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The Compliance Curriculum

As often happens, one of Seth Godin’s daily posts this week left me with things to think about days after as well as to connect to other little pieces.

His title is “It’s easier to teach compliance than initiative” and, unlike most of his entries, he’s not talking about business.

Initiative is very difficult to teach to 28 students in a quiet classroom. It’s difficult to brag about in a school board meeting. And it’s a huge pain in the neck to do reliably.

Schools like teaching compliance. They’re pretty good at it.

Looking around the schools I visit – look around your school – I have to admit he’s not far from wrong.

That concept of compliance vs. initiative also ties into in a new book I’m currently reading, Daniel Pink’s Drive in which he investigates the research behind what motivates people.

In it he presents plenty of evidence that the reward/penalty philosophy at the core of compliance is not nearly as effective at motivating people to perform better as we assume it is.

That people, including many of those in our classrooms, are far more inspired to succeed when they are interested and involved in the outcome, when they have a personal stake in what they are doing.

The kind of approach you might use when teaching initiative.

Initiative, however, isn’t on the test and compliance is.

And, as Godin notes, we’re good at teaching that, even if our kids are less and less motivated to learn it.


  1. Tom

    I’ve just finished 6 days of classroom observations and student and teacher interviews. That post was in my head far more than I’d have liked.

  2. Danielle

    My students don’t enjoy always going reading comprehension and grammar. Many times they question why they have to know some things, and sometimes the only answer I have for them is because they will need to know it for the test. They do not feel motivated to learn and sometimes I don’t feel much motivation to teach it. I do not enjoy doing what I am supposed to do just because I am, so I know the students feel the same way. I try to take the initiative to try new things with my students, but I will get questioned about it. It seems that I am supposed to just teach to the test so that the students will do well. It is hard to get them to cooperate all the time because they want to do new things. They really enjoy taking the initiative to do something themselves when they are given the opportunity. I would like to see more support for taking intiative rather than just compliance.

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