Prison continues, on those who are entrusted to it, a work begun elsewhere, which the whole of society pursues on each individual through innumerable mechanisms of discipline…In its function, the power to punish is not essentially different from that of curing or educating.

Michel Foucault

I was reminded he other day as a bell was jingling on a stocking about a bell that I heard ring not so long ago. And yes for me Christmas is a time of reflection of both good and not so good things. I love the seasons, but melancholy does hit me from time to time. I was immediately transported back a few years on a school morning drop off. I watched my son Spencer run into line as the school bell rang. Interrupting some serious pre-school playing, I was amazed at how the sound led the children to drop what they were doing and run for the line-up. They do hop to it.

Skinner would have been proud. Foucault not so much.

I understand the difficulties of managing young children. I’m a Father. Elizabeth, my wife, is a primary school teacher, and my brother is a principal.  All of the rules and regulations make sense. But this kind of discipline lead me to wonder if they change the way we think, create, and see the world. I’m left pondering: Do they awaken or deaden our senses?

Victoria, my daughter, used to wear her dress shoes on the wrong feet. Not by her standards of course, but by ours. She loved her dress shoes. It was not a mistake, but an intentional act on her part. Trust me, we’re not going to let her climb Kilimanjaro with poorly placed footwear, but for the time being I welcome the intentional innocence of doing what she feels like.

In some ways this open space allows for so much more. She will be boxed in soon enough and everyone, including my podiatrist, will be telling her to get those shoes on the right feet.

“Because I said so.” It’s a phrase I have never used with my kids and trust I never will. I’m a philosopher for crying out loud. If I can’t come up with more than that then I need to head back to the Academy. Jacques Ellul wrote of his teaching and mentoring, “I found it extraordinary to transmit something…to awaken a mind.” This is what I hope to do as a parent, the sentiment I hope to instil as a teacher and the legacy I would like to leave as a development worker. Another quote, this one from Aristotle, also springs to mind: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I like the way he thought. Ask questions, entertain ideas, but don’t just blindly accept them. It seems to me that little good can come of that. A pathway to mediocrity blind acceptance is.

Sure, it may be easier, but the road less traveled is still under a great deal of construction it seems to me. No map. No GPS. Just your questions ready in hand not for the sake of argument, but for the sake of clarity and understanding.

School bells will continue to ring. Children will run for the door. I do trust, though, that some of us will continue to break a few rules along the way. It’s liberating. And it can awaken the mind. Be vigilant and stay on your guard.

Let’s dig a little deeper, examine our lives and do our best to jump out of the ordered, symmetrical and stultifying four walled box. I know I’m going to do my best to keep Spencer and Victoria out of it for as long as I can.

DP – 12-2013