Compliance is Not the End Goal of Education

Recently, I was listening to a teacher talk about their more “traditional” view of education, and how “compliance” wasn’t a bad thing for students. Even going a step further, saying students should be “obedient”.

I cringed a little.  Okay, maybe a lot.

First off, let’s look at the definition of “obedient”:

obedient – complying or willing to comply with orders or requests; submissive to another’s will.
Is this what we really want from our students?  That they are simply submissive to the will of their teachers?  Do we want to develop generations of students that will challenge conventional ideas, think for themselves, or simply do what they are told?  I do not know many teachers who would want to be “obedient” to their principals.  We teach the “golden rule” to our students; we must follow it ourselves.
So let’s look at the word “compliant”.
compliant – inclined to agree with others or obey rules, especially to an excessive degree; acquiescent.
Is compliance a bad thing to teach in education?  Not really. In some ways, people have to be compliant.  Think of tax season.  You have to be compliant with the rules that are set out by your government.  As educators, there are times that we have to be compliant in our work as well.  You have deadlines that you have to meet (ie. report cards).  Compliance is not a bad word, but it should not be your end goal in education.  My belief is that we need to move beyond compliance, past engagement, and onto empowerment.
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These ideas are not separate, but in some ways, can be seen as a continuum.
Let’s go back to the word compliance.  Has that really ever been the end goal of schools? Maybe as a system overall, but I think the best educators have always tried to empower their students.  They know that if you are truly good at your job as an educator, the students will learn to not need you eventually. That is why “lifelong learning” has been a goal in education forever.  If we truly want our students to be “compliant” when they walk out of schools, they will always need someone else’s rules to follow.  To develop the “leaders of tomorrow”, we need to develop them as leaders today.
Focusing on “empowering” students is seen by some as “fluffy”; students just show up to school to do whatever they want.  This is not my belief at all.  Empowering students teaches them to have their own voice and follow their own direction, but if they are going to be successful, they will need to truly have the discipline (using the definition, “train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way”), to make it happen.  “Empowerment” and “hard work” are not mutually exclusive; in fact, both elements are needed to make a true difference in our world.
Think about how many of our kids in school talk about becoming “YouTubers”.  If you truly want to make that happen, you do not apply to some job, but you will have to focus on creating content consistently over time while building an audience.  This might be your dream, but to make it happen, there is a lot of work to be done. Becoming a content creator allows you to follow your own path, yet to be successful, hard work is needed.
I love this quote:
“Hard work does not guarantee success, but lack of hard work guarantees that there will be no success.” Jimmy V
Helping students find their own paths, not the ones we set out for them, has always been the focus in education, yet we need to be more explicit about this path. We all want our students to be respectful to educators and peers, but hopefully, we all want them to walk out of school, become intrinsically motivated, and find their own ways to success and happiness.  Compliance is sometimes a part of this, but it is not the end goal.  Are we trying to develop students to fit into our world, or are we hoping that students feel that they have the power to create a better world, now and in the future?
“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs

Source: George Couros

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