COMPLIANCE: The Double-Edged Sword of Education

by | Nov 20, 2018

Compliance. What connotations does this word conjure up for you?

WIthin the realm of education – the world “compliance” has complicated conversations and methodologies for quite a while, to say the least. Is it a goal or hurdle? A skill or negative trait? There are champions of both sides, so let’s break it down.


What Compliance Means in Education

First, what exactly are we talking about when we say the word compliance? 

In general, being compliant means you follow commands or directions, it means obedience, submissiveness.

Within an education setting compliance generally refers to classroom management and students following the rules. And, to a certain extent, we need this. We, as educators, need students to “be there” for the learning, to not impede other’s learning, and to participate in the creation of knowledge. However…

There are degrees of compliance. And while many educators take compliance to mean cooperation, it can, and does, go further.

Why We Need Compliance

Asking students to comply to the rules and expectations of school is not in direct opposition to creating free-thinkers and creative problem-solvers. In fact, it’s good practice. Not only does having consistent expectations create a successful learning environment for your students it also mirrors society.

Students who understand that there are underlying rules that need to be complied with in order for a system to function are working within a societal construct. Click To Tweet

They understand that they play a part in the success or failure of the whole. They are still decision makers, they still have free will, but when they make choices that work within the system they are doing so for their own benefit AND the benefit of others.

When Compliance Becomes Troublesome

Encouraging compliance when it means creating a cooperative classroom conducive to learning is necessary. This gives students a sense of community and promotes a safe space for them wherein you and they know what to expect. But, as the title of this article states, compliance is a double edge sword.

The ugly side of compliance shows its face when we see a shift from being cooperative and supportive of a community function to being dictated and submissive. No matter the subject or grade level, questions should be encouraged and a healthy discourse on the purpose of learning can be had. When students are no longer encouraged or even allowed to question their learning, when their interests and ideas are not given a voice in the classroom, then we are headed down a dangerous path. 

Teachers should teach in a style that they feel the freedom to explore ideas and methodologies. Their expertise and training, content knowledge and skills should be highlighted in their classroom. The same is true for the students. It is a disservice to students when ideas are stifled, when their interests are ignored, and their voice silenced under the expectation of compliance.

The Place for Compliance in Modern Education

We, as educators, need to tread carefully when it comes to compliance. 

For compliance to exist side-by-side with innovation and 21st-century skills we need to orchestrate a thoughtful balance. Click To Tweet

It takes professional discourse and reflective teaching to create a classroom wherein students aren’t stifled by the overbearing requirements of compliance but instead feel safe to express themselves and free to explore their own ideas. It takes a carefully crafted set of expectations centered around the concept of community and success for all. It takes a teacher who are willing to understand the roles and dynamics of a classroom. And, it takes the resilience to constantly revise and the willingness to change things up when need be.

If you enjoyed this article check out the Joy in Teaching book and the article, What Is The Purpose of Education? And Why We Should Question It?

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