and Sticks

December 10, 2010 § 2 Comments


“The tyrant dies and his rule is over;
The martyr dies and his rule begins.”

I forget how many times he punched me, this kid, three or four I reckon, shots to the midriff, such was his anger towards me at that moment. Hatred, helplessness, desperation, I’d been grinding him and his fellow citizens into the dust, and it all became just too much; he jumped out of his seat right beside me and retaliated. “Get back” I bellowed, “get off me, you wretch, you disgusting peasant, get off me or else I’ll sling you in prison, and cut off your head, and burn down your house, and kill your wife and children”. It was fun being the evil baron, and fortunately, for him as much as me I think, for his class teacher was watching on in mild shock, this 10-year old’s boxing technique was woeful. As his fist flew forward, it threw the rest of him backwards, the power dissipated into powder puff and the contact was as pathetic as a kitten’s.

Have you seen Ania’s post on role play? It’s great.

We’d been working with the language plant “Freedom” and I’d been letting them know in no uncertain terms that their welfare, the fact that they and their families were starving and their homes rat-infested meant nothing to me. I wiped their misery off my garments. They had to pay their taxes, or else horrific repercussions would follow. I had an army to support my terror and back up my threats.

The quote and language plant at the top is by Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, 1813–1855. We’ve looked before at this rhetorical technique, that of using opposites: tyrant – martyr; over – begins.

I was crunching on carrots last time, an underhand, underground path of coercion. This time, we’ll look at its more foreboding accomplice: the stick.

A man with authority visits a primary school, two groups of boys, bearing gifts of toys, reduce the noise, I’ve got a surproise (he came from Birmingham*), he says. Two different types, a train set, lots of fun, and some building blocks, not so much. To one group he says: “Don’t play with the train set, it will be better if you play with the building blocks and design things”. To the other group he says: “You’re only allowed to play with the building blocks. If I catch you playing with the train set, there’ll be trouble”. And in both groups, pretty much, all the boys played with the building blocks.

Actually, the real experiment was conducted some weeks later, when the authoritarian had long since disappeared, nowhere to be seen, a distant memory. But the toys were remembered with delight when they were handed out again.

Need I continue?

Those who had been threatened, the ones who had never owned, or personalised or internalised the reason not to play with the train set but were merely obeying orders, they applied logic: “if I catch you…”, it went. Well, he couldn’t could he, he wasn’t there, haha, thought you could force me to do what you want, did you? and pretty much all of them played with the train set.

It was the other group that the social scientist was most interested in. What would they do?

It’s good news.

I know it wasn’t 100%, two-thirds, I seem to remember, who resisted the chuff chuffing and the clickety clicks in favour of what they considered the more constructive activity.

Libertarianism 1 Tyranny 0

Going back to the Freedom lesson, we did some interactive activities like Puzzle, please have a go, then Comprehension, which has some standard type retrieval, inferral and grammatical questions. They soon became a bit fidgety and I called a halt to proceedings, the fearful tyrant replaced by a benevolent supporter. “What would you prefer to do instead?” I enquired. After the hopeful cries of X-box, or whatever they’re called, had died down, well, suppressed, I admit, they came up with writing their own play scripts for various characters in the story. The results? Amazing. Superb. Brilliant. “Avert your eyes. Poverty should never look at Power!” I remember in particular. Inner-city, under-achieving kids. Not in that lesson, I can tell you.

“To fight for her people,
to give hope to her fellow citizens,
she rode on horseback through the streets.

To visit the baron, their landlord,
to talk to him;
to demand freedom,
freedom from oppression,
from poverty, from tyranny,
through the streets, on horseback, she rode.”

*in a Birmingham accent, “surprise” would sound more like “surproise”, rhyming with “noise”.

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§ 2 Responses to and Sticks

  • crazykites says:

    So…no carrots…and no sticks. But so tempting. I scared myself today. I really raised my voice when they would be quiet in a test. I felt good letting them know when to stop walking all over me. Scary though.

  • Shelly Sanchez Terrell says:

    What an interesting experiment! Thanks David for the beautiful way you have illustrated history and told this story. I think a story like this would be really interesting for discussion. I’d like to see what the learners glean from it. Also goes to show that if we give students a reason instead of just telling them they’ll be punished for not doing homework, staying quiet, etc. they’ll be more likely to follow the rule or find a lesson relevant. I remember what a horror my classes were when I tried to tell children to behave. When I began suggesting as a great mentor once told me that they do something and gave a reason then students were more involved in the learning and we had a wonderful class. Even if I had succeeded in getting them quiet by threats it would have just been as horrible because that is not a true measure of learning. Instead, I love when excited children talk about the learning to each other, move around to explore, or have hands-on lessons. The room a little disorganized to the outside viewer but in the end the kids always much happier about the learning, used English, and remember it!

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