School Culture in a First Year School

While I was in Graduate School I was involved with a brand new charter school. The experience was very eye opening for me. Below is part of a paper I wrote about the school culture and the connection between school culture and pedagogy:

Feelings of teacher alienation and frustration are significant to this paper in the ways in which these feelings affect instruction. According to Michelle Fine:

“Substantial evidence suggests that when teachers are valued by and influential in their schools, their pedagogical practices improve, academic expectations increase and students feel that their faculty care about their well-being…Disempowered teachers are unlikely to create democratic communities inside their classrooms, but are more likely to move towards silencing” (140).

There is a remarkable similarity in the treatment of students and teachers at the Academy. Similar to teachers, student voices and experiences and youth culture are marginalized and negated in the school environment. One of the manifestations of the power struggle that exists between administration and students has been uniforms. All students are expected to come to school in uniform and have shirts and chains tucked in. This is a constant battle that administration and school security wage and arena of resistance for students. A majority of the time during one of the few all school assemblies this year was spent having the principal lecture and scold the student body for the number of students who continue to resist wearing uniforms and tucking in their shirts. During this lecture and the daily castigation that many students receive about tucking in their shirts, students are not treated as if they should be privy to the reasons the administration demands students wear uniforms but instead repetition of the necessity of following the rules is used to instill the meaning of appropriate attire at the Academy. Students are not engaged in any form dialogue about the reasons uniforms have become such a point of contention. The result of this type of leadership is that students have become resentful of the school’s attempts to “control” them and do not feel invested in the school environment. Instead of being spoken to as complex, rational human beings many young people have been offended and have chosen to take an oppositional stance to the institution behind the offense. Ironically, the decision to make uniforms mandatory was the result of information gained from student and parent focus groups conducted prior to the opening of the school. Treatment that is offensive to students has caused many young people to change their minds.

The approach taken towards students who do not wear uniforms is heavy-handed. Not wearing a uniform can cause a student to be sent home from school or receive a detention. Nonetheless, there are constantly students resisting the alienating treatment they have received and the demand for uniformity. This resistance is best understood as a “logic of moral and political indignation” (Giroux, 107). It is an act directed at a school (and specifically an administration) but is also a larger social act. Resistance to school is not surprising considering the way the students are being treated but also because of the social status of the students and the role of schools in maintaining the existing unequal social order. In addition the importance of the institution of school and the value an education are questionable when one “do[es] not live in neighborhoods in which educational credentials alone produce economic success” (Fine, 107)…

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