Conformity Rules

I’ve just returned from a homeschool excursion with my children, a fantastic day on many levels. But now I’m left reflecting on something that’s rubbing my skin with sandpaper…

Our education system values conformity above all else.

In a small group discussion today, with five children and two adults, the group leader insisted that “hands must be raised before asking a question or speaking”. I watched the children make incredible connections and ask thought provoking questions. This wasn’t acknowledged. But they were reprimanded for not raising their hand over and over again.

Is putting your hand up more important than the quality of the question or conversation? Apparently YES! Conformity rules.

When walking outside of the building to a nearby location, “we must walk in two straight lines”.

Is this crucial when each family had an adult present walking alongside their children? Apparently YES! Conformity rules.

When waiting to return to the building after a break, “the group who is standing straightest will go in first.”

Is being visually pleasing of any importance? Apparently YES! Conformity rules.

What’s the common theme here? Conformity. Children get trained to do as they are told at school. To raise their hand, to walk in a line, to sit still, and to stand up straight.

Managing a full class of students without some of these practices would be challenging indeed. In whole group discussions for example, raising your hand before speaking helps to ensure that 25 conversations aren’t going on simultaneously.

But I can’t help feeling we’ve gone a step too far. That our education system values conformity beyond engagement and learning.

The key to children’s success in life beyond the classroom is not “do what you are told”. It is to question, to stand by personal values, to treat others with kindness, to seek knowledge.

Something did leave me smiling today. And that’s the observation of how little conformity there was in our homeschool group. These are children who are encouraged to question. To speak up within the natural flow of conversation. To listen with respect, while ignoring what is of little value or relevance. They are children who know who they are. And who are deeply connected to the essence of life.

I know that for many, these attributes are too far removed from how children ‘should’ behave, how they ‘should’ strive to be. But I disagree. We have a society of conformity. And the sheep among us are not the ones who are going to shake up the world, to make new discoveries or to live a truly enriching life according to our own inner beat.


Want more?

Watch Seth Godin’s entertaining Ted Talk, Stop Stealing Dreams, about the history of obedience within the education system.

And here are more posts about our homeschool journey:

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