Conform: Intellectually and socially.
Ralph Waldo Emerson says that the virtue in most demand in society is conformity. This sentiment is clear throughout the work of Transcendental writers: non-conformity leads to great things. And their ideas have been used as inspiration for countless movers and shakers in our country and our world. These are the very movers and shakers (writers, politicians, activists,etc.) that we teach in our schools every day. Surely we must be teaching students the importance of non-conformity. Whether implicitly or explicitly in many courses we teach the importance and potential results of not conforming.
But the policies, procedures and actions of schools and individual teachers do not generally accept nonconformity. After all, society demands conformity. Society ostracizes and punishes (sometimes violently) nonconformity. We all know this. Society has unwritten rules (as well as some written ones) as to how people are supposed to behave. Schools are no different, which makes sense since schools are societal institutions. Sure individual teachers may praise nonconformity and “thinking outside the box” from time to time. But eventually even they have their limits and some actions may be too far out the box to be accepted. In fact, we even teach our autistic population how to act in a “socially expected” way.
As I remind my students often, nonconformity may lead to great things, but it is not without its consequences. It is a matter of whether or not the individual is willing to accept those consequences to act as a nonconformist. I often argue that education is about finding a balance, which I’ve mentioned many times previously. Issues of conformity are no different. As teachers we need to nurture individuals and their creativity and ability to think outside the box while also teaching them the potential consequences of this.