Schooling, Schools, State Schools

It’s not just the children who suffer in schools: schools are poison for everyone

Peter Doulis, a teacher in the state of Victoria, Australia, has recently been awarded $770,000 in damages following a major psychological breakdown caused by teaching in a Victorian state school.  The Victorian Supreme Court awarded the damages against the Victorian Government because of the government’s negligence in not removing Doulis from teaching in dysfunctional classes.  The students were described as ‘feral’, and were reported to have been “virtually crawling up the wall”. Doulis has been suffering a “chronic severe major depressive condition”.

The Victorian President of the Australian Education Union warned that this is a re-ocurring problem because government’s “aren’t prepared to support our schools in the important work that they do in educating our young people.”

Education Unions have a vested interest in schools and schooling, so their solution to the problem is to throw more government money at the issue.  This will not solve the problem, it will only expand the institution that is the root cause.

So, here is evidence of another situation where attending a school is hazardous to health.  The behaviour of the students that is identified as contributive to Doulis’s breakdown is the kind of behaviour that would be expected in a mental institution.  And why should this be surprising?  Both mental institutions and schools are total institutions, as defined by Goffman (1961).

The Secular, Free and Compulsory Schooling experiment has failed dismally, and needs to be scrapped.  It will not happen over night, and who knows how many more teachers, principals and students will be afflicted with breakdowns before the lesson is learned.  Government-funded schools are not places of education, they are prisons and places that inflict enormous pain on a very large number of people subjected to them.

Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates.  New York: Doubleday Anchor.



Schools as Total Institutions

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education. London: Routledge, make mention of Goffman’s 1968 work on Total Institutions.  Goffman’s study was centred on a mental institution, but the findings could equally apply to other institutions, such as the military, a prison, and such like.  The following is a list of the qualities that make an institution a total institution, according to Goffman:

  • The institution is convened for a specific purpose
  • All aspects of life take place in the same place and under the same single authority
  • Every part of the member’s normal daily activities takes place in the company of many others
  • All members are treated the same and are required to do the same things together
  • The daily activities are precisely and tightly scheduled by a controlling authority and officials, and through formal rules that are tightly enforced
  • The sever activities are part of a single, overall plan that is intended to fulfil the aims of the organization
  • There is a division between the managers and the managed (e.g. the inmates and the hospital staff; the teachers and the students)
  • The inmates have limited or no contact with the outside world but the officials do have contact with the outside world
  • Access to the outside world for inmates may be physically or institutionally restricted, controlled or forbidden
  • There is some antagonism between the two groups, who hold hostile stereotypes of each other and act on the basis of those stereotypes, often based on inequalities of power
  • Officials tend to feel superior and powerful whilst inmates tend to feel inferior and powerless
  • The cultures and cultural worlds of the officials and inmates are separate
  • The two worlds – of officials and inmates – have limited penetration of each other
  • There is a considerable social distance between the two groups
  • Inmates tend to be excluded from knowledge of decisions made about them
  • Incentives (for work, behaviour) and privileges have greater significance with the institution than they would in the outside world
  • There are limited and formal channels of communication between the members of the two worlds
  • Release from the institutions is often part of the privilege system (Cohen, Manion, Morrison, 2011, p. 581)

Cohen, Manion and Morrison also add, “It can be seen that these features can apply to several different total institutions, of which schools are an example” (2011, p. 581).

No wonder many students rebel against the prison-like feel of schools.  Would they respond differently if education was delivered in a different way?