I’ve just been reading a fascinating paper called ‘Becoming a Problem: how children develop a reputation as ‘naughty’ in their earliest years at school’. It describes the process by which children learn compliance, and how they learn that they are bad if they fail to do so. It really is worth reading. As a taster, here are a couple of excerpts:
Disparate frames are granted coherence with reference to the assumption, derived from developmental psychology, of a normal developmental course (Walkerdine 1988). Children who fail to act, or to be recognised as acting, in accordance with expectations of what is normal for children of their age are at risk of being judged a problem.
…There is a constitutive circularity in the discourse of normal development: specific child behaviours come to be read as signs of deviation from the normal path; yet the integrity of the normal path is consolidated by the identification of deviations. Individual acts by children are read metonymically, as ‘standing for’ the bigger problem; while the status of the bigger problem is constituted in the iterations of the acts that ‘stand for’ the offence. This has practical implications for children who become subject to such framing, as it may lead teachers and other arbitrators to orient to ‘offending’ behaviours and pay less attention to those that stand ‘outside’ the frame. Once a child’s reputation has begun to circulate in the staffroom, dining hall and amongst other parents, it may be very difficult for her behaviour not to be interpreted as a ‘sign’ of such imputed character traits.
And if you’ve ever wondered about the role that bullying plays in school discipline, this might provide some insight:
The classroom is an important site for the production of problematic reputations. The public nature of discipline, conducted under the imperative to form a crowd of children into the collectivity of a ‘class’, means that children who diverge from the rules are identified as ‘different’ in plain view of other children and adults. There are undoubtedly good reasons for classroom rules – courtesy, democratic participation, safety, a congenial learning environment. However these rules are operationalised in ways that marginalise a minority of children, who become examples against which the preponderance may recognise itself as ‘normal’.