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The Blind Leading the Blind

October 17, 2017

 

I don’t teach blind obedience.

 

Wait. What? 

 

I don’t teach blind obedience. I don’t teach children (my own or others) that they must do whatever any authority figure says the first time without questioning or pushing back.

 

But then kids think they can just do whatever they want. That’s lazy. That’s permissive.

 

Actually none of those things are true. I set and maintain consistent and reasonable boundaries. It is more work than demanding obedience because it requires the authority figure to stop and think about their own behavior, listen to the child and understand their point of view and be willing to admit that they are not perfect. When I do this, I find that children are more receptive to boundaries, more willing to cooperate and more willing to listen to what I have to say.

 

But why go through all of that?

 

Because it is vitally important that children learn to speak up when something doesn’t feel right to them.

 

Children who are taught blind obedience are light years less likely to speak up if an authority figure tells them to do something that feels bad to them. They are fodder for authority figures who are looking to abuse them. If a child thinks that have no right to “talk back”, they are also not going to stand up for themselves when an adult or even older child touches them inappropriately. They are not going to intercede when they see bullying. They are not going to tell their parents or other adult when they see a grown up mistreating another child.

 

We are sending a host of mixed messages. On the one hand, we are telling kids they need to speak up if they see bullying but then when they feel an injustice is being done them, we tell them not to “talk back”. Those two things cannot go together. Children need to be encouraged to use their words to express their negative emotions and especially feelings of injustice if we are going to defeat bullying. Kids who feel they’ve been treated unjustly by authority figures are the ones who tend to go and take out those feelings by bullying another child. Likewise, kids who have been taught not to talk back are not going to stand up for themselves in a bullying situation, and are not going to tell and adult when they are being bullied. Kids who have been taught blind obedience do not become the proactive bystanders we want them to be.

 

It’s not just a matter of protecting our children from sexual abuse and bullying though. It is also a civic lesson. As adults who live in a democracy, it is our responsibility to speak up when we see injustice. When we don’t push back or speak up, we allow people to be disenfranchised and oppressed. It is our responsibility as adults to become the models for a more just society. Otherwise the kids who rise to levels of “leadership” who learned blind obedience further institutionalized injustice and try to keep the kids who learn to stand up and speak up down. We wind up with a world where them blind are leading the blind.

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