Poisonous pedagogy, also called black pedagogy, from the original German name Schwarze Pädagogik, is a psychological and sociological term describing a subset of traditional child-raising methods which modern sociologists and psychologists describe as repressive and harmful. It includes behaviors and communication that theorists consider to be manipulative or violent, such as corporal punishment.
The concept was first introduced by Katharina Rutschky in her 1977 work Schwarze Pädagogik. Quellen zur Naturgeschichte der bürgerlichen Erziehung. The psychologist Alice Miller used the concept to describe child-raising approaches that, she believes, damage a child's emotional development. Miller claims that this alleged emotional damage promotes adult behavior harmful to individuals.
"Poisonous pedagogy", is described by these theorists as what happens when a parent (or teacher, nurse, or other caregiver) believes that a young child's behavior demonstrates that the child is infected with the "seeds of evil", and therefore attempts to weed out the evil, either by emotional manipulation or by brute force. Simple examples include the beating of children as punishment for lying, or mothers who refuse to feed their newborn until a set time, in order to "teach him patience, which will be useful for him in later life".
Poisonous pedagogy, in Katharina Rutschky's definition, aims to inculcate a social superego in the child, to construct a basic defense against drives in the child's psyche, to toughen the child for later life, and to instrumentalize the body parts and senses in favor of socially defined functions. Although not explicitly, "poisonous pedagogy" serves, these theorists allege, as a rationalization of sadism and a defense against the feelings of the parent himself or of the person involved.
For methods, Rutschky claims, "poisonous pedagogy" makes use of initiation rites (for example, internalizing a threat of death), the application of pain (including psychological), the totalitarian supervision of the child (body control, behavior, obedience, prohibition of lying, etc.), taboos against touching, the denial of basic needs, and an extreme desire for order.
In the 18th century common notions of the evil nature of children or of taming bear witness to superstitions and the wish to be able to train human beings like animals.
One German child-raising book in the 18th century said: "These first years have, among other things, the advantage that one can use force and compulsion. With age children forget everything they encountered in their early childhood. Thus if one can take away children's will, they will not remember afterward that they had had a will."
In Germany the parental right to discipline was abolished by a change in the law in 2000. The Federal Minister for Family Affairs from 1994 to 1998 Claudia Nolte had wanted to maintain parents' right to use mild spanking, contrary to the views of Alice Miller in her 1980 book For Your Own Good.
Miller has written: "I understand 'black pedagogy' to be a parenting approach that is directed toward breaking the will of the child, in order to make it an obedient subject, with the aid of open or concealed use of force, manipulation, and repression."
"Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child" is a saying that was recorded in Greece, by Juvenal, and also recorded with variations in Sumeria and China prior to the emergence of western European civilisation, and is adapted in the Bible, Proverbs 13:24. Corporal punishment was widespread in all of these civilizations.
A relevant criterion in defining poisonous pedagogy is if a manipulative approach reveals behavioural issues in the parent such as a blindness to feelings, cruelty, or a tendency toward violence, or if strong negative emotions such as anger or hate are being discharged, emotions against which the juvenile or infant psyche, with its age-based limitations, cannot defend itself.
Miller also came to the conclusion, as a result of her therapeutic work, that she needed to "work on" her own childhood in order to understand her clients better. She takes the view that "poisonous pedagogy" is a behavior that is passed on from generation to generation by being euphemized and sanitized.
Other themes of the controversial author Katharina Rutschky are parenting, feminist criticism, and abuse.
Discussion and criticism
Alice Miller defines poisonous pedagogy as all types of behavior that she believes is intended to manipulate children's characters through force or deception. Her focus is not merely on smacking (although she has said that "Every smack is a humiliation" and clearly opposes corporal punishment) but also on various other forms of manipulation, deceit, hypocrisy, and coercion, which she argues are commonly used by parents and teachers against children.
Sociology professor Frank Furedi believes that such declarations are too sweeping and disconnected from reality[dubious ]. Furedi labels many advocates of a total ban on physical punishment as being against all forms of punishing children. He sees the underlying agenda as an anti-parent crusade[dubious ], and argues that some research on the effects of spanking is far less clear-cut than the claims made on its behalf by what he calls "anti-smacking zealots".
Social psychologist David Smail contends that society bears a large part of the responsibility for individuals' dysfunctional behavior, and as yet has not addressed this in any meaningful way.
Developmental psychologist James W. Prescott, in the 1970s, carried out research into primate child-mother bonding and noted a link between disruption to the child-mother bonding process and the emergence of violence and fear based behaviour in the young primates. He suggests that the same dynamic functions for human beings, through the breakdown of empathy.
In 1975, Prescott outlined a link between violence and disruption of the child-mother bonding process in human societies, drawing on a cross-cultural study of Aboriginal Societies and a statistical analysis of those cultures' practices towards the nurturing of the natural child-mother bonding process, and an examination of historical attitudes towards children from Euramerican literature and the historical record.
He concluded that the disrupted child-mother bonding process was an absolute predictor of the emergence of violence, hierarchy, rigid gender roles, a dominatory psychology and violent territorial acquisition. Intervening upon and disrupting natural adolescent sexuality also formed part of the overall picture. This discovery was not expected. Most societies were peaceful, and the incidence of extremely violent societies was low.
The research showed that over time, disruptive practices become the 'norm' and as generations grow and pass on these practices, the society in question begins to demonstrate a clear lack of empathy, and violence is codified. The history of Poisonous Pedagogy is the history of this codification of these non-nurturant practices. It is upon these that current transmitted practice is found.
Prescott's work and insights have been confirmed by neuroscience, neurobiochemistry, psychology, peri-natal science, birth psychology and more anthropology.
Recent research into living Aboriginal Societies and a review of the historical record of first contact data, and other recorded observations, over the past 400 years have shown that the majority of Aboriginal Cultures do not chastise children. Indeed the data shows that children are treated with much more respect, trust and empathy than was previously believed.
Support for the view that corporal punishment is harmful, and in the long term, ineffective, is emerging from neuroscience, psychology, biochemistry and longtitudinal studies.
- Child abuse
- Child discipline
- Corporal punishment
- Critical pedagogy
- Emotional abuse
- Physical punishment
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