Compliance: It Makes You Smart



Sierra Wilson, Editor

Does compliance define intelligence? Are students judged solely on how well they can follow directions and obey orders? School is a place meant for growing, for students to discover who they are, for their creativity to show through; instead it’s become a trap, a repeated cycle of “do this for the grade.”

Instead of growing, students go through the mindset of “I have to do this to have a good grade.” Grades and GPAs are the only representations, at least on paper, of how smart a student is. However, are they accurate?

Students don’t seem to be learning; they’re memorizing. Too many times, I myself have studied just enough to get a good grade on a test, but once it’s over, I forget the information I reviewed. Maybe this is due to a lack of interest, but it more so rests on the idea that it’s all for a grade.

I check my PowerSchool an unhealthy amount, and I’ve always believed if my grades aren’t at least a B, I’m failing. I do the work that’s required and on paper; I’m one of the smart kids. In all actuality, I’m good at being compliant. That’s not to say I’m not smart, but I’ve figured out the system and the system wants students who don’t act out and can do the work given to them without any issues.

Alfie Kohn, a teacher and author described by Times magazine as the most outspoken critic of grades, says, “there is never a need to reduce a student’s performance to a letter or a number” ( Kohn says that graded students lose interest in learning and do just enough to get by, not because they’re lazy, but because they know they’ll get a higher grade if they avoid challenges. In doing so, they’re “less likely to play with ideas because they are more concerned with doing only what is necessary to get the correct answer and secure the highest grade.”

The students who appear smart on paper are really just the students who excel at following directions, at being compliant. Grades don’t account for the smart students who lack the motivation to do the work. Too many times I’ve heard teachers say, “It’s not hard to pass, you just have to do the work.”

What about the students who don’t do the work: are they dumb? On paper, maybe. However, most students with low GPAs and failing grades are actually intelligent. The biggest issues for them are they’re not motivated and they’re not interested in what’s being taught.

It’s not the fault of the teachers, however. In general, education has become more compliant. How can teachers tap into the creative energy of students when they have certain topics they have to cover by a certain deadline? There’s no room for growth.

Teachers have reached what Justin Marquis of OnlineUniversities says is “learned helplessness.” They want to instill change to create an energized classroom where even the unmotivated students are invested, but because their voices are often not heard, they believe no matter what, nothing will happen.

He says there are a few main causes to learned helplessness in teachers: cracking down on collective bargaining, where their voices are being silenced; lack of communication in which businesses, parents, and teachers don’t talk to one another; the standardization of teaching where students and teachers are judged through tests that “take only a snapshot of student achievement;” and funding cuts. Like baking a cake, how can you make it delicious without eggs, milk, or even a pan to bake it in?

Schools are making it harder for students to think creatively and the problem centers around grades and the pressure to be the best with the highest score. Any action that can be taken is shot down and voices are silenced. If education is so important, why are steps not being taken to make it better for everyone?