Institutional violence – the role of schools and of police

Ritchie and Ritchie once pointed out that “The organisation and structure of all our social institutions must be examined to detect ways in which they may sustain and perpetuate the patterns which lie behind violence. No institution can be exempted since all have to deal with the cultural patterns that determine violent expressions or events. Hospitals, schools, debating chambers, agencies of social justice or welfare, universities, sporting organisations, churches – all must be audited and monitored. …Institutions claim to sustain basic values and their purposes are, therefore, moral almost by definition. But the institutions themselves have been shaped by laters of history and do not always do what their charters say they should. Like individuals, institutions have hidden agendas because neither their structures nor their statements of intent are entirely rational.” (p.71)

“In the matter of violence, there is no institution, not even the military, which condones the unrestricted use of force against the person of another. There are, however, circumstances, and we will examine them, in which particular institutions condone the use of force to achieve ends which are considered socially desirable. In this chapter we will show how violence has become built into the structure of the institutions of social control in ways which positively sanction actions inconsistent with the generally accepted moral principle of peaceable intent and action.” (p.72)

At a time when the nature of schools and schooling is changing, it is appropriate to ask what the roles of educational institutions have been in sustaining violence. Historically, the concern for excellence has led to a concentration on competitiveness, fear of failure, punishment for failure, and a pedagogy that empowered teachers and disempowered everyone else. Thus many parents felt alienated, and so too did those children who failed to comply with the standards of the school or its system of sanctions. Schools were not experienced as punitive institutions by those children who accepted the authority of the teacher, aspired to the school’s social and intellectual goals, acted with emotional control, had verbal fluency (in English), and assisted the teacher in maintaining the culture of the classroom. But children who did not fit this mould were punished, either physically, or indirectly by withdrawal of privilege, [-p.73] praise, emotional warmth, or the other rewards that sustain the system. A ‘successful’ teacher might, in fact, be using these indirect punitive controls in ways that have devastating effects upon some children, whose understandable reaction is to hate both the context and the persons who so alienate them. We do not know of any research which has counted the number of children who have become alienated in this way by the schooling system. But we know that there are many who leave as soon as they lawfully can.

As parents and administrators set out to restructure the education system they will have had to confront many questions, but we doubt that there will be many who have asked themselves, ‘How can we make the environment of this school so enjoyable that children would wish to stay here for as long as they possibly can on any day, in any term, and over the years?’

Teaching is a nurturing process. It is the management of the resources of learning, and the rewards for having learned, in ways that are precisely tuned to the developmental needs and readiness of individual children. There is, therefore, no real distinction between learning and growth. However, none would sensibly imagine that growth can be promoted by competition, ridicule, shaming or punishment of any kind.” (pp.72-73)

The authors also write: “The police in New Zealand are forced to carry an inordinate burden in both law enforcement and crime prevention, being the institution most conspicuously involved. The police are not just the front line, but frequently the only line of defence, because of the failure to inhibit the aggressive and violent behaviour of young men, to deal more rationally with alcohol abuse, to deal with domestic violence on a community basis, to cut back the public display of violent and criminal activity as entertainment on television, videos, and movies, to confront the violent potential in what we call healthy sporting activity, and to control firearms.

We do not think that the New Zealand police force is in its recruitment, training, or methods, any more violent than any other police force elsewhere. It may, indeed, be better than many or even most. But the real issue is that the institutional framework of policing is not historically designed for prevention. The police in fact are not psychologists or sociologists or social planners, but are part of a mechanism of social control in a society which is more conecerned with punishing the offender than with seeking to eliminate the causes of offending.” (p.78)

“…surely the community can do more than barricade its doors and windows? The origins of criminal offending are well known and have been frequently documented. We do know what society must do in order to reduce violent offending.” (p.78)

“Most New Zealanders care very little about what kind of prisons we have so long as they are suitably punitive and not too comfortable and are located well away from their backyard. Successive commissions of inquiry, reports on the prison system, and secretaries and ministers of justice have recognised the futility of long sentences, which institutionalise the prisoner and are breeding grounds for criminal association, instruction and organisation. Prisons are not deterrents, either, for those who live ‘outside’ in conditions of such social deprivation, personal violence, and misery that a return to prison may not be unwelcome. But the law-and-order lobby so intimidates the politicians that prison numbers increase, sentences lengthen and reform becomes a tinkering at the periphery of the system. …To abandon or even reduce the prison alternative will involve a radical reallocation of public resources (both money, and personnel) away from current prison institutions to other social objectives. …Yet to suggest the redirection of prison funding to, say, the prevention of child abuse is to risk ridicule.” (p.79)

Ref: (italics in original; blue bold emphases mine)  Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie (1993) Violence in New Zealand. Huia Publishers and Daphne Brasell Associates: Wellington


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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