Obedience v. engagement

Meira Levinson says:

Many schools, especially those that serve predominantly low-income children of color, model civic disrespect and demand that their students practice submissive obedience rather than empowered engagement. They enact a continuous series of civic microaggressions against their students. These regular but unacknowledged mini-invalidations of children as civic persons worthy of respect are often barely noticeable to their victims – and usually totally invisible to their perpetrators. Together, however, they can cumulatively erode the self-confidence and self-image of those at the receiving end. Urban students’ experiences of these civic microassaults may profoundly influence their civic skills and identity development.

Levinson, M. (2012, March). School culture and the civic empowerment gap. Harvard Education Letter, 28(2), 6-8.

10 Responses to “Obedience v. engagement”

  1. I really like this perspective – it resonates a lot with things I see in schools serving low-income families, but in others as well. Even teenagers have to struggle to be seen as legitimate ‘civic persons’, and they are quite close to being ‘adults’ 🙁

    • Thanks, Kelli! I’m both glad (it legitimates my claims) and very sorry (I wish it weren’t so) that this resonates with you. As I comment to Bill and Scott below, not only teenagers but even adult teachers often have to struggle to be treated as legitimate civic persons. I talk a lot more about this in No Citizen Left Behind, the book from which this excerpt was drawn.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Kelli. I really like Levinson’s use of the term ‘microaggressions’ to describe how schools chip away at kids, one small bit at a time, day after day. I saw this a lot in the middle school in which I taught, and still do so in other schools that primarily serve low-income families. We ‘essentialize the other’ and then use that to justify treating them as less than…

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this. The level of control exerted in under-resourced urban schools would never be tolerated in tuition-based private schools. Compliance is the enemy of active engagement and all kids deserve the latter.

  4. He sounds as if he thinks that they treat the teachers any better…

    • err rather she. Typed too quickly there

      • Great observation, Bill. A lot of teacher disempowerment going on too. It’s amazing we get anyone to teach in some schools…

        • I agree — these microaggressions (or often *macro*aggressions; they’re none-too-subtle against teachers) are as frequent against adults in some schools as they are against kids. This is one of the problems I discuss in No Citizen Left Behind, the book from which the Harvard Ed Letter piece drew. It’s hard to think about helping students gain agency until teachers get agency, as well. Thanks, Scott, for posting the excerpt and getting the conversation going!

  5. A great read that discusses this concept of micro-aggression from many perspectives is Wounded by School by Kirsten Olson. I use this as a textbook in my educational leadership class on the principalship.

  6. Thanks, Greg. I’ve had that on my ‘To Read’ list for a while now. I’ll bump it up closer to the top!

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