When Respect Does Not Equal Obedience to Authority

Unknown-3As a teacher of over 20 years experience I have always highlighted the phrase “be respectful”. This has always been to everyone but particularly to adults in the child’s world. But are we delivering a generation of respectful children or obeying children? At what stage do we determine if the ethics we are teaching them are socially acceptable and allowing them to be “functioning citizens” or hanging them onto obedience practice.

Reflecting upon ethics, right vs wrong, good vs evil suggests that there is “good” and there is “not good”. But who determines what is good? I would suggest that teaching a child to be functional and constructive in their social setting is teaching them ethics. But by teaching them to “do as they are told” is only teaching children to be reactive to obedience thinking.

A social experiment I was introduced to many years ago is playing on my mind as I question whether we are teaching children respect or obedience. This experiment is called the Milgram Experiment (click link for details). Perhaps our thinking when teaching children to be respectful is not to suggest comments such as “Do as you are told” or “be respectful to adults” but instead perhaps we should be suggesting that they “Ask yourself what your moral compass is telling you do”, and of course informed lessons and discussions on your moral compass would be in order.

Using such terminology allows the child to be accountable for self reflection and determining their own set of values. Perhaps, we are “dumbing our kids down” by suggesting they do as they are told when it comes to behaviour. Perhaps with this personal reflection at a young age we are arming our students to think about what is important to them and how to function with others around them. If this is the case, the students are more likely to make informed ethical decisions rather than dictated, directed decisions based purely on their age and maturity, and decided upon by another person.


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