Monday, August 15, 2016

Might obedience to authority be a prerequisite for learning?

When people carry on about how traditional education is based on a 19th century Prussian model, or an early 20th century factory model, designed to foster obedience to political, military, or capitalist authority, and then promote child-centered Constructivism as the alternative, might they be conflating a couple of concepts?

Besides political, military, and workplace authorities, there are also educational authorities: people (teachers, textbook authors) who are authorities because they know a lot--perhaps more than you do--on certain topics.

And besides obedience to political, military, and workplace commands, there's obedience in educational settings. Yes, a lot of the obedience solicited in schools (including in our most self-styled Constructivist schools) reeks of military-style obedience--all that lining up, all that waiting in silence, all that being yelled at for fidgeting during class or losing track of your belongings or daring to play tag or climb trees during recess.

But a certain type of obedience is crucial for learning. Classroom learning requires attending to the educational authorities (listening, reading) and not disrupting the class in ways that impair this.

It might be pretty to think otherwise, but in the absence of certain forms of (self-)discipline, and certain types of deference to certain types of authorities, it's pretty darn hard to learn much of anything, let alone develop one's own, personally-empowering educational, professional, and political authority.


Niels Henrik Abel said...

This issue might also be framed as an issue of humility. It takes a certain degree of humility to admit that you don't know as much as you think you know, and consequently shut up so you can increase your chances of learning something from someone who is older/wiser/more knowledgeable than you.

Anonymous said...

I guess the counterpoint to this would be "unschoolers." Do they learn? I think that some do, but I've always wondered if they learn everything I think they should learn (though presumably I would get the feedback that they don't need to learn everything I want them to). But, presumably, we could come up with some other standard, like whether they learn enough to live the life they want to live, in terms of employment and life skills.


treehousekeeper said...

The thing is that most people don't know what they don't know so when they encounter a situation where they need to know something that isn't in their repertoire, they just muddle through some other way or change course or whatever. And most adults structure their lives so that they don't need what they don't know--or at least it seems that way to them.

S Goya said...

Not only do we not really expect obedience, we actually teach kids to misbehave, and then blame them when they do (