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Discipline & Punish

by on September 2, 2013

You’re too soft with them. Army men, they need to be pushed. They need consequences. They only respond to punishment. You’re too soft with them.

As my theatre classes at the armed forces academy continue, reconciling my process-oriented-Paolo-Freire-esque pedagogy with the pedagogies adopted by the armed forces seems near impossible. When cadets come late to class because they’ve been hauled up by a senior officer, when they fall asleep sometimes because they’ve had only a couple of hours of sleep between studying and being ‘disciplined’, when they look exhausted at having to do one more thing that they have no choice in, it is hard for me to separate their action from the context surrounding it – which is what I am to do, I’m told. Don’t accept their actions. Don’t contextualize them. Discipline them. Punish them.

My initial excitement at having received an invitation to teach theatre to armed forces cadets is quickly being replaced with exhaustion. Having to retain the interest of 35 young men in their early twenties, only half of whom want to be there while the other half have been forced into taking theatre and cannot miss sessions for the fear of disciplinary action, involves many performances on my part – performing my femininity in a room full of men who come from intensely patriarchal cultures; performing my civilian identity in an environment that highlights the civil-military dialectic; performing my love for the theatre in an atmosphere where theatre is solely for entertainment and is clearly ‘easy’ to make (cadets often get asked to put on a show with a few days’ notice because putting up a production cannot be that hard). Scripting my own performances carefully before every class, paying close attention to every one of my gestures, well, perhaps it is not surprising that excitement has been replaced by exhaustion.

The classes go on and I continue to refuse to ‘punish’ my students; I continue trying to find ways to gain their respect and trust without fear; I continue my many performances as woman/ civilian/ theatre person/ teacher; I continue…though I sometimes wonder why I do.

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