Are our students a clockwork orange?

As I was rereading A Clockwork Orange the other day I was reminded of one of my first visits to my daughters’ open house. The students were going to perform something for us and the teacher needed them to be quiet and then performed a clapping routine that was followed by a automatic, mechanical response from the kids. It was as if the teacher flipped a switch that turned all of the students into quiet, still beings awaiting orders. All of the other parents looked in amazement at this magic trick. I stood appalled.

I was upset that my, normally well behaved, children were zapped into action, or rather inaction, by this simple clap response game. I wanted to call out, “That’s my daughter, not a disciplined machine!” My wife and I have always worked hard to explain to our kids the “why-s” of the world, not just the “do-s.” We want our children to not just react to certain situations, but to know why they should act a certain way. I don’t appreciate how robotic they become while at school.

As we move away from the factory model of education, so should our methods of discipline and how we expect our students to act. We should want our students to not only ask questions about our content, but about our methods as well. I always tell my students that if they don’t understand why we’re doing something, then I haven’t done my job.

Although Alex, from A Clockwork Orange, is a nasty, violent hooligan, the point of the book is that when you take away a man’s ability to choose to be good, he ceases to be a man. If we expect our students to be good for the sake of being good, to learn because we tell them to, they cease to be independently thinking students.

I find that when students are allowed inside the circle of understanding (why we do what we do the way we do it), they are not only more willing to do what I want them to do; they choose to do what is asked of them because they made their own minds up that it’s the right thing to do. I don’t want to send workers out into the world who do what they’re told; I want to create thinkers who question what they do and, in turn, improve the field they’re in.


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