Book Review: Living Contradiction by @Sean_S_Warren & @StephenBigger

Published by Crown House

Living Contradiction A Teacher's Examination Of Tension And Disruption In Schools, In Classrooms And In Self













  • An important book that questions an authoritarian school culture.
  • The book grapples with both the philosophical and the pragmatic aspects of school culture.
  • A resonatory self-examination of teacher identity and a significant contribution to the debate about how schools and classrooms are run.
  • A survey of a wide range of related research that challenges the status quo on the effectiveness of punishment and authoritarianism as approaches to behaviour management.

A Promoted UKEdChat Review

Although many teachers will embark on their career with the best of intentions in terms of their philosophy of how they will teach, for some, it doesn’t take long until shouting, belittling and the regular use of sarcasm becomes a daily feature of school life. The impact of the behaviour of teachers, and school-leaders should never be underestimated, and a guiding question, “how do pupils feel about an authoritative stance in schools?” is often neglected. Soon within our teaching careers, many will become authoritarians, controlling every aspect of our pupils learning, shaming those who stand out of line, and fundamentally, making school a miserable place for those who have no option but to attend. Fall into line, or else the consequences are shameful.

Indeed, the consequence of our actions (as educators) can have a disparaging effect on students, making them feel compliant, unenthused, and reluctant to engage in their education.  In their book, evolved from a PhD study, Sean Warren and Stephen Bigger explore how authoritarian school systems can have a negative impact on students, calling on practitioners to consider their approaches to gain respect and a sense of order in the classroom.

Is shouting, shaming and tight control really the answer? For many, the answer will be yes, but having read through Sarah’s articulate insight, one must really question the impact authoritarian systems within schools are having on some of the most wonderful pupils within our schools. When reflecting upon where the attitudes on behaviour management derive from, Warren & Bigger explore how many school settings have subscribed to authoritariasism, critically analysing official reports (from England’s OFSTED inspection regime), and school consequence systems that appear to challenge pupils to excel at behaving badly. Yet, the complexity of school systems needs to be acknowledged and cultures need to be built that adapt to complex behaviours by vulnerable, developing characters.

Boundaries, expectations and positive classroom climates are encouraged as the book progresses helping everyone in the environment feeling secure, significant, and valued. A simple evaluation of pupils could include questions such as: Do you feel safe? Do you feel as though you belong and are welcomed? Do you feel as though you are treated well and valued in my class? How many of us assume we know the responses our students would answer? Fundamentally though, the answers to these questions could offer a vital insight into the experiences of the pupils who attend your classroom environment.

Interjected with an autobiographical commentary throughout the book, Sean’s stories and research are also accompanied by Stephen Bigger, offering insightful analysis and reflection, who concludes by noting that positive pedagogy and consistent expectations will not eliminate all behavioural problems within a school. However, if pupils encounter positive relationships across schooling, then rebellion and hostility will have a chance to be reduced. Isn’t that an aim worth striving towards?

Living Contradiction is a book that demands attention and deserves time investing to help teachers and school-leaders reflect upon the climate within their school, and question whether an authoritarian culture is the best for everyone. The book offers a unique pupil perspective, which should be examined by every (secondary) teacher, to offer an important insight into how it feels to be a pupil within the modern schooling system. Perhaps we forget what it was like being a school-aged pupil – there is just too much politics, targets,  and assessments to distract our memories –  but pausing and reflecting upon the experiences we are offering our pupils is always a worthy exercise.

Visit next page to read the publisher promotional information, including chapter headings…

You need to or Register to bookmark/favorite this content.

About @digicoled 446 Articles
Colin Hill - Founder, researcher and editor of ukedchat. Also a bit of a tech geek! Project management, design thinking, and metacognition.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.