The School Of Obedience

21 May, 2012
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The School Of Obedience

21 May, 2012

“Very obedient.”

A phrase never used in a derogatory manner with reference to a child. After all, obedience in children is a universally desired trait. But is it really desirable?

The dictionary defines obedience as: “Dutifully complying with the commands, orders, or instructions of one in authority”.

Rethinking the virtues of obedience

Is that really how children should be brought up? With the ability to follow

orders, as opposed to the capacity for critical thinking? With a readiness to comply, rather than reason? And a tendency to accept, rather than question?

As a matter of fact, the word “obedient” brings to my mind the picture of a bovine creature, chewing placidly to the gentle rhythm of the bell tinkling around its neck. A highly desirable trait on a dairy farm, but hardly the stuff we want in our homes or classrooms.

“I think, therefore I am”

A stunning statement by, a 17th century French philosopher – René Descartes. He has been saluted as the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’ and much of the Western philosophy is a response to his writings.

The statement is subject to several interpretations but to me it represents the essence of human existence. And dutiful compliance is necessarily at odds with the description of humans as thinking creatures.

Nurturing Dissent

Let’s set aside disobedience that arises from personal discomfort –“I won’t eat/drink/wear/do this.” That is merely self-obsessed whining. Let us also set aside dissent from those who are too lazy and undisciplined to follow rules.

And focus on genuine dissent which has nothing to do with indiscipline, self-interest or bad manners. And everything to do with intellectual reasoning. It is an attitude that ought to be nurtured, cherished, and celebrated.

My personal favourites from my classroom (STD 3):

  • ·         If covering books is so important, why do teachers not cover their books? (“Ooops. Will cover all my books by tomorrow.”)
  • ·         Mom says God made us. But who made God? (“Ask Mom. Good luck, Mom. Hee, hee!”)
  • ·         Only fair girls are chosen to play angels. (“I’m sorry, baby. You deserve a better world.”)


A case for Dissent

If you think I am overstating the case for dissent, think again. Think landmark events –Indian Independence, End of slavery, Feminist Movement, Environmental Movement. Think great men and women– Mahatma, Nelson Mandela, Simone de BeauvoirFranz Kafka. Think great ideas – non-violence, human rights, theory of evolution, psychoanalysis. The list is a motley jumble with little in common, except for opposition to the prevailing wisdom or authority of the time.

Into the unknown Future

Faced with environmental challenges, social unrest and financial disarray, societies around the world are struggling for new solutions and fresh perspectives. The prevailing wisdom has few answers and the search is on for revolutionary ideas and for people who have the courage to bring them to fruition. The need of the hour is game-changers, not game-players.

In the circumstances, the school of obedience looks increasingly redundant.

Archana Rao-D'Cruz