Classroom Control, Part I (Historical Guest Blog)

Old Classroom 1

Today's Historical Guest Blog comes to us from Corinne A. Seeds, A.M., Principal of the Training School, Assistant Supervisor of Training, University of California at Los Angeles, with the cooperation of Milo B. Hillegas, Ph.D., LL.D., Professor of Education, Teachers College, Columbia University. I am not aware that either has a blog of their own, and as the material used here was published in 1927-28 (in Volume I of the 12-Volume series, The Class Room Teacher), chances are good both have gone to that great Teachers' Lounge in the sky to mimeograph with the angels, as it were.

Their advice is nonetheless timeless - or at least amusing - and is shared here in excited anticipation of the upcoming semester.

Classroom Control: Methods of Control

The problem of classroom control is most vital and of outstanding, far-reaching importance. The future welfare of our country depends largely upon the methods of control used upon its future citizens. By these very methods teachers can produce anything from slaves who obey their masters explicitly without thinking, to freemen who make their choices only after careful deliberation and discussion. Thus it is of the utmost importance that teachers should know what types of control are best for the future welfare of a democracy.

"...a conglomerate mass of individuals at all stages..."

Our democracy is composed of a conglomerate mass of individuals at all stages of ethical development, from those who obey the laws made by the group for the welfare of all only when they are forced to do so to those unselfish souls who realize that their highest development and happiness are reached only as they consider all and act according to the best interests of the whole group. Midway between these two extremes we find those who obey only because they have been trained to do so, some who conform because of fear of the disapproval of their fellow men, and still others who act in accord because they long for approbation.

Taking into consideration all of these classes of people with such different attitudes towards control, it would be folly to assume that one method of control, even the ideal, would prove sufficient to promote the best interests of the group. There should be as many types of control as there are attitudes toward it. While it is necessary at times to use the lower forms of control, yet it should be the hope of the democracy that in the dim distant future, through our methods of education, the ideal can be truly reached – “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” 

Old Classroom 2

"...the highest control is that which comes from within..."

The problem of control which the classroom teacher must meet is a miniature of the greater problem which confronts the democracy.  It is not easy for the teacher to know how to manage Mexican Pedro, whose father digs in the street, Isadore, the son of the Rabbi, Mary Evelyn, whose mother is president of the philosophical society, and forty others who differ more or less in native and acquired characteristics, so that they may live richly and cooperatively together in their school community and grow into better, happier boys and girls. Like the democracy she should be cognizant of the fact that the highest control is that which comes from within as a result of reason, and she should strive toward that as her ideal. But she should not be utterly crushed if at times she has to resort to coercion in order to promote the greatest good for the greatest number.

In order to meet the control problems found in the typical American classrooms, teachers use methods based upon the following general types or combinations of two or more types:

(1) No control, wherein the children all do as they please.

(2) Teacher control, wherein rules are made and enforced by the teacher.

(3) Group control, wherein rules are made and enforced by the group working together for a common purpose.

(4) Unselfish self-control, wherein each person considers the good of the whole.

Old Classroom 3

NO CONTROL – Example:

The teacher is attempting to carry on a class recitation with one group of children while the others are supposed to be studying. Two or three large boys are lying on the floor with their feet propped against the stove. They are reading fiction which does not contribute in any way to their assignment. They later show a lack of knowledge as to the lesson content. Several girls are holding an animated conversation about the ways of securing pictures of the favorite “movie” actresses. The children who are trying to study have to dodge continual volleys of chalk, paper-wads, and even an eraser now and then. A note of unsavory character is passed about among the older children who laugh heartily at its contents.

The room is in an uproar; the recitation is a complete failure; but the teacher smilingly assures the visitor that she believes in “freedom.” 


There can be no defense for such lack of control, even when masquerading under cover of the term “freedom.” The teacher might as well not be there at all. The result of no control is always chaos; children are denied the right to feel happiness in real achievement; habits and attitudes are formed during these years in the school room which may tend to make of them, in later life, unreasoning, selfish, and lawless citizens.

Perhaps it might be well to state that true freedom would not allow such an infringement upon the rights and liberties of others. True freedom is something which should be earned and bestowed only upon those who can use it wisely. All teachers should be very careful to distinguish between real freedom and merely allowing children to do as they please. Real freedom leads toward right and true happiness; while allowing children to do as they please leads toward wrong and toward future sorrow.

Old Classroom 4


When the class assembles on the first day of school, the teacher firmly informs the children that they are there for business and she is there to see that they attend to this business of learning. In order to accomplish this, certain tasks must be finished each day before they leave school. Anything which interferes with the work of school, such as talking without permission, whispering, giggling, or writing notes to one another will be carefully noted and punished by the teacher.

Ever after the children study the lessons assigned by the teacher, answer her questions, and accept the punishment she doles out for misdemeanors and errors. They usually do no more than they are asked, and frequently they misbehave when the teacher is not looking.

The teacher’s life is one of constant watchfulness. Her profession is not teaching; it is policing. She must be continually alert to catch the law-breakers, fair enough to pronounce just punishment, and persevering enough to see that punishment once pronounced is executed.


Such a method is far preferable to the preceding no-control type and should be used, especially by the inexperienced teacher, until she can determine the type best suited to her class of children. If used by a teacher who is always just and fair, the class achievement is usually good and the children rather happy. If, perchance, the teacher is a benign tyrant, the children will often vote this type of control the best of all, because, like many adults, some children dislike sharing responsibility and making choices.

Under this system the children usually do the right thing, not because they know it is the right or why it is the right, but because they are trained to obey blindly. The great danger her lies in the fact that they may form habits of following blindly, and later may unthinkingly follow unworthy leaders.

No teacher should be content to use this type continually unless she is handling groups, who, because of limited capacities, will always be obliged to "follow a leader." As soon as possible each group of children should be given a share of the responsibility for its own mental and moral achievement. The teacher should covet the position of guide and advisor rather than one of policeman.

Old Classroom 9

Next: Part Two - "The Ideal Solution," in which it is revealed that...

"Daise was sobbing too much to talk, but the indignant lad and a dozen others could tell. John had given Daise a branch of Japanese cherry blossoms to bribe her not to report him. Before the investigation was over it developed that eight-year-old Daise had become richer by a box of raisins, two candied cherries, and a chocolate bar - all for not doing her duty."

(Coming Soon... Maybe)

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