Schools and the Pedagogy of Punishment

Published on truthout, by Henry A. Giroux, Oct. 20, 2009.

The shift to a society now governed through crime, market-driven values and the politics of disposability has radically transformed the public school as a site for a civic and critical education. One major effect can be seen in the increasingly popular practice of organizing schools through disciplinary practices that closely resemble the culture of prisons.[1] For instance, many public schools, traditionally viewed as nurturing, youth-friendly spaces dedicated to protecting and educating children, have become one of the most punitive institutions young people now face – on a daily basis. Educating for citizenship, work and the public good has been replaced with models of schooling in which students, especially poor minority youth, are viewed narrowly either as a threat or as perpetrators of violence. 

When not viewed as potential criminals, they are positioned as infantilized potential victims of crime (on the Internet, at school and in other youth spheres) who must endure modes of governing that are demeaning and repressive. Jonathan Simon captures this transformation of schools from a public good to a security risk in the following comment: …

… As the logic of the market and “the crime complex”[3] frame a number of social actions in schools, students are subjected to three particularly offensive policies, often defended by school authorities and politicians under the rubric of school safety. First, students are increasingly subjected to zero tolerance laws that are used primarily to punish, repress and exclude them. Second, they are increasingly subjected to a “crime complex” in which security staff using harsh disciplinary practices now displace the normative functions teachers once provided both in and outside of the classroom.

Third, more and more schools are breaking down the space between education and juvenile delinquency, substituting penal pedagogies for critical learning and replacing a school culture that fosters a discourse of possibility with a culture of fear and social control. Consequently, many youth, especially poor minorities in urban school systems, are not just being suspended or expelled from school but also have to bear the terrible burden of being ushered into the dark precincts of juvenile detention centers, adult courts and prison. (full text).

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