Teaching Responsibility or Compliance?

I remember first watching this Seth Godin Ted Talk, “Stop Stealing Dreams” and how the first part made me think (taken from the transcript posted here):

Good morning, boys and girls.

[Audience: (Murmur)]

That was terrible. You’ve learned how to do that from a young age. You’re supposed to say, “Good morning, Mr. Godin.” So let’s try again.

Good morning, boys and girls!

[Audience: Good morning, Mr. Godin!]

Have you thought about what that’s for? Have you thought about how, for a hundred or 150 years, that was ingrained into the process of public education? And have you thought at all as people on the cutting edge, as people who are interested in making school work again, about a very simple question: What is school for?

What blew me away is how something so simple and that was just common in education (I have seen keynotes do this often as well) is something that is innately teaching compliance.  “Say what I say, and if you don’t say what I say well enough, you will say it until I am pleased.”

This little story made me start to think about some of the typical routines I have seen in school for years — for example, the “quiet line to the gymnasium” routine. I am guilty of doing this early in my career and having one student get a little too loud and making EVERYONE walk back.  In my head, this was about teaching “respect” for others, but in reality, often the majority of students were respectful already, but the punishment was given to all when one fell out of line. This was more about compliance than anything, and in reality, I never saw it that way. It was just a thing that we did in school.

Another example is the “copy into your agenda from the board” procedure. In my head, this was teaching organizational skills and responsibility, but it was teaching students how to do what they were told. Nowhere in life do I have someone write something on a wall, copy it into my book, and consider that “responsibility.”  I have my way of organizing as you might, as well as our students.

What I thought was teaching respect was focusing on compliance. What I thought was teaching responsibility was focusing on compliance.

Having structure is good. Respect is good. Organizational skills are helpful.  I guess my challenge here for myself, and others is that when things work (students learned to walk in the line and copy off of the board) that doesn’t necessarily mean they lead to something powerful long term. Doing something because it has always been done is no guarantee of success in the future.

Stepping back and asking “why do we do this” should be a constant process within schools. If we are genuinely learning organizations, this should include past practices that are not leading to a better future.

Source: George Couros