Welcome to my 4th installment discussing this meme. Check out parts 1-3 here, here, and here.
Non-compliance is punished.
For most of these claims, there is a little bit of truth, but not the whole story. I will fully admit that #4 is pretty darn accurate. Non-compliance is punished in just about every classroom and every school out there, but this is because schools are a product of society–a society in which non-compliance is punished. So many people already complain that kids and teenagers are disrespectful. Could you imagine how much more these people would complain if schools didn’t, in some way, punish non-compliance? Without going into the science about brain development and whatnot, students need boundaries and consequences for exceeding those boundaries. Anybody who has actually worked with students knows this.
Many people are probably saying, but what about civil disobedience? If a rule is unjust, unfair, or unnecessary, students should practice civil disobedience. After all, we teach students (directly or indirectly) the virtues of civil disobedience. In fact my students even read Henry David Thoreau’s piece called “Civil Disobedience.” Aren’t I being slightly hypocritical for not practicing what I preach? Not exactly. What often gets forgotten in that argument is that Henry David Thoreau wrote that while in jail. He practiced civil disobedience by not paying his taxes to fund a war that he thought was unjust. As a result he was punished and sent to jail. As we talk about this, I constantly remind my students that civil disobedience comes with consequences. Your non-compliance will be punished.
When one thinks about non-compliance and civil disobedience, the most prominent example is the work of MLK Jr. and the civil rights movement. These people staged sit-ins at whites only counters, etc. and fought for what is just. Many might argue that by punishing non-compliance in schools we are hindering these sorts of movements in the future. Again, I’d point out that these civil rights activists were all punished-not just by being sent to jail, but also through physical violence. I’d also point out that it is easy to say you’d be civilly disobedient, but much harder to actually do it when the time comes. Martin Luther King Jr. actually trained people in how to sit at the counter and keep calm while being insulted and physically attacked. I don’t know many people-nonetheless school age students-who could withstand that sort of abuse while remaining calm without the necessary training.
None of this is to say that students have no ability to question authority or school rules. While I alluded to this in a previous post about this meme, in my experience schools (and individual teaches) have allowed students to voice concerns about policy. For example, a few years back the dress code for one particular dance was made more stringent than it ever has been. One member of the student government, with the guidance of the adviser, circulated a petition regarding this change. This was a means to start a conversation that has been ongoing since though the dress code for this dance is looser now.
My point is that while non-compliance is generally punished in schools, there are means for students to question the rules and authorities. It is easy to suggest that we are squashing free thinkers, but it is much harder to maintain an appropriate learning environment than non-educators realize. We must strike a balance that helps and supports all our students.