Schools

"All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." --Picasso

I recently came back to Sir Ken Robinson's 2006 TED talk, Do schools kill creativity? 

It's really a beautiful and challenging piece. Robinson speaks about the future of education and education's purpose to take us into a future that is unknown. He criticizes public education for squandering kids' tremendous talents and poses that creativity is as important in education as literacy is. Creativity should be treated with the same emphasis.

He also touches on the importance of making and learning from mistakes. Those who are afraid to be wrong don't try new things. Currently, we teach our kids to fear mistakes. We search for the "right" and "best" answers in the classroom and stifle discussion where there are no clear cut answers. One strategy that I think works as an excellent tool for discussion is the use of Visual Thinking Strategies.

Visual Thinking Strategies are typically used within the visual arts to facilitate the discussion of a piece of art. Here's a summary of the technique from the VTS website:
Teachers are asked to use three open-ended questions:
  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?
3 Facilitation Techniques:
  • Paraphrase comments neutrally.
  • Point at the area being discussed.
  • Link contrasting and complementary comments.
Students are asked to:
  • Look carefully at works of art.
  • Talk about what they observe.
  • Back up their ideas with evidence.
  • Listen to and consider the views of others.
  • Discuss many possible interpretations.
This technique is useful for a range of discussions--from visual art, to language arts, theatre, music, and dance. 

Still, the arts are at the bottom of the totem pole in schools, with theatre and dance holding a lower status than music and visual art. Why is this? Are we afraid of the use of the body? Robinson comments that public education is concerned with the waist up (Or even the neck up.) Why shouldn't children use their bodies to dance or express themselves through drama? There are people who must move to think--people who think through movement and expression. 

Public education meets the needs of industrialism. The most useful subjects for school are the ones that are most useful for work. What if you are good at the things at school that are not valued? 

We often say lets use hip hop to teach literacy and math, but why not use math and literacy to teach hip hop?