Analyzing the way people talk to children…

Sue Lyle, who has, as far as I know, the only childism blog, has a great entry analyzing a particular incident with a teacher and their students, from a critical perspective.

In the context of a public space, her voice has an audience apart from the children. The teacher is performing authority for other adults in the Tate gallery who might witness the event. It says, ‘I am a good teacher. I can manage the behaviour of these children’. The space is important to the children as well; they are expected to perform the role of ‘good pupil’ through listening to and following the teacher’s instructions.

The words of the teacher indicate expectation of compliance and obedience, but I also detect fear that they won’t comply and cause public humiliation. Her words have to be seen in this context, she is not just directing the children and ensuring they are safe, she is also producing social relationships and social identities.

This interaction between a teacher and her pupils is a situation I am very familiar with. Her talk was ‘teacher talk’ and monologic in that her charges were not expected to respond verbally, but only to indicate by their movements their compliance. Teacher talk is a particular way of using language designed to position children as pupils. By calling it ‘teacher-talk’ I see it as an example of the kind of discursive practice that goes on in schools, a practice that most people who have been pupils in the UK (and almost certainly elsewhere) would recognise. It is an example of a strategic use of language to get the children to behave in certain kinds of ways. It is also ideological as it seeks to maintain accepted social structures and relations between teacher and pupils.

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