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Violence in Schools Through Critical Pedagogy: an African Perspective

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While bureaucracy is in some ways essential to large operations in industrial and capitalistic organizations, and in public management of educational departments and schools, some have criticized its inherent forces of irrationality, uniformity and conformity. Obsession with order above men’s freedom is seen as dehumanizing. Weber described the bureaucratic order as “bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which today determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition with irresistible force”. Bureaucracies are heavily premised on hierarchies. The bureaucratic nature of the schools is such that students are stationed at the base of the pyramidal structure. Among teachers and principals, sometimes the impersonality of official conduct turns to produce ‘specialists without spirit and sensualist without heart’. Opposed to basic human freedoms, bureaucracies are not only perceived as undemocratic, but also mechanistic. Their bureaucrats or bureaucratic extensions such as teachers and principals are trained to follow orders and conduct routine operations.

It is noted that the bureaucratic order within the education system, of which teachers are a part, can be seen as a critical obstacle to the protection of children’s rights. School management and teachers are the enforcers and preservers of the hierarchical bureaucratic order, since management may not survive without bureaucracy and vice-versa. Under a functionalist, hierarchical order, the school system sees itself as responsible first to those in power and less attention devoted to students’ needs. It is noted that teachers tend to focus more on adhering to curriculum policy demands, implying the need to teach the subject as opposed to teaching children. This point may help explain abusive contexts that create teachers who only account for those higher up but objectify students as mere numbers. In Zimbabwe, Shumba (2008) highlighted how emotional abuse is rampant within the schooling system, where teachers engage in various forms of abuse such as name-calling, verbal aggression, labeling and derogatory language. In most instances, verbal abuse is linked to sexual abuse. Verbal and sexual abuses often affect girl students more than boys. Part of the reasons why girls suffer more abuse than boys could also be attributed to the hierarchical bureaucratic order within schools and the patriarchal system which places girls down the rung of the social ladder. It is noted that within some schools, practices of abuse have to a considerable extent become institutionalized and normalized. Furthermore, child labor abounds in Africa and in schools, there are ubiquitous practices where teachers use students for cheap labor to do personal chores, and these practices are often accepted without question, even by parents.

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Furthermore, the examination system and pressures from results league tables within the school system may be a powerful tool for controlling students and the educational processes, oftentimes abusively. The ritualized examination system with its observing hierarchy and its normalizing judgment, gives power to teachers’ surveillance, to qualify, to classify and to ‘punish’ students. It is noted that within the bureaucratic order, the school is dictated by those higher up in the hierarchy, the ‘hieros’, which translates from Greek to mean the ‘holy ones’. Since in the religious frame then and now only a god is often seen as holy and unchallengeable, the hierarchical bureaucratic school is therefore seen as founded on notions of irrationality and unquestioning deference as seen in some African classrooms. From a Marxian perspective, schools are sometimes seen as operating as mechanical, repressive capitalist institutions, uncreative and stupefying students. The bureaucratic and mechanical system often operates through persuasion, coercion and sometimes violent force, as evidenced in the abuse and maltreatment of students, with observable fear among those who rank low and have been ‘worn down by the machine’.

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