The trouble with “Us” vs “Them

Sorry I missed my schedule post on Friday, but I am making it up to you with a quick interlude.

@Stephe1234 on Twitter sent out the following couple of questions considering if there is an “Us” vs “Them” culture in school systems, and how it can be erased.  As any of my students would likely tell you, this is an issue dear to my heart.  I really hate terms like “they” and “them” and  “us” referring to groups like teachers, students, admin, parents, etc.  Sadly, these terms are incredibly difficult to avoid.  But we should try.  I am posting the questions and my answers below, anyone wanting to participate can answer the questions themselves at

Q: How do you think the “us vs. them” culture negatively impacts change in schools, ed reform, and creating high performaing schools fo All – students, community, parents, and teachers/administrators? *

A: Us vs Them is prevalent at all levels of the schooling system. In some ways, this derives from the fact that schools are inherently colonialist institutions–that is they derive their purpose from one “higher ranking” social group trying to help and/or control a “lower ranking” social group.  So, it is not surprising that power relationships pervade the institutions of schooling.  At every level, their is a tendency for paternalistic interactions with the next level.  This can cause the group being dominates, or treated paternalistically to feel a host of negative emotions which can be easily aimed at the higher power group.  Needless to say, this is problematic for building community.  If students, teachers, parents, admin, don’t trust each other, it can be very hard to embrace the more meaningful purposes of education.  Schools can become institutions seemingly without purpose other than control–and one can hardly blame a young person, a teacher, or even a whole community for “dropping out” of such a place.  Such a school has lost its educational purpose and retains only its institutional purpose and power relationships.  It is probably very rare for a school to swing to such an extreme, but many schools are further along the spectrum of “learning place – control place” than is advisable.


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