Monday, July 21, 2008

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!


TJ Shay said...


You bring up many good points. I believe there is a certain facet of life that has to be coercive. I am fairly certain the reason I get up on many Monday mornings is fear of losing a paycheck?? The classroom must have guidelines and must move through a state and or district curricula.

I believe there is some flexibility in how students arrive at learning goals, but it isn't an easy balance. People who are not in the classroom, who have not been in a classroom lately, or who have perhaps never been in a classroom have a different perspective of what school is or should be. I think practicing teachers (who are good at what they do) know that there is a careful balance that we all must strive for. A balance between the utopian world we all wish school could be and the hard facts of NCLB school that is the present.

Keep fighting the good fight in your classroom! Keep maintaining the balance of coercion and creativity.

cossondra said...

I like your closing thought of maintaining the balance between creativity and coercion. THAT is the key to success in every aspect of life!
Thanks, TJ

Emily said...

Coercion/creativity is an excellent model. My classroom experience is as a substitute teacher, and one of the best perks of the job is that I get to see so many diverse approaches to teaching - not explained to me in the ideal by the teachers, but observed through the behavior of their students. There usually needs to be some coercion before creativity can follow.
Thinking back on various classrooms I have visited, they all have very obvious forms of coercion as classroom management. "This many Mrs. B Bucks and you get a sticker" "If your card is changed to red your parents will be hearing from me" etc. The differences in these classrooms are usually not in the type of devices, but whether or not the coercion is used to instill an internal discipline.
Some classes, even as young as 2nd grade, run themselves. I am there to turn the lights on and in case of emergency. Some classes see a sub and instantly pull out behavior their teacher would never allow. I think part of growing up is internalizing the expectations we were originally coerced into adhering to. Your boss probably doesn't have to call you up in the morning to remind you to get to work - you just do it. Coercion that helps this internalizing process is the best kind there is. Not quite sure how to get there in my 7-hour day, but I'm working on it...

cossondra said...

Thanks Emily for your comments. I found the subbing comments particularly interesting. I also subbed before becoming a full time teacher and know exactly the situations you described. I always drill(OK, coerce) into my 7th graders that they do not need me there. They know exactly what they should be doing. If a sub does not show up, they are to "carry on". Some years, I have very responsible classes who indeed, carry on, with or without me. Other years, they seem to want to be every sub's worst nightmare! I wonder if I have trained them differently or are different groups of students just inherently different?

loonyhiker said...

You made so many great points in this post. It made me think that I use coercion in my class but I always thought it was called behavior management. So, I guess coercion used to gain the right results is not bad but necessary.