I was part of a conversation last week about a child who was excluded from school after they exceeded the number of ‘warnings’ given. The demeanour for this ‘last chance’, it turned out, was they hadn’t got the right pen.
I make no argument against nurturing cooperation and helping young people learn what others expect from them.
It serves them well to understand the social ‘codes of conduct’, to know that others’ needs-not just their own-need to be factored into their decision making, and to take responsibility for those needs and expectations appropriately.
But the need to sanction a child with exclusion for that kind of non-compliance sounds like a self-defeating power-trip to me…
How can a child face exclusion for not having the right pen, and then be expected to have a conducive relationship with learning, with school, and the adults in it?
Hearing this story frustrated me so much because it’s part of a bigger question around obedience and compliance that I don’t think we ask enough.
While we have to prepare young people for the big wide world, and to be able to function in it, being able to question others’ expectations and to disagree is a necessary part of that, isn’t it?
We keep hearing about terrible things happening to children, because being young is all it takes to make them an easy target; for criminal and sexual exploitation, county lines, trafficking etc.
So what troubles me even more deeply than this is the culture of compliance that so many children grow up in; that ‘s what makes them such as easy prey to begin with.
When will we stop insisting that children passively follow orders of the more powerful without challenge or question, and instead start seeing the strength in those who can question authority, or feel confident enough to challenge what doesn’t feel right?
If we don’t teach young people to question the power and control that others assume to have over them, what else can we expect to happen?
Too many ‘vulnerable’ children grow up to become vulnerable adults. How much better protected might they be-in the face of whatever ‘vulnerability’ might be-when they have a sense of agency, their own personal power, their rights to expect more, to say ‘no’ or to disagree?
Strengthening these characteristics has to be done in appropriate ways of course, and the ‘rules’ will always have their place…
But isn’t now a good time for more grown-ups to become less triggered by non-compliance in children, and to nurture the strengths in it, instead…