The discourse of control – Foucault in ECE

Disruption can be a result of a wide array of circumstances, but is commonly identified as a ‘control problem’ in early childhood classrooms. In this article, the author argues that the recognition of disruption as a ‘control problem’ is embedded in and governed by the social power and values entrenched in teaching discourses. Classroom practices draw strongly on the discourse of educational psychology and utilise its power and immanent knowledge to ‘discipline’ early childhood agents through classroom practices.” (128)

“‘Discipline’ has multiple meanings related to learning and pedagogy (Hirst & Peters, 1970; Freire, 1975; Slee, 1995). First, discipline is a synonym and verb for control and in practice utilises punishment, reward and regulation and promotes submission and subversion. This concept of discipline in early childhood education follows the fundamental principles of ‘behaviourist operant conditioning’ and uses techniques of behaviour modification (Slee, 1995). The second meaning of discipline is a form of order, but of a logically different kind (Wilson, 1971) and developed in the context of progressive education (Hirst & Peters, 1970). According to Wilson (1971), disciplined activity is performed for implicit reasons and intrinsic values, while controlled activity is achieved with unrelated reasons and extrinsic values. Thus, a person who contemplates her/his actions and performs them with consideration is disciplined. Freire (1975) expanded Wilson’s (1971) concept by claiming that knowledge produced elsewhere and passed on to learners generates a condition of passivity and therefore may end up in disruption, consequently invoking the teacher’s demand that young persons comply. Hirst & Peters (1970) summarise and clarify the connection between discipline and learning: ‘In the obvious case of imposed discipline the connection between what is wanted by the child and what the teacher wants him [sic] to learn is artificially created. Prizes and the pain involved in censure and punishment present very general objects of desire or aversion that are tacked on in an artificial way to what has to be learnt. So in learning what has to be learnt the child is learning an irrelevant connection as well as developing an instrumental attitude.’ (Hirst & Peters (1970) p. 126)

Discipline as a form of control in early childhood education is mostly seen in neo-Skinnerian behavioural terms (Skinner, 1972) and the causes of young people’s disruptive actions are often attributed to students’ family and cultural backgrounds or to the young person’s abnormality’ (Malacrida, 2004). In line with this view, the elimination of discipline problems in classrooms is typically based on, first, the recognition of ‘problem behaviours’ and, second, the consequent dealing with them by employing stimulus-response conditioning (Edwards & Watts, 2004). Thus, teachers encourage appropriate behaviours by giving out rewards, for example handing out star [-p.129] stickers, and inhibit unwanted behaviours with the use of punishment, such as ‘time out’. In enduring cases of discipline problems, teachers are required to develop practical competencies to better ‘manage’ disruptive behaviours. They may use therapeutic models of intervention and control (Slee, 1995) with or without the psychologist’s help, such as in the identification and treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or conduct disorder.” (128-129)

Later in her article, she identifies certain words being used to describe the children… “The majority of research participants (except two parents who had no issue with disruption) portrayed the pre-primary class as having serious problems with disruption or, avoiding judgmental categorisation (as the teacher (B) did), describing it as a really ‘unusual’ class. They described young persons as being ‘sneaky’ (K), ‘tricky’ (parent, PE), ‘interesting’ (B), ‘tiring’ (T), ‘difficult’ (R), ‘inappropriate’(DP), ‘not well-adjusted’ (P) and ‘shocking’ (parent TB). During my first visits to the classroom I saw the class as needing firm control, but spending more time there enabled me to [-p.131] observe things in a different light. I stopped seeing ‘naughtiness’ and concurrently started questioning what made me, initially, and others to see the situation as a lack of control in the classroom.” (130-131)

Later on, she notes that “disruption in the classroom was understood on the grounds of young persons’ conduct or, as the last quote shows, their  ‘naughtiness’. Consequently, as is implied in the parent’s (TB) words, the teacher’s (B) job should be to ‘better them’ by controlling them to remedy the situation. Other possible causes for the disruption, for example lack of interest in the topic or process of the activity, or lack of understanding of the task, rarely arose as explanations.” (131) The “participants viewed disruption in this classroom as located in young persons’ conduct and/or in the lack of teaching skills to address it. Other causes and other avenues for dealing with the issue differently, for example the lack of attention of the young persons to the teacher or tasks and/or their co-operation with the teacher or each other and/or their concentration or lack of it on the task, the change of teaching style or curriculum content, were left [-p.132] unexplored.” (131-132)

Ref: Zsuzsanna J. Millei (2005) ‘The Discourse of Control: disruption and Foucault in an early childhood classroom’ Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Volume 6, Number 2, pp.128-139


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!
This entry was posted in Images of Parent Child and Expert, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The discourse of control – Foucault in ECE

  1. Pingback: The discourse of control – Foucault in ECE 2 | LiteracyNZ

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