The Error of Compliance: Are We Empowering Kids to Think and Question?

I cringe every time that I see small children sitting in their straight “school approved” rows sitting silently. When they speak, they are told “shhh” or some even get accustomed to placing their finger over their mouth which serves to remind them to remain silent. At the slightest of noise, the parent is informed…

“Your child is great but they are being far too social.”

Kids raise their hands for approval to ask questions. Sometimes, when the question isn’t warranted, they’re even reprimanded for asking. My favorite one…”When will we ever use this?” (Truthfully, they SHOULD ask this question)

Born to Comply

Sometimes I feel that “learning” is more about compliance than process.

“Sit in your seat in your row. Get out your black/blue pen and write on uniformed paper with wide lines. You may go to the restroom when I say that you can. You may not speak to your neighbor. You may not get up from your desk. You have two rights…to remain silent and do as I say.”

Are we teaching stalks of corn or children?

Dear Teachers AND Administrators, classroom management is not about having the most uniformed and silent class. It is about creating a structure in which learning is embraced, encouraged and empowered. It is about having processes in place that allow kids to be explorers and architects of their knowledge. Sometimes, that is chaotic but a great classroom manager understands how to “manage” this process…NOT control it like a prison guard. (End of PSA)

Question Everything!

We have to encourage kids to speak more. Why can’t they ask questions? Why do they have to be completely silent? Why can’t they engage in more conversation…even if it goes off topic? This is called REAL LIFE. This is not something that you start at the middle to high school level. This needs to start as early as pre-k because by the time those kids get to the secondary part of their education, we (the highly informed progressive teachers) are spending a great deal of time trying to undo what has been programmed and get kids to think, speak and reflect. (We should anyway…)


If you teach HS math, you understand the above statement. I kid you not…kids literally WAIT on each step of the process and are highly upset when they see that you are not “THAT” teacher because somewhere their “programming” has convinced them that regurgitating steps is the ONLY way to “learn” math.

The reality is that kids are accustomed to what transpires and when we train them like robots, what else can they possibly be but more robots. It was absolutely refreshing to hear students speak up at SLA last week during Educon. At some point during the lives of these students, someone gave them permission to speak up and they do it oh so well.

If we want our students to be able to convey their ideas as well as emotions…we have GOT to empower them to think freely…to talk freely…to question freely.

Better yet…question EVERYTHING.

When they question…empower them to seek out answers and share…even publish.

Imagine that.

Comments 10

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  1. What is frustrating to me at times is when I try to create that space – when I convey that my expectation is for the students to help push the conversation forward, I get resistance from kids AND from parents. As you describe above, there is a degree to which they have been trained to be passive receptors of knowledge. What happens after awhile is that many students prefer it that way. There is less pressure to think and to create and there is a safety in knowing the routine. The fact that almost all of my students are Seniors and they are all AP kids exaggerates this effect.

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      You are so right! It’s a learned helplessness and when the kids complain, so do parents. My daughter is a college freshman and this is a battle that she has struggled to conquer. My students fought me too but they got used to it. They had to. Now, once you get into differentiating, it changes thinking entirely but going the path of “students have to think for themselves” is still a lonely one…Easiest if they don’t think & just do.

  2. “[Classroom management] is about creating a structure in which learning is embraced, encouraged and empowered. It is about having processes in place that allow kids to be explorers and architects of their knowledge.”

    What a breath of fresh air it was reading this post! Of course, it did give me some unpleasant flashbacks to when I began my career in a conventional high school. I got out in large part because I grew weary of being a compliance cop. I became an educator in order to connect with young people and help them learn and grow — and the environment you describe here just doesn’t prioritize such things.

    Actually, I’d go even further than you did in this post: instead of “classroom management,” I’d argue that schools themselves, in every respect, should “empower [students] to think freely…to talk freely…to question freely.” In fact, many do exactly that: for example, I work at a school (http://alpinevallschool.com) patterned after Sudbury Valley, to which Mike Sadofsky linked above. I encourage you to talk to people at Sudbury schools and see what truly individualized and empowering education looks like.

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      I will most certainly do that! Thank you so much Bruce. I would love to see how schools like yours and Sudbury are individualizing learning for students and empowering them to think! We need more of that!

  3. I agree completely with the exception of the reference to the flip. “Flipped”, for me, does not automatically mean “made into a recording”, of a solved problem, or anything for that matter. I know the term means different things to different people, which is why I don’t even like to use it myself, and also why I feel compelled to ask anyone who uses it to explain what they mean. And usually they mean recorded. Why not end that great bite with “not even recorded”? Because it is a great bite!

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      I think that I would need an entirely new post to explain my reasoning behind this. For me, it’s a play on words…because people typically associate “flipped” as being about the video.

      However, the reality is that many who use video substitute their ridiculous boring lecture from class with a recorded one. It happens far too often.

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