Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Teacher-Pupil Conflict in Secondary Schools: An Educational Approach by K. A. Cronk: Book Report

            Originally submitted for Education 307, March 8, 1999

            In her book, Teacher-Pupil Conflict in Secondary Schools: An Educational Approach, K.A. Cronk explores why students conflict with teachers.  Cronk uses interviews with the students as a research technique, as well as time spent in the classroom.  Cronk’s conclusion is that most conflict occurred because the students failed to see the teacher as human.

            Cronk outlines chronologically the way her research took place.  She begins by outlining her theories on morality.  This part of the book was the hardest to get through.  It is both hard to understand and boring to read.  However, once I got past the first sixty pages, the book became quite enjoyable.  Cronk outlines the discussions she had with the students, followed by the experiment in which Cronk taught the class for two periods every Wednesday.  Finally, Cronk gives some of her conclusions.  Because of this format, the book reads almost more like a story than a piece of academic research.  The different children are portrayed vividly and realistically.  Much of the conversation that took place is reproduced verbatim and the idioms used are interesting.  (Although the author never says so, it is apparent that the book takes place in Britain.)

            The first chapter is the introduction.  In it Cronk lays the framework for the rest of the book.  She mentions Rogers’ belief that most conflict arises from teachers being too authoritative, and conflict would be reduced if the teachers let the students see them as human.  Cronk states that, “Like Rogers, I believed this, because I believed in the intrinsic morality and trustworthiness of pupil-persons” (4).  Cronk goes on to qualify this belief, including “it is important to understand that the suggested approach to pupil-teacher conflict does not contain a naïve hope that if persons are ‘nice to each other’ all their problems will disappear.…Morality is not conceived here as a body of ‘right’ answers, but a constant search for the ‘best’ answers in a continuously changing present” (5).

            The second chapter, Theoretical Considerations, Cronk describes the concept of intrinsic morality (the subject must be capable of choosing his or her own behavior, and then must act altruistically).  She outlines seven points which follow from that, and describes each in more detail (exempli gratia If persons are moral, they must be free).

            Cronk then goes onto talk about the support in academic literature for her concepts of morality.  Cronk writes about the problem of determinism, and declares that none of the philosophical solutions to this are satisfactory, and the only recourse left is to declare that humans are organisms, “and to explore the physical sciences for evidence which would allow them to be regarded as intelligent, creative, and moral organisms too” (40).  Cronk writes about this for a while, and then applies what she wrote about to teacher-pupil conflict.  By using Bohm’s analogy of humans as miniature force fields, she concludes, “it is possible to maintain that persons, as wholly physical systems, are ‘free’ in the full sense which is required by the concept of intrinsic morality.”

            In the third chapter, 3Y and their teachers: a case study of classroom conflict, Cronk gives background on 3Y, a class of twelve boys and six girls between thirteen and fourteen, who come from impoverished homes and many of them have police records.  Cronk records briefly the teachers’ view of the students and then interviews the students in the groups that they come in with.  She asks them for their complaints concerning the teachers, and then compares the teachers’ views that the students’ views, and concluded that one of the main problems was that the students were misinterpreting the teacher’s motives.

            Cronk than observes the classroom.  I thought it interesting that the one teacher that the students unanimously approved of, Cronk was not allowed to observe because she was a young probationary teacher.  She describes the way 3Y was hard for the teachers to control, and the various techniques teachers would use to attempt to control the class (exempli gratia teacher circling, in which the teacher circled around the classroom so that his or her back was never to any of the students for very long).

            In the fourth chapter, Experimental Design, Cronk outlines the experiment, including the layout of the classroom, and the rules that she proposed for both teachers and students based on the interviews with the students.

            In chapter five, Lesson One to Four, Cronk describes the beginning of the experiment.  In this experiment she taught the class for two periods every Wednesday, and she envisioned that the class and her would continually dialogue until they reached a set of rules and activities suitable for each.  She describes this part of the experiment as a disaster, in which she was continually losing control of the class and beginning to believe in the students as the monsters they had been made out to appear like by the other teachers.  She has difficulty getting the class to listen to her, to do any work, and the class is obsessed with sex.

            Chapter six is entitled: The Effect of Teacher-Pupil Discussion on General Classroom Behaviour.  In this she brings three of the boys in to talk about how to manage the class.  One of the boys said the only way to solve anything was by strict punishment, which she was theoretically opposed to.  The other advocated a compromise by which they would work for half of the class, and be allowed to play cards for the second half.  Despite reservations, Cronk decided to implement this.  She describes the results (some improvement on their work), as well as the effect this had on the rest of the class.  Cronk embarks on a quest to wean them away from their card playing by making the curriculum more interesting.

            In chapter seven, The Relationship between Classroom Behaviour and the Curriculum, Cronk describes the remainder of the lessons, and her attempt to engage the card players.  She has frustrations with one of them, whom she goes to significant effort to get started on a project he will enjoy, only to have him abandon it without telling her.  She says her primary frustration with this student was that he did not treat her like she was human.  Cronk also describes the conversations with the students at the end of the semester, and the conclusions she drew.  She claims that although there were difficulties, she made much progress by the end of the semester, and many of the students were doing more work than they previously had.

            Cronk’s unique experiment with this class was interesting.  What I was most surprised by was the inability of most of the students to articulate what they found so distasteful about school.  Similarly, they had little helpful suggestions to Cronk about how to improve it.  Almost all of them advocated strict punishment as the way to control the class, yet reacted negatively when this was employed. 

            I find little objectionable in Cronk’s thesis, but believe that perhaps she was a bit too trusting in the goodness of human nature when she did her experiment, and this accounts for much of the frustration she encountered.

            Professor’s Comments: One of the most important points she makes is that teachers and students hide within their roles.  It is the teacher’s task to work through this situation.
            This is a nice summary but missing some of the crucial points.
            Grade: B+

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