School Is for the Docile

Being willing to sit in a boring classroom for 12 years, and then sign up for four more years and then sign up for three or more years after that – well, that’s a pretty good measure of your willingness to essentially do what you’re told.

—Samuel Bowles


UPDATE: Seth Godin argues that it’s easier to teach compliance than initiative.

5 responses to “School Is for the Docile

  1. I both agree and disagree. School is an environment full of constant positive reinforcement for people who are good at it, and it’s hard to let go of that. That may result in docility in effect, but the actual experience is (if you’re serious) one of constant challenge and intellectual adventure. In other words, there’s no subjective experience of docility, rather there’s a structure of positive reinforcement that can make docility seem exciting. The structural question is way more interesting than just dismissing a whole group of people.

  2. Not that I really need to say it, but I love this–your title almost more than the quote.

  3. Oh, I found this quote:

    Let’s look back at the history of public education in the United States. You have to go back a little over a century. For many years, there was a debate about whether we should even have public education. Some parents wanted kids to go to school and get an education; others said, “We can’t afford that. We need them to work. They have to work in the field, because otherwise we starve.” There was a big debate….Late in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, business leaders began complaining about all these rural kids who were pouring into the cities and going to work in our factories. Business leaders said that these kids were no good, and that what they needed was an educational system that would produce “industrial discipline.” … Out in the fields, on the farms, if you go out with your family to pick a crop, and you come ten minutes late, your uncle covers for you and it’s no big deal. But if you’re on an assembly line and you’re late, you mess up the work of 10,000 people down the line. Very expensive. So punctuality suddenly becomes important…..In school, bells ring and you mustn’t be tardy. And you march from class to class when the bells ring again. And many people take a yellow bus to school. What is the yellow bus? A preparation for commuting. And you do rote and repetitive work as you would do on an assembly line. –— Alvin Toffler

  4. Nice find, Austin. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Yes, though on the other hand, school–or learning, anyway, can be designed to support revolution, resistance, outrage. Just ask any pedagogist of the oppressed.


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