In a recent post I used the idea of humility with regard to our imprisoning of our pupils in school to generate some ideas about how to frame punishment in relation to reward in the classroom. I’ve another example of this from Korean schools to note. This will be quite rough.

When our pupils have finished eating at lunchtime, their trays must be inspected before they go to throw away leftovers. Their teachers make a judgement about whether the student has taken in enough nutrition. I think that they are likely lenient on uneaten rice, but harsher on taking in green vegetables (when we get them, which is only about once a week unfortunately). For the older grades, a pupil is given responsibility for checking trays and ticking off on a sheet that the pupil has eaten enough. And this is not just a matter of avoiding wasting food because our pupils also have limited control over what food gets put on their trays at the beginning of their lunch. Rather different from my school days, especially when you consider that no-one brings a packed lunch.

I take issue with the pupils checking their own lunch trays on the grounds that this is an unreasonably manipulative move in the psychological battle to keep our charges subdued. It’s a classic technique in any class hierarchy to give some members of an oppressed class a little power over their fellows. The foreman on the factory floor relishes his or her power and takes some labour out of the hands of those above. There’s also a buffer: when some new demand or restriction comes down from above, and the subdued complain to their immediate superior, the foreman can be responsible for punishing those who don’t comply while shrugging off responsibility by just passing the buck to those above him. It adds to the feeling of powerlessness of the oppressed. In order to respect our pupils’ position as imprisoned, we shouldn’t be trying to manipulate them into thinking the situation is totally legitimate, as I think we do when we raise a few of them up. We should enforce what we’re going to enforce ourselves.

This is different to leaving it to our pupils to dole out the classroom cleaning roles amongst themselves by playing “rock, paper, scissors,” because in that situation there’s no leader.