Friday, March 20, 2009

A kindergarten class is a wonderful example of political dynamics in action. To be a teacher is to learn intimately about the interactions of a state with its citizens, as well as the existence of a patron-client relationship. I learned this right off the bat when I started teaching in August. Half the class was divided into a faction known as the Alligators, and the other half was grouped into a faction called the Crocodiles. Similar to a state that is evenly divided along ethnocultural fault lines, I had to choose judiciously when making apppointments and awarding privileges. Half the privileges had to go to Alligators, and half had to go to Crocodiles. The lessons I learned in those first two weeks would serve me well.

The most important idea, at least at the start of a school term, is one of the most basic lessons from a political science class. The classical definition of the state as enjoying a monopoly on legitimate force within a territory is critical to my classroom. I realized it was very important for me to make it clear that I had such a monopoly, especially when it came to punitive measures. Only I am allowed to punish students, but students are forbidden from writing on the board or distributing worksheets.

Patron-client relationships are perhaps more important to my job, though they exist in tension with my desire to be, as a professor put it, "the only game in town". In my experience, patronizing students with candy for speaking in English or a game for good behaviour erodes the monopoly on force. The result is a gradual shift in power such that good behaviour is a reward from students for playing a game. The classroom is not a democracy, however, and the moment it becomes one is the moment that the teacher-sovereign has signed his own death warrant.

Preserving the authoritarian orientation of the classroom requires reinforcing the initial, crucial idea of a monopoly on force. Reinforcement is best achieved through the capricious exercise of executive privilege at random intervals which both establishes a climate of fear and makes an example out of offenders to would-be transgressors.

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