When I recently commented on another blog(TJ on a Journey), someone commented back accusing my classroom, at least the curriculum, of being coercive. This first riled me a bit. But after thinking about what it means to be coercive, I was intrigued by the thought.
Googling coercive, I found this definition:Coercion is the practice of compelling a person to behave in an involuntary way (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation or some other form of pressure or force.
Given that definition, my classroom IS indeed coercive. I compell, or attempt to compell, my students to act in certain ways by forms of pressure. I do not use threats, (OK, maybe on occasion I threaten to call home, or to keep a student after class, or make them wash desks if they write on them.... ) and I never use force, but there is a certain degree of intimidation involved in a classroom setting.
Is that necessarily a bad thing?
When we become adults, life itself is coercive by nature. Everything we do, we do as a result of coersion in one form or another. I obey the speed limit because I am coerced with the threat of a speeding ticket and my car insurance going up. I go to work each day and do what my boss coerces me to do because if I don't, I won't keep my job, I will lose my paycheck and therefore lose all the things that paycheck buys, like food, shelter, clothing and entertainment. I eat healthier choices and exercise more because my doctor's stern lecture coerces me to think carefully about the alternatives.
The role of school is inherently to prepare students for adulthood by giving them the skills they need to be successful in life. Some of those skills are academic, such as math, science, and written language. Others are more ambiguous, like learning to get along with others by follow societal rules like being on time, prepared and cooperative.
My curriculum is also coercive. While I often complain about the guidelines set forth by the State of Michigan as limiting what I can and must teach students, I also know that without those grade level content expectations, students would be left to the whims of individual teachers as to what they were taught in classrooms. Even now, it is apparent which elementary class students were in based on their math skills. If there were no guidelines to follow, I can only imagine the discrepancy among skill sets of my students.
I understand the school of thought that thinks students should be free to explore and learn what they are interested in. However, I think that is unreasonable given our current education system. Employers, as well as institutes of higher learning, has expectations that a student who graduates from high school will have certain base of common knowlege, regardless of where that student attended school. Some may argue this is out of date with today's easy constant access to information, and the rapid change of technology and its impact on society in general. I say let's simply change that common base of knowledge to incorporate these new skill sets, but keep a general assumption that all students at certain points in their education will be comparable in what they have in their repertoire.
It seems only fair to me to keep my classroom coercive. I want my students to leave my classroom with the most possible gained from our time together. I want them to learn, to grow, and to leave wanting to learn and grow even more. If that takes a little arm twisting on my part on occasion, then so be it!