AbstractThis article examines the role of discipline and punishment in South African schools and seeks to interrogate the underlying power relations that guide teaching and learning in South Africa. It deconstructs the pre-occupation with discipline, power and punishment in South African schools in terms of the theoretical framework provided by Michel Foucault in his work entitled “Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison” (1975) which was translated as “Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison”(1977). It was Foucault who reminded us that the modern school is based on Prussian military ideals of punctuality, discipline, neatness and submissiveness to authority. Foucault tends to see schooling as one side of “corriger”, which is to punish or to teach. Education as “correction” is therefore regarded as the antipode of authoritarian punishment. Foucault draws attention to the subtle tactics and constraints beneath the surface of proclaimed bourgeois freedom. It was found that in South African schools the problem of authoritarian punishment is still rife. From the readings of Foucault’s works suggestions are made for changes to the system and to teachers’ mental attitude in order to move to a more constructive way of maintaining power and discipline.
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