Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Perils of Obedience

Sitting at my desk an hour after the students have all filed out.  Considering doing what the state and our administration are asking me to do and what I really want to do to help my students.  A red binder sits in front of me listing hours of documents I need to complete proving I have reached a "Level 3" proficiency. These things I will need to show my principal in order to get a good review; stakeholder matrices, dashboards, and other meaningless items.  Or, I need to enter yet another batch of data into Pearson Inform.  Data that is repetitive, superfluous, and will never be used.

I'm considering reteaching a skill to some students who need a second chance, but the black binder points out I am already behind our corporation's curriculum mapping pace and cannot take time to reteach.  I must stick to the map.  Teach them. Test them. Fail them. Move them on.

A video I hadn't seen in years kept playing through my mind; The Milgram Experiment, it was called. Volunteers participated in an experiment they thought was to find out if pain can motivate learning.  In it, an official experimenter (E) orders a teacher (T) to give a shock to a learner (L) for incorrect responses.  The teacher is a volunteer who believes he is shocking the other volunteer, though in actuality, no shocks were given. The learner is actually an actor behind a wall pretending to be in pain.

As wrong answers continue, the shock increases in intensity until the learner begs to be released.  Finally, after severe shocks, the learner become silent, presumably unconscious.

Milgram polled students and colleagues, "What percentage of 'teachers' will shock the learner with the maximum 450 volts, even though the learner has begged the teacher to stop?"  Their estimate averaged 1.2%.

In repeated trials, teachers shocked learners with the massive blast 60 to 65% of the time.

Milgram's true purpose was to test the "teacher". When faced to obey an authority figure whose directives conflicted with their conscience, what would people do? Milgram had this to say about the results of the experiment:
"Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.  Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority."
 And so it goes in education today.

I have the tools of the destructive process on my desk. No wonder I am stressed and  demoralized.

Am I to be the state's agent?  No way.  But unlike the experiment, I cannot get up and simply walk away.  Instead, I wrote this down.  And now I share it with you.


1 comment:

  1. Bravo Horace, your blog details the choices educators are making every day at all levels from kindergarden to university under No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top.
    Albert Einstein said: “A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.” Perhaps NCLB is the new religion of the United Department of Education using punishment and fear to convert teachers and students into good little obedience workers. Educators have a choice, and silence and apathy should not be one of them.
    Jess The Walking Man Turner
    Children Are More Than Test Scores