Trauma Informed Schools: The New ‘New Paternalism’

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Time for Change
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In 1997, New York University professor, Lawrence M. Mead, edited a book entitled “The New Paternalism: Supervisory Approaches to Poverty.” Mead’s work, spanning more than 30 years, has been highly influential in the implementation of draconian and ineffective work requirements for government assistance programs. “The New Paternalism” directly inspired noted education reformer, David Whitman, to write the award-winning “Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner City Schools and the New Paternalism” in 2008. Whitman writes,

“The schools profiled in this book are paternalistic in the very way described by Mead. They unapologetically tell children continually what is good for them. They also compel good behavior and keep adolescents off the wrong track using both carrots and sticks. The students who attend them are closely supervised in an effort to change their behavior and create new habits, and maybe even new attitudes.”

And later,

“The paternalistic presumption, implicit in the schools portrayed here, is that the poor lack the family and community support, cultural capital, and personal follow-through to live according to the middle-class values that they, too, espouse.”

Whitman’s work has contributed to a continuing legacy of discriminatory admissions policies, racist dress codes, and systemic resegregation at “no excuses” charter schools.

The problems with paternalistic models of education are innumerable. Particularly notable among them is the way that paternalism epitomizes institutional racism and directly feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. It is doubtful that many educators today are comfortable with Whitman’s language. Education reformers today are considerably less brash when choosing words to describe their “white savior” philosophies of education. The truth is there is absolutely no place for paternalism in public schools. Blatant paternalism manifests explicit biases. The complete eradication of paternalism is necessary for addressing what are called “implicit biases.” The subtle ways that educators act on these implicit biases are called. . .

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