In the Soviet period, it was common practice among school teachers to threaten their pupils with a range of "extreme" punishments for poor performance and bad behavior. The content of the threats changed with the ascending age of the schoolchildren. In primary schools, children were threatened with being sent to schools for "underachievers" or the "mentally retarded," whilst teenagers were threatened with being sent to "vocational schools." If you attended school in that period, you might have received the impression that these two segments of the education system – special schools and vocational educational institutions – were created for the explicit aim of punishing schoolchildren. Indeed, such an impression would not have been too far from the truth.
In those times and, unfortunately even today, apart from offering the possibility of benefits to individuals and society, the education system was also used to discipline and control individuals and society. In this article I want to discuss the appearance of a new tool in modern Georgian schools, which is designed to achieve that very goal of discipline and control.
Before discussing the tool itself, I will dwell on the essence of discipline and control. The Soviet totalitarian state did not invent efforts to manage society and individuals. Researchers have linked this approach mainly to the social changes that occurred in the West in the 19th century.
Approximately 200 years ago, economic and political transformations in Europe and America triggered serious social changes. The industries that started to emerge required a completely new mode of life. A standard working calendar, as well as new forms of time and resource management were developed – things which were very uncommon before that period. The development of bureaucracy and factories increased the importance of schools in producing people with a standard amount of training for jobs.
During the 19th century political life also underwent a cardinal change. Individuals enjoyed increasingly more rights. Power became less dependent on religious titles or nobility. Feudal relationships, in which people obeyed and served their direct masters, changed into those characteristic of the modern mode of life where the law does not distinguish according to an individual's origin, sex or race.
The ruling elite did not allow those social changes to develop by themselves. Managing the masses became a problem of the new age. If the responsibility to govern the majority of people had previously rested with their personal masters, in the new era the state started to take over that responsibility by developing various mechanisms of control.
It was exactly from that point that the mass establishment and management of schools, prisons, mental clinics and orphanages began, and institutions like compulsory military service were initiated. These institutions started to transform individuals into members of society in the name of stability, patriotism, equality, and citizenship. The same period saw a shaping of the modern understanding of such notions as success, normality and abnormality.
Since then, anyone who differs from the majority is considered abnormal. The state, along with other powerful institutions, seeks to provide such individuals with special education or therapy and, in extreme cases, even isolates them from society. Such approaches exist in every society. The more totalitarian a state, the more obvious, stricter and universal the forms of governing members of society are. Conversely, the higher the demand for democracy in a society, the more hidden and indirect are the ways of disciplining.
The changes undertaken in the Georgian education system provide a wealth of material for exploring social institutions as instruments for disciplining society. Four years ago, the state started deploying its representatives – so-called resource officers – in schools, which, owing to a law adopted several years before that, had become more independent in determining their mission and the content of their activities. Although the official position was that the introduction of this new mechanism was prompted by a desire to prevent violence in schools, in reality the institution of resource officers was a new form of instrument to discipline society, including teachers and pupils, within the boundaries of a school.
It is noteworthy that the task of establishing the system of resource officers was entrusted to the then Minister of Education Dimitri Shashkin, a person who had served as the Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance before taking up that position. In interviews Shashkin did not hide the fact that the establishment of the new system was prompted by a desire to discipline teachers along with schoolchildren.
It is also noteworthy that a large part of the norms regulating the system of resource officers was an exact copy of the legislation drawn up for the management of penitentiary facilities. The Law on General Education was amended to make impeding the activities of resource officers punishable under law – just as was the case in the normative acts concerning the state protection service. It is also important to note that the resource officer is the only representative of the state in a school. Everyone else – teachers, school directors, members of the board of trustees – are people employed or elected by a specific school and, consequently, are primarily accountable to that school's community.
The institute of resource officers, along with other mechanisms, did indeed succeed in "disciplining" the education system. The education ministry became bolder in dismissing directors and teachers of specific schools. The appointment of former resource officers as school directors also served as a form of political warning for schools. The social activity of teachers and school administrations diminished. One can hardly recall any instance in the period 2010-2012 of a teacher or school director criticizing the approach of the state, except for those cases when they had received direct threats about being fired.
After 2012, the new government chose a different approach. The form and content of disciplining has changed direction. The state continues to take decisions on whether to use resource officers, on how many resource officers a specific school will have, and on who should serve as a resource officer. However, at the same time, the duties of resource officers have been enhanced to include an additional function.
The state opened a center of psychological therapy as part of the system of resource officers. Schools, with the involvement of resource officers, have started sending certain pupils to this center. Levan Zardalishvili, a psychologist and the head of the state service established to run the system of resource officers, said in a recent interview that additional centers will open in various cities in Georgia. He also said that over the course of a year more than 400 pupils have already undertaken therapy.
To manage students with behavioral or emotional "problems" the state chose the path of treatment rather than punishment. Although at first glance, the change seems positive, the aim of the system remains the same – to discipline society. This time around, however, the role of teachers and school administrations has changed from being victims to being the implementers of the system. Today, just like in the Soviet period, they can already use the new institution established by the state to threaten pupils.
A characteristic feature of the use of such indirect systems for disciplining society is the avoidance of personal responsibility. When a minor is evaluated as being abnormal, as a risk to either society or him/herself, the decision is taken by the system and not by a specific person. The complicated chain of teachers, resource officers, school administrations and psychotherapists creates a situation in which no individual can be held responsible for an incorrect decision.
Bearing in mind that general education in Georgia is both mandatory and universal, attaching therapeutic functions to this system is tantamount to establishing a mandatory system of treatment. Again, let us not forget that here we are dealing with mental health treatments and not something like a mandatory vaccination against a virus.
Would you agree to the state imposing mandatory mental treatments on your children because a teacher, resource officer and school administration jointly decided that they differed from the majority?
I do not agree with such types of schools. First, this system does not have any mechanisms of public control. The law implies prohibiting the involvement of members of society in the activities of the resource officers. The elective bodies of schools – the board of trustees and school directors – are not authorized to reject the system of resource officers. Second, and most importantly, is that the function of a school is to create conditions for raising and educating our children, and not classifying them as good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, normal or abnormal, before administering treatment to them. Schools must be places where pupils develop into personalities and not institutions for taking care of their "improvement."