What do you do when you are a school principal or teacher and you have a child that will not conform to the rules of the school or a particular lesson being taught? What do you do when that child threatens to derail the culture that you are trying to create or preserve? Do you flex and accommodate every need of the child, or do you coerce the child into complying with your rules so that order can be maintained and learning (or the pretense of learning) can continue?
Most schools will not sacrifice the progress of the class for an individual student’s needs. And most schools will not sacrifice their control over the students for the benefit of progress. The way they enforce such control is through intimidation and coercion. They make up arbitrary rules which we have come to accept as reasonable for children. The first thing most children learn in school is to not speak unless spoken to. Soon after they learn to not get out of their seat unless given permission to, that bathroom breaks only come in between class periods, and that they are to respond to whistles and bells.
The arbitrary, and often ridiculous, controls on the children do not let up much as the children get older. There is no walking in the hallways without a hallway pass. No talking at lunch. No putting crayons in your mouth, or more broadly, no being autistic. No posting messages on the walls. And, no saying “God Bless You” when someone sneezes.
The most recent example of the ridiculous comes from New Jersey where a principal banned hugging. The principal reasoned that because hugging can be inappropriate, it needed to be controlled. Then, perhaps realizing how absurd his argument was (speech can be inappropriate, should it be banned?), he threw in a reference about keeping students focused on academics.
The reality is that coercion is not needed to educate. Education is natural, and will occur with or without schooling. Coercion is necessary for classroom management, and classroom management is necessary when you need to keep kids in a box and push information on them. Teachers have a difficult job in that they must try to balance the need to manage their classrooms and educate their students. Sadly, classroom management will always take priority over education, and that is because classrooms inhibit education and schools get paid by the state for filling classrooms, not educating children.