The debate about whether schools should be allowed to internally exclude children from lessons is a hot topic at the moment, with all sorts of people weighing in at both ends of the spectrum of opinion. Whether you agree or disagree with the concept of internal exclusion probably says something about whether you prioritise the rights of the group or the rights of the individual. But it’s also probably true that we all care about the rights of both individuals and groups. So, how can we get past the inflamed rhetoric and reason coldly of our grievances?

One way to begin might be to calibrate our opinions and place them on a scale. So, on a scale of 0-10 how would you rate your agreement with the following statements?

  1. Children should not be removed from a classroom and placed in supervised isolation under any circumstances.
  2. Children have a right never to have their lessons disrupted by threatening or dangerous behaviour.

Or maybe you’d prefer a differently worded pairing?

  1. Schools have an obligation to ensure children are never removed from lessons, even if their behaviour is threatening, violent or bullying.
  2. Schools have an obligation to provide safe learning environments where children are protected from threatening, violent or bullying behaviour.

These statements are mutually exclusive. Obviously, it ought to be logically impossible to score both with a 10, but further, if you’ve really thought through the consequences of both statements, it ought to be the case that your ratings should add up to 10. So, for instance, if you gave the first statement 10 then it ought to follow that the second statement should be scored as 0. And, if you gave the first statement a score of 5 then it makes sense that you also give the second statement a 5. If your combined scores add up to more or less than 10, this reveals the extent of your inconsistency.

We’re all somewhat guilty of  inconsistency but being able to calibrate just how inconsistent we are can help us track the extent to which ideology may have overtaken reason. It’s likely that no one thinks children should never be removed from a lesson no matter how extreme their behaviour is, just as it’s likely no one believes children have no right at all to undisrupted lessons. Our differences are, in all probability, ones of degree.

So, if I were to give the fist statements 1 a score of 8 and you gave them a 3 we would be able to see the extent of of disagreement, but also that there’s at least some consensus. We could then attempt to shift each other more towards the middle. For instance, my instinct is to think that if children are disruptive it makes good, practical sense for them to be removed from a lesson and, if disruptive children are going to be removed there needs to be some sort of system for putting them elsewhere. I’ve worked in schools were children have been sent out and then roam around the school causing chaos. No one wants that, right? But, since hearing all the reaction against the concept of internal isolation that’s been doing the rounds recently I’ve been persuaded that in some (hopefully very rare) cases children have been consigned to isolation rooms indefinitely and spend their days copying out worksheets and being told off for coughing. I can’t imagine anyone is in favour of this extreme either.

I would expect that most teachers see the need for a system where disruptive children can be sent to a safe environment to allow lessons to continue. but I would equally expect that most teachers would want a system where children who are regularly being sent to an internal isolation room are assessed to see if they have underlying issues which are making it difficult for them to behave and to receive some sort of intervention to get them back in lessons. If we both agree that the extremes are egregious we can, maybe, arrive at a proportionate middle ground where productive discussion becomes possible.

This is just one of the excellent ideas I’ve taken from How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay.