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School approach to students at-risk

Posted By: Elaine Munthe on August 15, 2002
Social theorist Niklas Luhmann makes a distinction between risk and danger that can be quite helpful for schools, too. Along with others, he defines situations of risk as those where there is some choice of action involved - whereas 'danger' does not involve choice / contingency. E.g. an earthquake is a danger that we cannot stop. Visiting places where earthquakes are very likely to happen would involve 'risk'.

I've tried to use this thinking in schools: Children whom we say are 'at-risk' would in very many cases be considered as being in 'danger' using these terms - they are labeled through no actions of their own, perhaps because of their parents' SES or through social practices, laws, etc. that the children have no influence on. The 'at-risk' label focuses mainly on the children and their possible choices of risk behavior. Viewing the 'danger' also brings into focus choices that the kids are powerless to do anything about. To what degree do children actively choose to fail?

Another interesting aspect of Luhmann's work is compresed in his one sentence: One man's risk is another man's danger. This I interpret for a school context as explained in this example: In a classroom context, the teacher may regard a student's behavior as creating such a disturbance that the whole lesson will be a disaster. What does the teacher do? Each action may involve some risk as perceived by the teacher - but also some danger for the others in the class (i.e. consequences that they cannot have an effect on, where they have no choice in the matter). So decisions that schools (or politicians or whoever) make about situations considered as 'risky' can become 'dangers'for others.

There are no solutions offered here - but we might need to take a closer look at how we think about these matters and how our own thoughts and actions can create dangers - .
Elaine Munthe
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 School approach to students at-risk by Amton Mwaraksurmes on July 10, 2002
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