Youth culture and discipline at a school in the Western Cape

Carstens, Carin (2013-03)

Thesis (MEd)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.



Internationally, contemporary youth struggle to make sense or meaning of their lives. That is so because they live in a world where they daily witness unsolvable problems of struggling economies, poverty, HIV, and religious and national conflict, and where they are generally treated with ambivalence and a threat to the existing social order. Youth also struggle because within the public imagination they exist on the fringe of society. Giroux (2012: 2) argues that youth are given few spaces where “they can recognise themselves outside of the needs, values, and desires preferred by the marketplace” and are mostly subjected to punitive and zero tolerance approaches when they behave in unacceptable ways. In South Africa presently, it is generally claimed that “discipline problems” amongst youth have become the most endemic problem in South African schools, with policy makers and educators daily complaining about the disciplinary problems within schools that affect how learners engage with learning. Equally, discipline as punitive coercion has been shown to be an unsuccessful educational method in dealing with youth (Porteus & Vally 1999). With the above schooling challenge in mind, this qualitative study explored the views of thirteen young learners at Avondale High School in the Western Cape on school discipline. Via semi-structured interviews, the youth were asked about their understandings of the rules, disciplinary structures, forms of authority and order at the school, how they interpreted the role of discipline, and how they thought this would influence the futures awaiting them. The goal of the study was to provide a multi-dimensional view of what youth regarded as discipline at one school, and to explore whether different learners adopted different meanings of ‘discipline’ according to the context of their individual lives. I show in the study - utilising the views of Emile Durkheim, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu - that school discipline needs to be thought of as more than punishment or structures of ordering per se if it is to play a productive role in the functioning of schools. Along with Yang (2009: 49) I suggest that only when schools recognise that discipline has multiple meanings and (limited) roles within their daily functioning, will the emancipatory and transformative possibilities of school discipline be unlocked. For that to happen, the voices and views of youth in schools have to be taken account of, and meaningful relationships developed between learners, educators, and school management.

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