How compliance hurts all learning

Like many deputy principals around the world, I didn’t do very well at school. I was cheeky (not naughty) and hyperactive … every teacher’s favourite nightmare!  If I did the work, I always used the popular “bare minimum, last minute” approach. With no real world experience, and parents who had understandably given up trying to help, I couldn’t see any reason to comply with the prescribed workload. I knew I was capable and the teachers frequently told me so, but what I saw as simple compliance just didn’t excite me.

compliance-EduwellsIn my 15 years of teaching I have always sympathised with non-compliant learners but only in the last 5 years have I realised that compliance is not the only option for a classroom. I am currently working with the teachers in my school on a transition of staff and student mindset (it might take 5 years) that will hopefully have classrooms involving each learner in discussing and developing awareness of their own learning processes. Having students consider how they personally would best achieve the goals makes them feel appreciated as an individual and ironically (strict conservatives probably think this is nonsense) demands more from them. The alternative is to continue prescribing it for either entire classes or subsets of these (I’ve never been comfortable with teacher devised “differentiation”) and hoping for compliance.

Why not comply?

Success in school, something I knowingly chose to throw away, is predominantly a measure of your willingness to comply. If you sit quietly, follow all the guidance and complete the work, you will undoubtedly succeed with at least a satisfactory grade. Compliance was very important when preparing populations for factories and hard labour, but why comply these days with someone else’s learning program? If learners have evidence in their life that ‘playing-the-game’ means success or they have been conditioned to comply then schools generally achieve their assessment goals. Under the existing worldwide school compliance schooling, rich kids outperform poor kids and girls outperform boys. This explains why rich kids see ‘the system’ worth complying with and this explains why girls comply and thus “succeed.” But is compliance genuine success?

It is not hard to find evidence from industry, universities, and parents that even school leavers with successful grades disappoint those in the real world, who expect them to show initiative and make decisions, something classrooms have hardly shown a interest in. All young people are capable of initiative and decision making, they just get very little practice. Students taught as a class, think as a class and not individuals.

“Students taught as a class, think as a class and not individuals.” – Richard Wells (@Eduwells)

Compliance classrooms promote further undervaluing of students who’s lives already feel undervalued and hold back those who feel confident to suggest better approaches and stretch possibilities. From top to bottom, compliance hurts all learning and it’s time to start involving the young people in their own development. School as a journey of self-development is often as invisible to learners today as it was to me when I scraped a pass for compliance in 1995.

Want to read more?

I written more on this subject in my new book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining Education (Paperback and eBook)

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