Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Locking Up the Future

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I get in trouble at my high school every once in a while. I admit it. Every few weeks, one of my many supervising administrators reminds me that I'm doing something wrong.

Hey, I'm like you. Unless you work for yourself, we have bosses who do this to us. It's the nature of management: telling people how to do things “right.” Even people who work for themselves have bosses who tell them how to do things right. These people are called “customers.”

Anyway, I get in trouble because I don't lock my door to my office. Students can go into my office without supervision, which is bad, I am told. So, I listen to my bosses. I lock my door. Locking my door is good, I am told.

I must admit something else: I'm not sure locking my door is good.

To a Hammer, Everything Is a Nail
What's the purpose of a locked door? What is the effect of a locked door?

Locking things up makes sense. You have something valuable and you want to protect it. Locking it up is brilliant-- you alone (or those you share the key with) have control, along with the security that you know your stuff is safe.

In this way, a lock is simply a barrier or a boundary that one can control- and we love them in our schools.

This should be the end of the conversation: locks and limits make sense. But it isn't because people learn how to neutralize the lock. There are a number of ways to get around a lock, and there is no shortage of time spent on this problem.

Let's consider ways in which we get around locks outside of school. While doing your taxes in the last month, you (or your accountant) spent some time finding ways to neutralize the lock of taxation with “deductibles.” Isn't that what a deductible is-- a lock pick? Any loophole is a lock neutralizer.

“You're not allowed to park here” Ok. I'll just throw on my hazard lights and run in and out of the store before a cop can bust me. Lock picked!
“The game is sold out” Sure it is. I'll just call my uncle Larry, the VP of marketing at the stadium, and I'll get seats. Lock picked!
“It's buy one taco, get one free-- limit one coupon per visit” No worries. I'll buy my taco, get one free, then get back in line and do it again as many times as I like. Lock picked!

A locked door doesn't just protect things. A locked door creates an arena, a playing field in which people are incentivized to neutralize the lock.

A locked door makes people into lock pickers.

You Are Not Invited
Locked doors protect kids and school property, we say. But locked doors discourage engagement and undermine self-responsibility. “You're not supposed to be here,” locked doors tell kids. “You are an untrusted guest with limited access.” Kids don't need to take care of anything because they aren't in charge of anything. Locking things up limits participation in the maintenance of a community. A place that locks things up is more interested in safety and control than in engendering responsibility and rational risk-taking.

Get Rid of Locked Doors?
Heck, no. It's not unreasonable to imagine that kids could do real damage to property or themselves if we didn't lock things up. The chemicals in the chemistry lab actually COULD hurt someone. The computer lab, filled with equipment, would likely be robbed or ruined if left unlocked.

Some locked doors are good-- but we must be extremely careful what we lock up. We must bravely attempt to leave as many doors unlocked as possible. We must replace our culture of locked doors with a culture of stewardship. An overwhelming number of teenagers long to be in charge of things. Let's make our schools places of stewardship and involvment.

Paraphrasing Adam Smith, chief apologist for laissez-faire government, I say: the fewer the locked doors, the more robust the growth. Let's lean towards “hands off” regulation in schools. As it is, we're just locking up the children.

Doors and curiosity have a special relationship. A locked door only promotes curiosity about how to break in to a room. An unlocked door facilitates curiosity of all kinds, welcomes people in and becomes a portal for wonder, discovery, and community.

Sigh. Looks like I might get in trouble again.


  1. Don't lock your door, your office is a safe haven for students. I know, I've used it for that purpose.

  2. We heard Chris Hedges speak this week (Death of the Liberal Class). He said that the anonymity of the corporation renders the individual impotent. I believe you will never become you-know-what because you know how to name IT. The goddesses bless you every day.

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  4. I am a huge lock neutralizer. When I don't agree with the purpose of the lock, I am immediately on a quest to find a way around it or into it. Not for the sake of a challenge with the key holder, but because I believe I am responsible and trustworthy enough to have a particular level of access to what is on the other side of the lock. I've decided that the lock doesn't apply to me, but someone else has decided that it does. The decision-making has been left to someone else, and I've been left to break the lock, instead of choose.

    The lock denies everyone access, and denies people the right to decide for themselves whether or not they even want- or can handle- access.
    The key holder decides there is a "right" kind of person who can have a key, and a "wrong" kind of person to whom it should never be given. As you stated, there is more room for the welcomed growth of curiosity, discovery and community in a system with fewer locks. By eliminating some of the locks and granting more freedom of access, we are asking a higher level of trust and responsibility from everyone, not just a select few.

  5. I agree, there is a strong need for kids today to have a chance to be in charge of things so that they might feel that they should care.
    In a completely unrelated note, I'd like to take you up on your offer to get food and or drinks.