Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Schooling Has Patterned Us

Ever find yourself driving in a strange town, passing a large, heavily-fenced structure and wondering to yourself, "Is that a prison or a school?" It turns out that the traditional models for schools, prisons, armies and hospitals were all developed around the same time. Michel Foucault wrote a great book called Discipline and Punish that I was compelled to read in college. It told a fascinating story of how society thinks of the relationship between body and soul. The basic idea is that people who "behave badly" must have a fundamental flaw in their soul. If we can rigidly train the body into a wholesome and productive pattern of behavior, then the defect in the soul will be corrected.

It's not too difficult to find the flaws in this argument, and it actually has some profound implications on our society at large. But this basic argument was used to create schools (create patterns of behavior in young people), prisons (correct defects by keeping them on a rigid schedule), and hospitals (treat the body like a machine). It's all very rational, but it's all very flawed as well.

The model for schools has become the model for our conferences as well. Make expectations clear. Keep to the schedule. Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, and tell 'em what you told 'em. Structure structure structure. There's no room in most conferences for creation to happen, for new ideas to emerge, and if there is room, it's trapped in a tidy little 60-minute breakout round called "Getting Creative!!!" (why the extra punctuation, I don't know).

So it might be helpful to learn a bit more about schools and schooling, yes? This might help us move away from the school-model in our meetings and conferences. Take a peek.

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