This essay appeared on the Forum of the American Journal of Education website on August 29, 2021.
The youngest of the five children in our family spent the end of his first year of high school and all of his second year of high school “attending” school each day by logging into virtual classroom spaces. Unlike his older brothers, the youngest has a strong dislike for schooling yet he has always appreciated the social and athletic opportunities schools can offer. I was significantly concerned about how he would adjust to online schooling without access to the regular socialization or athletics that usually assists him with tolerating compulsory school attendance.
After vaccinations for the virus started being more widely available in April and new cases of people contracting the virus began to decline, the high school in the city where we live was able to offer a hybrid schedule option for school attendance. Students alternated attending in person during the week with some going to the school building while others were learning online on different days during the week. The high school basketball season was also modified but salvaged. I thought both the partial opening of school and a basketball season would be eagerly embraced by the high school student in our family. If there is a list of the times and ways that I have been wrong as an educator and parent, the perception I had about my son’s willingness to return to in-person schooling would be added to it. He opted to complete his 10th-grade school year all online.
Essentially, my son may have missed the social aspects of schooling, but he does not miss having even his most basic needs managed. Maintaining an all-online school experience allows him to go to the bathroom when he needs to go. He can eat or drink when he’s hungry or thirsty. He often wears whatever he has on when he wakes up, and he sits in a comfortable and cushioned chair, or he sprawls out on the floor with pillows. Granted, he is benefitting from privileges that offer him access to technology, a home, food, potable water, utilities, and other necessities as well as comforts wherein he is able to attend high school classes virtually while many others are severely under-resourced.
However, my argument’s focus in this essay is not the elucidation of well-documented and outrageous inequities throughout systems and institutions in the United States. Rather, my purpose is to illuminate specifically the widespread acceptance of “classroom management” as a normative joining of two words that create an accepted meaning. I am challenging “classroom management” as a legitimate concept and set of practices and proposing that it is an element of education that needs to be eradicated—not retaught or reproduced. It’s time to eliminate classroom management.
Minimally, I am demanding a disconnection of corporate influences and the logics that accompany them from the policies and practices in public schools. The Brazilian educator and philosopher, Paulo Freire, “insists that methodological failings can always be traced to ideological errors” (Goulet, 1974/2013, p. x). “Classroom management” as a joinery of words, the conceptual imaginings it conjures, and the ways “classroom management” practices are operationalized are riddled with differentially dispensed violences which are often explicated in scholarship that integrates an intersectional analysis of how labels and categories are used to rank and sort students in schools (e.g. Artiles, 2013; Annamma, 2018; Shange, 2019; Varennes & McDermott, 1998). These violences surface even in definitions of “classroom management.”
According to one university’s website, the primary goal of a management mindset “is to create the ideal classroom through teacher efforts and student training.” In this definition, managing replaces learning with training. A teaching wiki describes classroom management as “essentially the way in which a teacher creates a set of expectations that students must adhere to.” Another university notes on their “Classroom Management” website that “[a]n effective conduct management plan should also refer to teacher control and administration of consequences.” As a retired high school teacher, it is difficult to envision the implementation of classroom pedagogies designed to strengthen democracy under conditions that promote authoritarian practices with a fear of punishment as integral.
Of course, other university websites offer less aggressive language than “adhere to” or “control.” Instead they make claims like classroom management “refers to all of the things that a teacher does to organize students, space, time and materials” or that it means “creating an atmosphere that minimizes the likelihood of [disruptive] behaviors and having strategies to obstruct them when they do occur.” Essentially, they all position learners and educators in oppositional binaries. The removal of management from classrooms to disrupt this antagonistic positioning urges further critical attention.
At this stage, I am imagining learning spaces and atmospheres premised on promoting joy; education of and for justice; classrooms for cultivating care, collectivities, and solidarity; and schools grounded as resources with communities and for community and of equity. I do not have all of the steps towards the realization of my imaginings scripted, but I am scripting the urgent and crucial necessity of immediately abolishing the logics, mindsets, and practices that accompany a managing of classrooms rather than caring, critical and liberatory praxes aimed towards becoming in kindness (Weaver, 2021) alongside others in educational and all other endeavors.
Annamma, S. (2018). The Pedagogy of Pathologization: Dis/abled girls of color in the school-prison nexus. Routledge.
Artiles, A. (2013). Untangling the Racialization of Disabilities: An intersectionality critique across disability models. Du Bois Review, 10(2), pp. 329–347.
Goulet, D. (2013). Introduction. In P. Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness. Bloomsbury, pp. vii-xiii.
Shange, S. (2019). Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, antiblackness, and schooling in San Francisco. Duke University Press.
Varennes, H. and McDermott, R. (1998). Successful Failure: The School America Builds. Avalon Publishing.
Weaver, H. (2021). Bad Dog: Pit Bull Politics and Multispecies Justice, University of Washington Press.