Thank you for visiting the ISU Ed. Leadershop. Our intent over the past few years has been to field-test community-engaged writings for PK-20 practitioner conversation -- quick, 5-minute "read's" that help put into perspective the challenges and opportunities in our profession. Some of the writings have remained here solely; others have been developed further for other outlets. Our space has been a delightful "sketch board" for some very creative minds in leadership, indeed.

We believe that by kicking around an idea or two and not getting too worked-up over it, the thinking and writing involved have even greater potential to make a difference on behalf of those we serve. In such, please give us a read; share with others. We encourage your thoughts, opinions, feelings, and reactions to our work and thank you for taking your time. You keep us relevant.

[Technical Note: If you find that your particular web browser does not allow you to view our articles for a full-text read, please simply select another browser and enjoy.]

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Powder Kegs in Schools

Powder Kegs in Schools

By Dr. Steve Gruenert
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Theory postulates that riots form when certain preconditions exist, those being deprivation and frustration (Perry & Pugh, 1978). “The deprivation-frustration-aggression (DFA) hypothesis suggests that social deprivation leads to frustration, which in turn leads to aggression” (p. 146). Thus, the authors call this the “powder-keg” hypothesis. All it takes is a critical incident for the keg to blow up.
Two things come to mind from the perspective of educational leadership: (1) Could this explain why some students are prone to misbehavior? and (2) Can we manufacture these conditions to incite teachers into aggressive professional development?

No doubt I caught you by surprise with the second idea more than the first. I’ll explain what I mean with the first idea now then try to build an argument for the second one later.
To deprive and frustrate anyone over an extended period of time will take its toll. This frustration will silently accumulate until an event transpires that gives it a release. The release can be cathartic in nature for an individual, or it might cue many others in the same situation to make a stand. In schools, we find the same students’ having referrals, usually for the same offenses. Tardy students can be predicted to be tardy again. Violent students are prone to future violence. A question that school leaders might ask is, “What is the degree to which we might be creating the conditions for these students to behave as they do?”
We cannot be responsible for the deprivation our students experience away from school. Few schools are aware of the frustrations their students experience outside of school, and even fewer try to compensate for these issues.
However, is it possible that we create conditions at school that “deprive” students - that we create conditions substandard to what they desire? This is called “relative deprivation.” It occurs when a group experiences a gap between the conditions they are experiencing -- as current experiences are perceived more unattractively than those they feel are necessary to conduct a quality way of life.
About now, you may be ready to either read about my second idea or quit reading altogether. 

Hang on.

What types of deprivations do schools create or foster that work to frustrate students? See if these conditions might support a small group becoming frustrated:

·      Assuming students have been fed before coming to school
·      Assuming students have had plenty of sleep
·   Making public a student’s inability to have sufficient materials (pencil, paper, access to the Internet at home)
·      Allowing second-class treatment of students due to intellectual challenges
·      Requiring students to be still who have the inability to sit in a chair and listen to a boring adult for 20 minutes or more
·  Restricting students who are overly creative, forcing them to work within a prescribed framework that seems lacking in purpose

Just to name a few.

Is it possible that the stuff we may think of as silly is quite important to a teenager?

And if you get enough teenagers in the same group, experiencing the same deprivations, becoming exponentially frustrated over time, is it no surprise that the “powder keg” can be ignited with a very minor event? I’m not suggesting we walk around on eggshells trying not to expose these poor children to any stress. However, we might take a closer look at the negative patterns that emerge as students respond to their environments. How much of their frustration is simply an adult being insensitive?

Now to the second idea: Manufacturing conditions that cause teachers to aggressively seek out professional development.

Given the new approach our state has taken toward teacher professional development – that it will not be conducted during school time – current circumstance suggests that teachers need to seek out their own opportunities. It will be no surprise that most will choose not to participate in these opportunities given the new constraints. Thus, how do we get teachers to choose to seek new knowledge about their craft?

Well,…deprive them to a point of frustration.

Deprivation is a state of mind. It is an imbalance between what is hoped for and what is experienced. Satisfied teachers will do little to nothing to improve, especially if they do not experience the frustration of deprivation. Is it possible to sell teachers on the notion that they are nowhere near where they could/should be on the continuum of effectiveness - that they have settled for mediocrity?  
People tend to be happy with what they have until they learn that the other guys have it better. What happens if a school leader proclaims how much better the other guys are?

I wanted to stop there.

Is it difficult to imagine that most violent events were predictable as some group was deprived over a long enough period of time, such that their capacity to deal with stress was taxed to a point of combustion.  And it only took a spark, a spark that may have had no relationship to the actual bigger picture of frustration, but was sufficient enough to open the seal.
Perhaps teachers will sense that they are being deprived of professional development opportunities, and over time begin to create their own situations, either positive (book clubs), or negative (spreading rumors), to alleviate the frustration. Maybe the school leader can accelerate this process.
What might a principal do to incite a mini-riot within his/her school faculty that seeks to attack the lack of professional development? How can we “deprive and frustrate” teachers to the point of aggressive action?  Should the principal join the mob, feed the powder keg, and at the right moment trigger a precipitating incident?

I’ll stop there.


Perry, J. & Pugh, M. (1978). Collective behavior. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing.


Dr. Steve Gruenert is Department Chairperson of the Department of Educational Leadership in the Bayh College of Education.  He encourages your comments and is available for conversation at

No comments:

Post a Comment