Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Obedience Is Not The Goal

Disobedience is not an issue if obedience is not the goal. ~Daron Quinlan

I have never been interested in obedient children. They tend to either grow into rebellious teens who are a danger to themselves as they try to "make up for" all that time spent living under a regimen of artificially repressed urges, or perhaps worse, obedient adults who are a danger to the rest of us.

This is why the children at Woodland park make their own rules. This is why we adhere in to the law of natural consequences. This is why we strive to avoid bossing the children around with directives like, "Sit here," or "Put the blocks away." This is why I actively teach children to question authority and why we celebrate when they engage in civil disobedience.

I have no patience for people who justify their authoritarian approach to children by arguing that it works. If I'm bigger and stronger than you, if I have more power than you, if I have more money than you, I can use that strength, power or money to force you into doing my bidding no matter how hard you fight back. Of course it works if the goal is mere obedience. It's a lazy, short-term, adversarial approach, one that will ultimately backfire, but sure, in the immediate moment threats and violence shut the kid up and make him submissive.

What children learn from authoritarian parenting and teaching is that might makes right. What they learn is to follow leaders, not because they are doing something great, but because they can punish you if you don't. What they learn is that someone else is responsible for their behavior and decisions, that the powerful know best, and that knowing "their place" is their highest calling.

Adults who have internalized these messages make wonderful cubicle and factory employees. They are reliable votes for one political party or another. They are easy prey for cults and crazies. And when they do find themselves with an upper hand over someone else, like a child, they are far more likely to wield that authority abusively because that's what, in their experience, the powerful do.

As a teacher, I am always looking for ways to give away whatever power is implied by that title, to let the children be in charge of their own learning, of their own bodies, of their own small society. I want them to make the "right" decisions, not because I've told them so, but because they have learned through experience that it is the right decision. I want them to know that they are always responsible for their own behavior. I want them to know that their feelings, their thoughts, and their opinions are just as important as anyone else's.

I want them to know, most of all, that this is true even for people who are stronger, more powerful or wealthier. I want them to grow to be adults who make their own decisions and will not be pushed around.

And yes, it's often more work for the loving adults in a child's life, but man, it's worth it.

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Enna said...

I am a big fan of yours Teacher Tom. And some posts resonate with me even more than others. This is one of those. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!

Anonymous said...

Yay, good on you, thank you for showing the way forward : )

Anonymous said...

well said teacher tom. discussions about what does and doesn't work should be constant, with the adults pointing out when something has worked/has made someone feel good/is worth sharing/is the result of someone thinking of the consequences of their actions. As in all learning, the adult is the role model and should explain/talk about why, about everything - put the words out there to be savoured, absorbed/internalised, then extrapolated/generalised to other situations. I have really enjoyed your comments, Teacher Tom. Have a good rest over the festive season, recharge the batteries, enjoy you and yours for a while. Then start all over again!!! Happy Christmas.