Dreams of Compliance

“For some people,” George said in a response to yesterday’s post about dreams,

compliance is the dream. That’s a conflict that leads to verbatim reading like it’s inherently a good thing. (I have colleagues who spend their first day with undergrads reading the syllabus. I can only imagine what that’s like for a roomful of teachers at “professional development.”)

That really struck me.  Compliance, for Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y and Not A Few Powers That Be that I know, is the dream.  If only “the bad, lazy ones” would comply, would act as if!  Their behavior would magically change, and over time that behavior would change their attitudes.

And of course, changed behavior really can lead to changed attitudes; that’s the power of Twelve-Step Programs, but it’s also why people embrace everything from the Broken Windows Theory in troubled neighborhoods to Assertive Discipline in troubled classrooms.  Make them comply, the thought pattern goes, and over time they’ll actually want to comply … and things will change.  An old friend used to say “I can’t make them change their attitudes, but I can make them change their behaviors.”  Of course there’s a big difference between choosing to change your behavior (the Twelve-Step model in a nutshell) and making others change … but never mind that!

There’s plenty of controversy about the Broken Windows theory, of course, and plenty of anecdotal evidence about the deleterious effects of making them in the long run.  And of course there’s all the research about the vastly superior effects of intrinsic motivation … but never mind that, either!  “You have to motivate them,” another colleague said this spring, “until they get intrinsically motivated.”

But once you start down the road of making them, you have to be constantly vigilant (to make sure they’re still doing things the Right Way) and suspicious (because, after all, they just might stop when you’re not around).  And as much as Ms. X, Mr. Y, and Various Powers enjoy making Them do stuff in the short term, we all bitterly resent being made to do stuff ourselves.

That’s the problem with dreams of compliance, of course: everybody wants to make Them comply, but nobody wants to be made to comply.

In These Parts, there’s a long tradition of conducting a Great Big Survey of teachers and school administrators every two years and collecting data about their impressions of the schools where they work.  And of course there are incentives to participate, with rewards for schools with 100% participation and drawings for gift cards and the like.  When the aggregated data are released to schools and districts, the idea is to take a look at patterns and areas of concern, using those as starting point for new strategies to make schools more effective, more welcoming places for the people who work in them.

That’s one reason why the Long Meeting on Monday was so long; it was time to Look At The Data, and in some cases, the satisfaction rate was lower than it had been on the last survey.  Small groups were asked to rank the most important of those areas and try to devise some strategies to address them … and that took a while, it seems, for Ms. X and Mr. Y.  They were still going strong when my small group had finished and turned in our rankings and strategies … and I assume they’re the ones who suggested that consequences for not following rules and procedures need to be followed.  That was one strategy my colleagues suggested for improving their own morale!  They also seemed to be calling for more catching students being bad, fewer “interruptions” for things like the “incentives” for students who do good stuff, and an approach where they, personally, wouldn’t be caught being bad, but would feel more supported and encouraged.

I’m not sure which groups suggested which strategies, but the overall picture seemed pretty clear.  Apparently Ms. X and Mr. Y don’t want anybody making them comply, since that’s bad for their morale and it hurts their feelings, but they do seem to want to make others comply.  And while they don’t want to be caught being bad, they apparently want every potential “bad, lazy one” caught … and punished, if possible, before the bad behavior even happens.

And that’s the thing about dreams of compliance!  Do unto others not what you’d want them to do to you, but before they can do unto you!  Do unto others so they won’t do unto you!  There’s a fundamental contradiction, but it’s hard to notice when you’ve lived in a compliance-dream world all your life … and even harder, I suppose, if you became a teacher because you were a “good little student,” a compliant one, who became a teacher because Good Old Ms. X told you you’d be good at it.

I can’t imagine how frustrating current schools must be for good little students who wanted to be good little teachers.  I can feel the frustration in this blog post, and I can hear it when Ms. X and Mr. Y whine about Good Old Days when “teachers were revered,” and I can sense it when Ms. X and Mr. Y complain about being made to do stuff or about how They don’t seem to trust Us to Do Our Job.  But I can’t exactly imagine the frustration; that’s not why I chose teaching, or it chose me.  Compliance isn’t bad , but it was never my primary goal.  It’s a tool, which means there are times when it’s appropriate and times when it isn’t.

Joyful learning communities involve a degree of voluntary compliance with shared norms, but the key is in those words voluntary and shared.  No one but you can actually make you do anything, but you can choose to make yourself do things you find important and valuable.  I wonder what, if anything, we can do today to help the Ms. X’s, Mr. Y’s, and Struggling Powers in our lives with that realization … and with the actions they’ll take once they gain it.  And I wonder what other new insights and discoveries await!

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Published in: on May 21, 2014 at 10:45 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. […] yesterday, I could see that Ms. X and Mr. Y’s strategies for addressing the concerns from That Great Big Survey were all about the familiar milestones, too.  Make this one bigger, with consequences for the […]

  2. […] minute, you got the impression that Awards Day was a thing to “do because you do it,” a dream of compliance rather than a meaningful celebration.  “I suppose,” an old friend of mine used to say […]


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