Quiet and Submissive

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Rebecca Barray

“Being quiet and being submissive. I think that’s frankly the only thing being taught right now. ..how do you be submissive? How do you sit patiently and be disengaged for an hour and take it?” Sal Khan

I have talked to a few educators in the field that have children in schools that have told me they question the value of some of the assignments that the teachers of their children are receiving at home.  What one of them shared with me is that although they disagreed with the assignment, they bit their tongue, said nothing about the assignment, and told their child that they had to do it because they were told to.

So in an education system where are are promoting critical thinking, is teaching a child simply to be compliant really beneficial?

Before we talk about the impact that this has on students, let’s think as educators what we would want in our own environment.  As a teacher, would you prefer to work in an environment where their principal (who is their boss), wants feedback on the things that are happening in the school, and actively listens?  This doesn’t mean they always agree, but that you know genuinely takes feedback in the workplace and figures out a way to implement some suggestions.

Or would you simply want to do what you were told, because that’s what you should do?

Many of the educators I know would not want to be in the environment of the latter, yet there is still this notion that kids should do what they are told in school.

Now I know that children do not have the emotional maturity of many adults and this is something that we would obviously want kids working towards, but are we creating a system where we,  as educators are asking for feedback on a regular basis on what we are expecting our students to do?  How do we teach kids to learn to even question what we do as educators, but in a respectful and thoughtful way?

If we wouldn’t want to work in that type of environment, why would we create for our next generation?

“I think our job as educators, the biggest job in today’s information, saturated world, is to give the child an armour against doctrine.” Sugatra Mitra


  1. Michele Corbat said:

    I connected with this post. My seventh grader spends hours this school year on mindless homework assignments. I am a teacher at the school he attends and have had discussions with some of his teachers about this. It is very difficult to have these crucial conversations. I talked with him about how to be proactive & respectful and to discuss one particular assignment with his teacher. The next day he asked her what the educational value of the assignment was and she explained that some students didn’t have the concept therefore all the students needed to work on it. As a moderator of #COLchat (culture of learning), I become infuriated when compliance is the main purpose of a task rather than learning.

    Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful post. All educators and parents should read it.

    December 29, 2013
  2. The move from “school” to learning communities that include the voices of students, families, educators, leaders, and community members will naturally create a move to more meaningful, personalized study, and a move towards learning as a primary focus rather than obedience as the focal point. Thanks for promoting this important differentiation in schools–a student-centered change in focus.

    December 29, 2013
  3. Kate Halfpenny said:

    I was once instructed by a head teacher to teach Maths for a half term. I found this mind boggling, not merely because hadn’t paid any attention to Maths or the teaching of it since my own GCSE course in 1991, but also because it was a year 9 group being entered for GCSE maths.
    I had to learn it all again so that I could stand in front of 25 very unenthusiastic young people without looking like the fraudster that I was)
    Simultaneous equations came up, we did them on the board. Half of them understood. Half of them didn’t care. I had no maths teacher type to tools to make them care. When asked the question – Miss, why the f**k are we learning this? My imeediate response was totally unprofessional. ‘because its worth 3 marks on the exam and is the difference between a C and a D you lovely people’
    To my absolute surprise they ALL accepted this. ‘fair enough’ was the reponse from the disenchanted enquirer.
    That is the worst kind of submission I have ever witnessed. And I would have been devastated if I couldn’t get students to see the joy of learning in my own subject. This also probably highlights the importance of having qualified teachers to teach their own subjects?

    December 29, 2013
  4. andy vasily said:

    Totally agree with what was written in your blog post George. Control and compliance vs autonomy and engagement. Control and compliance does not work any more. Autonomy and engagement will always win in the end.

    December 29, 2013
  5. Jim Cordery said:

    You write about one of the biggest ironies in education. We want people to act/think outside of the box, until those students end up sitting in our rooms. Then, the questioning of things is seen as defiance. After some thought, I think the main ingredient to a teacher encouraging this kind of action is the security of the teacher. Am I confident enough in my knowledge of the material to allow these students to push forward? Am I confident enough in my classroom to encourage this type of thinking? I have reached the age that I am comfortable with this, but it took time. Great post, George. You always keep us thinking.

    December 29, 2013
  6. As a parent, I can identify with this post. Thanks for writing it.

    Is it possible for schools and classrooms to provide an environment where students can learn at their ability level? Can we create fluid learning spaces? More on these lines here: http://mswerkz.blogspot.com/2013/12/differentiation-depth-in-learning.html

    This community might know the challenges involved in creating such “learning in depth” environments. So, please comment.

    December 29, 2013
  7. This is such a great point! There has to be balance with students. Before entering my latest role as an administrator, I spent my last few years teaching eighth grade. Given the opportunity, teens possess the skills to have this discourse with their teacher. It could be choice in how they learn the material or feedback after the fact if an assignment wasn’t appropriate. We just have to be willing to open ourselves up to those conversations.

    December 30, 2013
  8. Nancy Hudak said:

    I wish bloggers and pundits would include a caveat that “although not all public schools are acting this way, the general rule nowadays is …. ” because *not* all schools are teaching kids to be submissive and passive.

    On the other hand, some kids *need* quiet, so expecting others in the classroom or building to be less-than-boisterous is simply considerate.

    December 31, 2013
  9. murquhart said:

    There is a big difference between a classroom that is “noisy” with learning and one that is just “noisy” because students don’t know how to be quiet. Those are parameters that teachers have to outline. I can’t tell you how many classrooms I walk by where there is total silence and compliance. It makes me questions what type of learning is happening?? or whether there is any going on at all…. Discourse is uncomfortable for sure. But we need to recognize that there is great learning opportunities for all inside that discourse. Do we want a society full of blind followers? Or should we be encouraging questioning and looking for students to create their own opportunities for success.

    January 8, 2014

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