Folly of Coercion

Grant Wiggins wrote a post on how distant authorities can bastardize good ideas with their thoughtless interpretations and heavy-handed mandates. He defines stupidification as:

Stupidification (n): 1. A deadly illness in which perfectly good ideas and processes are killed as a result of thoughtless interpretation and implementation. 2. The reducing of intricate issues and processes to simplistic, rigid, and mandated policies, in the impatient quest for quick fixes to complex problems.

Wiggins goes on to explain that the key to avoiding stupidifcation is to never stop asking why. And then he points out that "when practice becomes unmoored from purpose, rigidity sets in."

I know too many teachers who have become compliant and mindless agents of the state who expend blood, sweat and tears trying to find an ounce of good from a boatload of mandated sludge.

If educators resign themselves to being nothing more than agents of the state for delivering top-down mandated, prefabricated, content-bloated, scripted curriculums then it makes sense to do whatever it takes to manipulate, bribe, threaten, bully and harass kids into doing whatever it is we want them to do. If this is our perspective, then as long as the kids do what we want, even begrudgingly, we consider compliance our mandate.


...if educators see their responsibility as engaging every learner in a personalized journey in discovering and constructing their passion, we come to see authentic engagement as infinitely more important than compliance.

Ultimately the best educators come to see school not as something done to kids, but something done by them and with them.

This isn't just good for children -- it's good for all people, and teachers are people, too. Forcing people who have less power than you to do whatever you want isn't only objectionable when your objectives are faulty. Regardless of the quality of your objectives, coercion is as objectionable as it is unsustainable.

In his post Change by Decree, Alfie Kohn writes:

[T]rue leaders are those who recognize that the quality of an idea doesn’t justify an attempt to shove it down people’s throats. Nor does it increase the likelihood that such an effort will be successfully digested. The idea will eventually just be, um, coughed back up.

This is why the best administrators and policy makers come to see education policies not as something done to teachers, but something done by them and with them.

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Joe Bower

Joe Bower teaches in Alberta, Canada.